Gary James' Interview With Robert Wotherspoon of
the Rolling Stones Tribute
They are known as one of the best tributes to The Rolling Stones. They've performed across Canada and the U.S., South America and in Jamaica with Andrew Tosh and his tribute to the late Peter Tosh, a close friend of The Rolling Stones. They perform only The Stones greatest hits at festivals and in theatres. They are Hot Rocks: The Rolling Stones Show! We spoke to Robert Wotherspoon, who portrays Mick Jagger in the band.
Q - To me, The Rolling Stones were and will always be Brian Jones. He formed the group. He named the group. He was the most musical in the group. He was the best looking and the best dressed. So when a Stones tribute act is put together they either put a guy in as Mick Taylor or Ron Wood. What about Brian Jones? Why don't bands incorporate a Brian Jones guy in the act?
A - You're right. We should do that. We should. I agree with that. Try to find somebody. This is just my take on what you're saying and that's for die-hard Stones fans. We just have never found anybody like that. But you're right. All Stones bands try to do the Ron Wood thing. I guess they're trying to be contemporary. That would ,be my take on it.
Q - I suppose some people would say he died in 1969, there's a lot of material he didn't get to perform with The Stones.
A - Yeah.
Q - Wouldn't it be nice to have a Stones tribute band with a Brian Jones guy in it to remind the public why The Stones enjoyed such popularity in 1964, 1965 and 1966.
A - I agree with that. That's if you're playing to die-hard Stones fans, which we do that sort of thing. How it would work for us is what we mostly do is festivals, therefore we're playing to a wide variety of people. So we just play the hits, so that everybody recognizes what we're doing. But it would be nice to do a Brian Jones set sort of thing to include that in there and make it clear that's what we're doing. If we had someone who looked like him, that would really help a lot. You're right, he was the best looking of the bunch and he was the leader of the pack back then. He would be kicking himself right now in Heaven if he knew the success that happened with what he started and where it went without him. It's really sad. It truly is.
Q - He probably could never have imagined The Stones grossing $500 million in one year.
A - Yeah. All of Rock 'n' Roll has grown so huge from the '60s. No one saw that one coming. I'm sure.
Q - How much work is there for a group like Hot Rocks? You're performing mainly in the U.S.?
A - Well no, it's mainly in Canada. It's mostly in Canada. For some reason we get a lot of work up here, but I do work with two other bands in the U.S. but mostly it seems to be in Canada. We play pretty much every weekend. We'll do two gigs a weekend. One weekend we did four in one weekend. That was a little much 'cause we were really running around to do that one.
Q - That would've been what, two in the afternoon, two in the evening?
A - If I have the times right, one was from four to six o'clock. It was an outside festival in this town. We had to play this other location, luckily it was in the same town. So we just actually picked to drum set right up off the stage as it is and put it in our trailer, fully assembled, and drove to the next location which was ten minutes away and pulled it out like that. That's how we were able to be up and running on the next stage in half an hour. But we don't normally do that. We just do one or two a weekend. We'll do fifty to seventy-five gigs a year kind of thing. And it is part time for us. It's just weekends. We all have our day jobs. So we all get up on Monday morning sort of thing.
Q - What were you doing before Hot Rocks? Were you in a group?
A - The way it started for me was I was a bass player in a Country 'n' Western band when I was in college and we played those gigs and not really a Country 'n' Western band from twenty-five years ago. It's much better now. Back then it was G, C and D. It was very simple music when I was doing it. That's what I did back then. Then I messed around with some other guys and we decided let's try a Rolling Stones song that was sort of Country-ish. I think it might've been "Dead Flowers" or something like that. The guys I did it with said, "Well Bob, you look like Mick Jagger. You sound like him. So let's try 'Dead Flowers' by The Rolling Stones." So we tried it and it seemed to work. That's sort of where it all began except the guys that I was with were not really disciplined guys and wanting to really get up and running and play. They were just hanging around the living room playing or playing in the basement. I got a little bit fed up with that. We were sort of thinking the tribute band thing. Back then there were some tribute bands, but not like it is today. They're everywhere. So I put a notice up in a music store to start a Rolling Stones band, "Please call me." So a guy called. My God, he looked like Keith Richards and he knew all the material. We played together for a couple of years. Personality wise we did not hit it off. He was a different human being than I was. He was more rough, more cruel, more hard on everybody. I was much nicer, easy going, and passive. So we really didn't hit it off. We hired this new bass player. Right away our Keith Richards was angry with him our very first night out. You can't do that to people. So, much to his surprise I fired him. I just kept going on my own. I went through about thirty-five people before I got to where I am today. I've been with the same people now for about five years.
Q - Is it difficult to find guys who like the musicians they're portraying?
A - Well, that's why we went through about thirty-five people over the years. The Keith Richards we have now looks so much like Keith Richards. He loves the job. He loves his role. It's so awesome the way all the women fall all over him. He looks like a young, gook looking Keith Richards.
Q - Wait a minute. Aren't the women supposed to be falling all over the lead singer? That's you!
A - Well, yeah. They do that too, but they're all over him as well. We've got lots of video on our website and you can see all that stuff going on.
Q - Is it better for you when The Stones are touring or when they're off the road?
A - I get way more phone calls when they're touring. When they were in Toronto a few years ago I went to one of their concerts. Listen to this story. I actually have a lot of good stories. I went down there. I took this girl with me and their was a ring toss going on by the local radio station. Everybody's taking turns doing their ring toss. There's a crowd watching it. So I got in the line and when I got up to do the ring toss somebody in the crowd goes, "Holy shit! That's Mick Jagger!" Everybody's heads turn around. Everybody's in a Rolling Stones mood, right? 'Cause they're at a Rolling Stones concert. So once that happened everybody started to gather around and one person would say to me, "Can I get my picture with you?" I said, "Sure. Of course you can." That happens to me all the time. Once that happened it all starts going crazy. They're all lined up to get the picture with me and this happens to me all the time, whenever I'm in a big city or in downtown Toronto 'cause that's where I live, it happens to me all the time. So back to this concert thing. Now I've got all kinds of people gathered around me. The crowd grew to be thirty feet deep, all the way around, 360 degrees. All the way around me. They're feeling the back of my head. They're feeling my shoulders. They're feeling my hair. They're feeling my ass. I signed maybe two hundred autographs. What I do is, which a legal way to do it, is sign mickjagger.com. So I'm not really forging his signature, if you know what I mean. I'm just writing down what my website is and they're all going, "Oh my God! I got Mick Jagger's signature~" So that's the way I sort of get around that.
Q - Doesn't anyone ever ask, "Are you really Mick Jagger?" They would have to know the real Mick Jagger would be surrounded by body guards.
A - Well, that's what I said to the girl I was with. All these people, don't they realize if it was the real Mick Jagger there'd be body guards all over him. But they didn't. They were just excited and they just thought that. It went pretty well. About an hour and a half of that, I had enough of it because It'd just been too much, too long. (laughs) People were saying to me, "What songs are you going to be singing in there tonight? What's your set list?" I'd have to say these things. But I like to let people think what they think. It's just a feel good thing. How many people are actually going to meet Mick Jagger? So I don't want to turn these people away and say, "You know what? I'm not Mick Jagger." It just doesn't make for good conversation.
Q - What happens when you're not trying to look like Mick Jagger? Let's say you go into a grocery store, do people still say, "Hey, there's Mick Jagger!"?
A - This is what I'm telling you. I have hundreds of stories like that. I drive down the highway and I get people driving behind me, taking pictures or shooting cell phone video with me, driving along beside me. I get that kind of stuff. I had a guy knock on my window on his motorcycle at a stoplight. He drives up beside me and knocks on the window. I roll my window down and he says, "Hey, dude. My daughter followed you home the other day 'cause she said she saw you and she comes running home and says, 'Oh my God. Oh my God. I know where Mick Jagger lives. I followed him to his house.'" I played in South America. That was absolutely crazy because everybody down there thought I was the real thing. Oh my God! It was absolutely crazy. When we get off that plane, we went through the airport hanger, I signed autographs all the way out the door. We get into our vans and people followed us in their cars to the hotel. They all sat in the lobbies while we checked in. They were just bug-eyed, thinking we were the real deal. When we're down in Peru we're in a restaurant. Someone took the tablecloth off their table and brought it over for me to sign. All kinds of crazy stuff like that.
Q - I imagine even when you put on a pair of sunglasses you still look like Jagger.
A - Yes.
Q - You really can't do anything!
A - No.
Q - Did you get this when you were in high school?
A - Not so much 'cause my hair wasn't the right length 'cause I had that really long hair that Jagger never had. Then when I got out of school I was a salesman for a company and so I had that very short haircut thing going on. I didn't get it too much then. Then I started my own advertising agency in my early twenties and then I could grow my hair whatever I wanted 'cause I was the owner of the company. Once I got into that role it happens quite a lot.
Q - Does that help you or hurt you in the advertising business?
A - It's completely neutral. It didn't make any difference at all. I did some gigs in Jamaica with a guy named Andrew Tosh, who's Peter Tosh's son. Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh did a song called "Walk And Don't Look Back". They did that together and it made Peter Tosh world famous. So, his son Andrew Tosh had me down in Jamaica to do a series of gigs with him while I was down in Jamaica, hanging out with Andrew, who is a total household name in Jamaica. Everywhere I went they thought, "Oh my God, there's Andrew with Mick Jagger." So, we couldn't go anywhere where we weren't swamped with people. I remember one night we went into this bar and we had our whole entourage. There was about twelve of us. They had us up in the V.I.P. section and everybody's just freaking out. They're all reaching over the gate to get to us and that sort of thing. I made the mistake of going to get a drink at the bar. I went out and I got jumped by everybody. I had this one girl jump on the front of me. One girl jumped on my back and one girl undid my whole shirt and then she started to undo my pants. I had to grab a hold of my pants so they would not get undone. I did not want to be naked on the dance floor. So they dragged me back and said, "Bob, if you're going to go get a drink, we will get it for you. Don't go out there again like that." I've got hundreds of those crazy stories.
Q - You understand what it must be like to be the real Mick Jagger, more or less, probably a little bit more.
A - A little bit. I'm sure he gets really swamped, but I guess he's got bodyguards. I don't have bodyguards. I guess I get an understanding of what he goes through.
Q - For you, you're Mick on and off the stage, whether you want to be or not. That's unlike a guy who's in a Beatles tribute group who wears a wig on stage.
A - I can tone it down if I want or I can pump it up, whatever I want to do. If I go out with a sweatshirt, track pants and a baseball cap I can change all that. If I go out with a sports jacket on and jeans and basically dress the way he does; he usually wears a black sports jacket and a colored shirt these days, I'll get swamped. I'll get stopped for sure. And the way it works for me is if one person stops me, then it really picks up. It really gathers. My kids are used to being with me in downtown Toronto and me getting stopped all the time. They don't even bat an eye.
Q - Do the police ever look at you?
A - No. I've never had an incident with the police. I have another funny story for you. I'm at this function in a hotel, one of the larger hotels in downtown Toronto, and I'm getting a coffee from this stand there. A couple of these guys, employees that set up the tables, stick their heads around the corner and I believe they were of Latin descent, and with their accents they go, "Mick Jagger?" I said, "Yeah." They go, "Oh my God! I can't believe we're meeting you. Mick Jagger. Right in front of us." They said, "Can we have your autograph?" I said, "Of course you can have my autograph." Then he goes, "I don't have anything to write on. Will you write on my shirt?" I said, "Sure I will." I always carry a Magic Marker with me for these kinds of things. So he held his shirt tight down the front of his chest and I wrote "Mick Jagger" across the whole thing. The letters were all eight inches tall. He said to me, "This is the happiest day of my life." (laughs)
Q - And of course you wrote "Mick Jagger .com".
A - I just wrote ".com" very small. He's a worker in the hotel and I made his day. He probably has it framed on a wall in his home right now. And I don't want to take that away from people. I don't want to say, "Sorry dude. That's not me. That's not who I am." I make people's days all the time. I don't think there's a harm in that. I let people think what they want to think. I don't really claim to be him. I don't take advantage of any women and have sex with them, saying "I'm Mick Jagger," although it's been very good for my sex life to be very honest. I have all kinds of people that know I'm not Mick Jagger, but they're certainly happy to come to all my gigs with me.
Q - They're probably thinking this is what it would be like to be with the real Mick Jagger.
A - Yeah. All my girl friends my whole life have been based on me looking like Mick Jagger. It's okay with me. I don't care. What do I care, really?
Q - You've got a great attitude.
A - Sure. It's not about me. Even when we get up on stage it's not about me. It's just about Rolling Stones' songs. That's why we play all the big hits, because that's what they want to hear. They want to hear the big hits. They don't want to hear what I like. Nobody cares what I like. Nobody cares who I am. So, I'm just there to entertain. Honestly, most of what we do are all events and we're no different than the people who serve the mashed potatoes at those events. We're just there to do our job and just back away when we're not needed anymore. Go into the back room and leave. Get paid and go home. That's it.
Q - Do you ever get tired of performing "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or "Honky Tonk Woman"?
A - No.
Q - Maybe there's so much material to choose from you wouldn't get tired.
A - Well, we play the big hits which is about forty-ish. Of course if you talk to a Stones fan they'll say, "What are you talking about, forty? There's about eighty or ninety." Of course there's the very, very Top 40. So we kind of bounce around with those most of the time. And we never need to practice 'cause we play so often we never need to practice.
Q - It's a great life I suppose.
A - Yes. It's been great. It really has been great for us.
Q - I don't suppose Mick Jagger knows about you, does he?
A - I hear so many stories. I met a woman once and she said she knows The Stones and they are aware of us, my particular band. But I've not heard from them I haven't heard anything from them. I'm very lucky to be able to play all their music and look like someone I can actually make money off. It's absolutely crazy. We've even played with orchestras in the U.S.A. and that was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had. One was in Omaha and one was in either North or South Carolina. I forget now. We had a fifty piece orchestra behind us and they sold like 1,700 seats. I believe it was sold out and to get up there and play with an orchestra like that is incredible. Just mind blowing. The only problem, you've got to be deadly accurate when you do the material. You can't miss a beat. You have a conductor and the whole bit. The entire place was standing on their feet, even all the boxes they have up along the walls. Everybody was up on their feet, so it was really, really good.
Q - Is there anything you do before you go on stage?
A - We do all kinds of stretching in the bathroom before we get out there. We're all stretched out and ready to go. We don't just walk out on stage. None of us drink. None of us smoke dope. None of us chase women. None of us, ever. We've been doing this for twelve years and you'll never see any of us with a woman. We never do that stuff. We act like the Beatles but play like The Stones basically, if that makes sense. None of us womanizes. We never chase women. I think it's because we're just too old.