Gary James' Interview With Dick Swagger Of
The Rolling Stones Tribute Band
The Hollywood Stones
Showtime Magazine calls them "America's best and most popular Rolling Stones Tribute Band." NBC news calls them "The premier Rolling Stones Tribute Band." Eric Burdon says "Bloody time machine, just like The Stones." Dick Clark says "You guys were fantastic. A great performance." Slash of Guns 'N' Roses says "I love great cover bands and what you guys do is cool."
Well, by now you get the idea. What The Hollywood Stones recreate onstage is something very special. Dick Swagger, who portrays Mick Jagger, spoke with us about his group.
Q - How is it that you can do an act like this without getting into trouble with The Stones?
A - I don't see how they could make trouble for us.
Q - You group name is The Hollywood Stones. Using Stones, wouldn't that get you into trouble?
A - All the records I've ever seen by The Rolling Stones always say The Rolling Stones. I'm not sure if they own just The Stones. That to me kind of sounds like a nickname. But, I could be wrong.
Q - As long as you haven't gotten into any trouble, you must be doing something right.
A - We were playing a club in L.A. every Thursday night. The owners of the club, and this was back in, I want to say 1997, 1998, got a Cease And Desist letter from The Rolling Stones attorneys in Beverly Hills. They called me up and they were all freaking out. We had a meeting with all the owners, the investors. We all clustered around in their office and went over the letter. So the attorneys decided to call the attorney who drafted the letter. The language of the letter used was "The look, the sound, the image of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards..." and we had a Rolling Stones tongue on the drumhead. The attorney who wrote the letter came to the show, saw it and drafted this letter and sent it to the owners. We called up the attorney and said "OK, What do you want? What is this?" He just said "Well..." It turns out the end of the story was the guy had just hired on to the attorneys. He was basically writing a letter on behalf of The Rolling Stones to protect their interests. So, in other words, he was generating a bill for The Rolling Stones to justify his existence with the company. It wasn't Mick Jagger or Keith Richards saying we want you to squash these guys. It was just him generating a bill for The Rolling Stones. What we did is, we took the sticker off of the drumhead and then we were good.
Q - That's it?
A - That was it. But, I went to all the local papers and told 'em the story and I got quite a bit of free press out of it. It was kind of a David and Goliath story.
Q - And the attorney goes back to The Rolling Stones and says "Yeah, I sent 'em a letter. You see how fast they took that sticker off the drumhead!"
A - Yeah, and please send a check for $5,000. (laughs)
Q - How many times have you seen The Stones in concert?
A - I would probably say twelve to fourteen times. We do a lot of promoting for The Rolling Stones. We don't sell CDs. We let everyone know what's happening when The Stones are on tour. We do shows in between their shows. People from out of town will come and see us in between The Rolling Stones' shows. There's a big fan base there. We do a lot to promote the principle acts. When The Rolling Stones movie Shining Light came out, we were in touch with their promotion department and we had a big banner on our website for the movie. So, we work with The Rolling Stones in that respect as well.
Q - Do you get excited when you see Mick Jagger perform?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Do you sit in the audience analyzing his every move and the way he introduces songs?
A - I think I'm beyond analyzing everything. I just enjoy the moment. They won't be touring forever. Keith just toured 66. It's gonna grind to a halt one these days. Probably sooner rather than later. I saw a picture of Keith the other day. He looks pretty rough. His fingers are actually showing a lot of arthritis. I don't know how much longer he's gonna be able to play. I know it's gonna be in his heart forever, but boy, those fingers are starting to curl up and it looks awful. It's really sad. All he ever wanted to do was play.
Q - You were formally known as Sticky Fingers. Now you're The Hollywood Stones. Why the name change?
A - There's many groups around the world called Sticky Fingers, spelled many different ways. There was a group getting hired to come out here (Los Angeles). People were hiring them thinking they were hiring us. It was happening more and more often. It was becoming a problem, so we decided to distance ourselves from the other groups with the same name.
Q - How difficult was it to find guys who not only look like The Rolling Stones, but play the respective instruments as well.
A - It was a bit of Hollywood magic I suppose. The most important thing was being able to...the music was the main thing. It was just a sheer stroke of luck being able to get guys that look like The Rolling Stones.
Q - And being in Los Angeles, it's a lot easier to find musicians like that, than if you were in Peoria.
A - Exactly. Hollywood and the whole L.A. / Orange County area has quite a wealth of musicians to pool from. Therefore I was fortunate that way.
Q - You're the guy who put the group together?
A - Yes.
Q - What were you doing before The Hollywood Stones?
A - I was doing original music. I had a cover band. I basically started the band. I didn't know how much work I was going to get. I wanted to keep my voice in shape, so I started this band and it just took off.
Q - Where is the demand coming from for this group? From clubs? From corporate events?
A - It's kind of an interesting story. We started in 1994. When we first started playing, we did a lot of parties for fraternities and sororities. We did that for about four or five years. Then we stopped getting those types of shows. We didn't know why. We didn't know what happened. But about three years after that, then we started getting calls back by the former students who are getting married and they wanted the band who they saw in their college days to play at their wedding reception. (laughs) So, we're still getting a lot of that. At this point we do mostly private parties, a lot of concert in the park type things, outdoor concerts. Not that many club dates any more.
Q - How many dates would you say you're working a year?
A - Oh, I would have to guess between sixty and seventy.
Q - I take it you've always worked in the music business. You've never worked at anything else?
A - I was originally a keyboard player. I always grew up with music. I started out playing the trumpet in junior high. Singing and playing various instruments. Music major. Got an Associates Degree. When I graduated college, I moved out to L.A. to get into the music scene ever since.
Q - What's the best thing about being in The Hollywood Stones?
A - I think the fans and the music. The fans are just great. They just want to hear it. There's so much to draw from. We probably know eighty songs. We don't make a set list when we play. We kind of just go by what he crowd yells out. They'll yell something out and chances are we know it and can play it right away. It's pretty impressive for them.
Q - And you came up with this name, Dick Swagger?
A - (laughs) Some people get it. Some people have to get it explained to them. (laughs)
Q - To me, The Rolling Stones were more about the music than the theatrics that came later. Can you appreciate what The Stones were all about in the early days?
A - Yeah, I think so because we don't use blow-up dolls and all of that stuff. We kind of take it down to the core stage show that they probably had in the early days. In that respect we're kind of going back to the way it used to be for them.
Q - Has anybody in The Rolling Stones ever come to see you perform or do they know about you or don't you know?
A - Charlie Watts is a friend of our drummer. Our drummer is a photographer. He does some pro stuff for some of the drum companies. He actually did a photo shoot of Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr. So yeah, they know about us. I couldn't say we're friends. I haven't met Mick or any of the other guys, but they definitely know about us.
Q - How much competition do you have in Los Angeles?
A - Well, there's a couple other Stones groups around, popping up in the last five years or so. For a long time we were the only group. But there are a few around now. There's just not that many places to play anymore. There's not a lot of venues doing 'live' music. I don't know what happened to them all.