Gary James' Interview With Rolling Stone Magazine's
He was the New York Bureau Chief for Rolling Stone magazine in 1974. In 1977, when Rolling Stone moved their offices to San Francisco, he became the Senior Editor. The man we are referring to is Mr. Chet Flippo. When we talked to Chet Flippo back on August 27th, 1985, we talked about a book he had written, On The Road With The Rolling Stones.
Q - You write in your book about events that happened with The Rolling Stones back in the 1970s, yet here we are in 1985 and your book has just been published. Why did it take so long to get it released?
A - Well, initially I couldn't interest publishers at the time. The STP book was still around and at the time Rock books did not sell. Publishers thought there was room for just one Stones book and that was that. After that I really got busy at the magazine. I left to do the Hank Williams book. I just really forgot about the material I had. I'd filed all my tapes and notebooks away in a closet. Then one day I was talking with Bill Carter, who's one of The Stones' visa lawyers and we were just reminiscing about some of the crazy things on tour and he suggested then that I do the book. This is last year (1984) and so I went back and went though my stuff and said well maybe I have got a book here. I talked to my editor at Doubleday, Jim Fitzgerald, and he said "Fine. Go ahead with it." Again, this publisher Doubleday was a little leery at first because they knew of two other Stones books that came out last year and they thought I was just going to do another chronology of The Stones. But I had to impress on them this was really a personal memoir of what it's like to be around The Rolling Stones. No one had really done that.
Q - These other two books have gotten a lot of press, but I've heard very little or nothing about your book.
A - I suspect part of the problem is it's difficult, and the publishing company has told me this, it's difficult for them to put a peg on. It's not entirely about The Stones. It's a personal memoir about The Stones so it's a hybrid. As a result, they haven't done anything. It's really kind of a dilemma.
Q - You made a couple of observations in your book that I've never read before. You say the public doesn't really exist for the performances. The audience can be picked up and moved on to the next gig just like the lights and the sound equipment. You also write, "After years of studying and traveling with The Rolling Stones, they don't know anything about the public or sex."
A - (laughs)
Q - "They didn't have time for either. Just being a Rolling Stone was a 24 hour gig. And it was hard at that." I'm sure people don't understand what you're saying. Rock 'n' Roll is a business.
A - Oh, yeah. That didn't register with me for maybe two or three tours. Then I finally looked around and realized what was going on. Basically they might as well have played in the same place every night for all the difference it made, for the interaction with their public. The public is just a blur to them. I don't know why it struck me as peculiar, but I think it is. The public, especially fans, don't want to think about that. If you told that to a Springsteen fan now you'd probably get hit.
Q - The audience believes it's just one big party going on all the time.
A - That did exist in the early '70s until record companies wised up and got tired of paying for damaged hotel rooms and the performers realized the damage it was taking on them physically and musically. They really couldn't do it for more than a season, especially groups like The Stones who have stayed on top, really went into training as it were.
Q - Those observations of yours have never been brought up before, that's why I bring them up.
A - It's probably not a conscious thing on a lot of writer's part, but they have a lot invested in perpetuating that myth really, the contract between the public and the performer and the writer fits into that somewhere certainly.
Q - What have you heard, if anything, about your book from The Stones themselves or members of their entourage?
A - They all have copies of it. I know that. The only one I talked to was Jane Rose, who's in the book and runs The Rolling Stones Records and she loved the book. She thought it was the best that had been done about the band. There's been a silence from the band members themselves. Of course I haven't seen any of them. I will be curious to hear. It's not entirely complimentary of course. I've never had a great deal of trouble with them in the past, portraying them in magazine articles in the same way I did in the book, so I'm not that concerned about it. As long as they know I'm fair, they can accept that.
Q - You had to almost jump through hoops of fire to get to talk to Mick Jagger. Was it worth it in the end? What separates Jagger from the other Rock group front men? You were being tested.
A - It's not that he's affected with himself, the challenge is worth it. That's what really piqued my interest I think. You could see immediately there was a test going on to weed out the weaker, as it were, journalists who were just along for the excitement and those who were genuinely trying to do a story. I did it basically to prove I could meet the challenge. Again, I did it because they were and are for me the best Rock 'n' Roll band in the world and so that would be the hardest challenge a Rock journalist could run up against, so I decided I better be able to do this.
Q - Would you have done this for any other group?
A - Never. I wouldn't have considered it I don't think. I wouldn't do it again having done it. It's not like climbing Mt. Everest certainly, but it was worth doing. Again, I wouldn't have done it for a number three Rock band.
Q - What have The Rolling Stones contributed to Rock 'n' Roll?
A - They are really the ones who have implanted very firmly the more raucous and rougher elements of American Blues directly into Rock 'n' Roll. I can't think of examples of other bands that did that as faithfully as The Stones. They really brought that whole sensibility. They brought American music back to America in a sense. There was nothing jolly or sunny or innocent about it as there was about The Beatles' music. It was just gritty and down to earth. They were really carrying on the early tradition of Elvis in that sense and that I think set them apart. I don't think the pubic realized that at first. It was "Here comes more long-haired boys playing Rock 'n' Roll." That sort of thing.
Q - I've heard The Stones will be touring soon. Have you heard anything?
A - The last I heard, the earliest they could probably tour would be the Spring of next year (1986) because they still apparently have not finished the current album and likely not before Christmas or so. They've always been late with everything they do. Assuming there is a tour, it would be early '86 I'm sure.
Q - What keeps The Rolling Stones together? Is it the music or the money?
A - I'm sure they're still doing it for the money. I'm sure they've never been in better shape financially. I don't think they're as wealthy as people think. Also at this point it would be very hard for them to stop 'cause they do love what they're doing. In the case of everyone but Jagger, it would be very difficult for them to step into another career. I can see Mick Jagger going into acting, which he really wants to. It would be very difficult for them to just stop on a dime. I think they like being The Rolling Stones.