Gary James' Interview With The Rolling Stones' Manager
Andrew Loog Oldham
In Rock 'n Roll history, there are some groups whose managers are just as famous as the acts themselves. For example: The Beatles - Brian Epstein. Grand Funk Railroad - Terry Knight. Led Zeppelin - Peter Grant.
And then there's The Rolling Stones, whose manager was Andrew Loog Oldham in the 1960s. What a fascinating time to have been involved in the management of a Rock 'n Roll group.
Q - Mr. Oldham, the obvious question has to be, what are you doing living in South America? Bogota, Columbia is it?
A - I met my wife, the Columbian actress Esther Farfan, in London in November of 1974 when, with mutual friends we attended a play called "John, Paul, George and Bert", which was of course based upon the premise that there was a fifth Beatle. I fell in love on the spot. I was living in New York and Connecticut at the time, visiting London to promote an artist I'd produced called Brett Smiley. Esther was filming in New York in the Spring of 1975 and we met again. Basically, I followed her back to Columbia and my first weekend lasted three months, this being one of the advantages of skating between being unemployed and self-employed. I fell in love with Esther and got not only a life, but a country. We married in 1977 in London and have a son of 22 years old. I have another aged 38 from a previous engagement. Columbia is a divine country, although obviously dangerous. I prefer to live in a country with faith.
Q - Besides publishing your memoirs, are you involved at all in the music business?
A - No. I have attempted to keep my hand in record production. I had a great run in Argentina from 1990 to 1997 with a group called Los Ratones Paranoicos. They were sort of the Rolling Stones of the south of South America. We had a lot of hits together in that time, but the music business is so frazzled, panic'd and obsessed with it's own demise, that you really have to be in it 24 / 7 in order to have a chance of participating. I have no such desire any more, so on my last birthday I hung up my production gloves.
Q - When I think about your life, I ask myself how can anything top what you did with The Rolling Stones? How do you ever come down off such a pedestal as that? What do you do for an encore?
A -I live daily for the encore. Of course, I'm not going to deny that I spent nigh on thirty years adjusting to having been so very successful at such a young age. It's clear to anyone who has read either of my autobiographies, "Stoned" and "2Stoned", especially the latter which deals with my life with the Stones from 1964 - 1967, that at 23, I went through a lot. But, you must remember I never managed another group. I just created a record company, Immediate Records - the Small Faces, Humble Pie, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac and Amen Corner, and after that folded and I'd left England, I produced records when I had the opportunity. It was a great way of keeping my independence, sanity and fulfilling the fact that a fellow has to get up and go to work or at least, this one does. I worked at Motown's white label Rare Earth; in the '70s with Jimmy Cliff and Donovan in the mid 70s; in Italy with Francesco Di Gregori and Anna Oxa at the end of the 70s; with Bobby Womack in the early 80s. Then our son Maximillion was born and I basically took five years off, except for some re-mastering I did for recordings of The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, Sam Cooke and Phil Spector. At the end of the 80s, I started production again with a couple of hits in Columbia with a group called Compania LLimitada, then I headed for Argentina and had a six year run with Los Ratones Paranoicos. So, I've always kept busy and I've never managed an act the way I managed The Rolling Stones. It's logical, to do anything different would have placed whomever I managed in an unfair spotlight and that happened anyway with certain acts that I produced like Brett Smiley. As for the pedestal you speak of, you must remember that in the beginning in 1963, The Rolling Stones were just ordinary people who became very, very special when they stepped onstage, or eventually into a recording studio and became The Rolling Stones. By ordinary, that does not mean not engaging, because they were. But, I did not say to my Mum, "Oh, mum I'm meeting Brian Jones or Mick today!" It was just a case of doing my job for people for the most important parts, liked and got along with for those years. Four all important years.
Q - The late, great writer Lillian Roxon wrote about managers, "You could put Colonel Tom Parker on a stage, let him talk, charge admission and you'd have a big star. The great managers of great acts are almost invariably great acts themselves. It is a pity they have to stay behind the scenes...at least as far as audiences are concerned. Presenting an act or a performer to the public is as flamboyant an act as getting up onstage and singing." Did Andrew Loog Oldham harbor a secret desire to become a singer or a musician?
A - Apart from the last sentence, she's talking nonsense. Colonel Parker was ugly and unsympathetic. He did not have one of the greatest voices of the 20th century and he was not born at the right time in a place that allowed to Capricornian Elvis to sponge in the culture he did and present them as white and new. I could go on. As for me, I got rid of any desire to be a performer when I sung in a school concert at the age of 12 and the sound that was louder and more in tune than my voice was the sound of my knees knocking. In later years as I became known, bios on me always state that I was a performer called Sandy Beach and had a group called The Chancery Lane Trio. Here I'm rewarded with my own P.R. I used to tell Peter Jones of the Record Mirror, incidentally the journalist who first sent me to see The Rolling Stones in April of 1963, that I had been a compere called Sandy Beach and had played piano in a jazz group called The Chancery Lane Trio. Nonsense. Any of your readers who are familiar with London will know that Chancery Lane is an underground tube station and a famous street in the city of London. As for Sandy Beach, I don't think there are any of those in England...well not without pebbles and tar. So, yes I got tarred by my own brush of P.R.
Q - Before managing The Rolling Stones, you were a publicist for The Beatles. You had no actual experience as a manager did you? Do you think it's important that a person have experience to manage a band? Why did The Stones give you a vote of confidence in managing them?
A - Back then, you were dealing with magic. Now you are dealing with the reality of bean counting. The Stones and I gave each other confidence. A lot of it had to do with being the same age, same lack of experience and same passion for life. In many ways, I managed them less than I inspired them to become what they became.
Q - Eric Easton, The Stones business manager...what did he bring into the equation? Money? Was he the financial backer? Did he provide money for things like equipment, clothes, salaries of support personnel? I thought record companies provided that type of money.
A - Eric was an agent and could get them work. I could not. A non-performing band is out of touch and dead. He did not provide money. He provided work and distain. Until 1967, record companies provided no money, only slave contracts and opportunity. In 1963, having a hit did not allow you to buy silly jewellery and houses and whores or audition with Jesus. It allowed you to earn a few more quid on the road.
Q - At the time you were working for The Beatles, was it difficult to get publishing for them?
A - No. I had just finished working for the fashion designer Mary Quant. I had all my fashion contracts. I was the new kid on the block in music P.R., therefore I was "interesting" and The Beatles were The Beatles. They were obviously about to take over the game. I just had to do my job, which I did for four months from January to April of 1963.
Q - What did you think of Brian Epstein as a manager? What did you think of the job he was doing for The Beatles at the time you were working for him?
A - He was great. He was passioned, he cared...maybe too much about The Beatles and his situation. Being homosexual and a Jew, when nearly both were still against the law. The first in fact, the second about which I jest was tough for a sensitive fellow.
Q - Brian Epstein was criticized later on for some of the bad deals he made on behalf of he band. Did you learn from his mistakes?
A - No. In my time, he made no mistakes. There should be plaques up to Brian. If he had not persevered and got The Beatles their recording contract, we would not be having this chat now.
Q - I go back to Lillian Roxon. She writes about you: "Andrew Oldham, who managed The Stones to fame and fortune had smaller success with smaller groups, but never repeated The Stones coup. It takes two to create that rare chemistry that makes a great match. The star has to have it, but the manager has to know it. The manager has to have the same sort of instinctive sense of timing offstage that the star has onstage."
A - She is not telling any new data, and were she alive, you would not be quoting her. All she is telling you is that cars need drivers, petrol and wheels to drive. What she says is relevant only to a small spark of time that we were lucky to explode from. That data is of no use to managers and artists today.
Q - What smaller groups is Ms. Roxon talking about here?
A - The Small Faces, Marianne Faithful and Fleetwood Mac perhaps.
Q - How did you know that The Stones had what it takes to become stars?
A - A wave came over me that told me that this is what my life thus far had been preparing me to do.
Q - Didn't I read somewhere that a record company executive liked the band, but said they should really give serious thought to replacing the lead singer?
A - Brian Jones noted to Eric Easton that Mick had to go because the group had failed their BBC radio audition, a very important failure because live radio at that time was 50% of the game.
Q - Were you in Syracuse on July 6th, 1966 when Brian Jones was accused of having dragged the American flag across the War Memorial floor?
A - No.
Q - Do you find the death of Brian Jones three years later to be suspicious at all?
A - No.
Q - Are you still in contact with anyone in The Stones?
A - Yes.
Q - How would you like the world to remember Andrew Loog Oldham?
A - I'm working on it, but until I come up with something better, if I have a headstone it could say "He Gave Us Satisfaction!"