Bassist Bill Wyman Recalls Rolling Stones’ Wild Early Days

Bill Wyman Rolling Stones First TIme
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

The Rolling Stones are selling out arenas. Mick Jagger has a new show on HBO. A new two-CD set of “Sticky Fingers” is out. And Stones’ bass-playing maestro Bill Wyman has a new solo album called “Back to Basics.” What year is it? Why, 2015, of course — but Wyman first made the pages of Variety in 1964, Year One of the British Invasion.

The Rolling Stones’ first U.S. tour was in June. What were you doing in August?

In 1964, we did about 300 shows. Between these gigs we had recording sessions, photo sessions, interviews.

Was Stones Mania wilder than Beatle Mania?

We always had riots. The first time we played Holland, it was at the Hague Opera House. As soon as we started to play, the crowd went wild. There were beautiful chandeliers, and by the end of the show, they had seats hanging from them … beautiful tapestries on the walls were all torn off and destroyed. There were about 50 cops throwing kids off the stage, and the kids were doing karate chops at the cops, and jumping back into the crowd. It was complete madness.

Were you afraid or angry that every show turned into such chaos?

The next days, papers were filled with nothing but the Rolling Stones, so we thought it had gone down wonderfully.

But what about being in the middle of it? 

We used to laugh our asses off about it. Especially Keith and Brian.

Was America different?

In Long Beach, we got trapped in our limousine with kids piling on top of the car. We had to get down on the floor of the car and hold up the roof with our feet. We were literally suffocating, and the kids were so crazy they’d torn the paint off and turned a black limo white.

Pretty heady stuff for a blue collar London lad.

Until I was 17, we had gas lighting, no electricity. We got electricity, which was a big deal, because I could have a radio! That summer, in 1964, my wife and son and I were able to move out of a pretty shitty place with peeling wallpaper, no heat and a toilet in the garden. Our next place was the first time in my life I had a place with an indoor toilet.

And then suddenly, you’re a bona fide rock star.

We still couldn’t walk in the front entrance of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. We weren’t wearing suits, so we had to go in through the back door. We didn’t realize we were in the middle of a cultural hurricane until first the Russian (soccer players) and then the movie stars started letting their hair grow out. And girls started wearing makeup, and then the pill came in. It was starting to change, and all for the better.

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    1. Jule Johnson says:

      Saw the Stones, early 70’s at the Hollywood Palladium, again in the 80’s at the L.A. Coliseum, and one more time in the 90’s at the Aloha Stadium on Oahu. Still my favorite after all these years and at the age of 70 I feel very fortunate to have gotten that chance! Best “rock and roll” band ever!

    2. Kevin Sexton says:

      Kevin S. Congrats to Bill for releasing solo album. STONES Best Band of ALL TIME!!!!!!!

    3. Joe says:

      Hey Allan, I also saw the ’69 concert in Baltimore. B.B. was spectacular and the Stones were at the top of their game. Scott, when Brian was in the band, sometimes he wasn’t really there when he was there, catch my meaning? I think that his drug problems led to his personality problems and exit from the band. As for Bill being a pedophile, lots of allegations and rumors, but where’s the proof?. Let him do his thing. Stones….still the best ROCN-N-ROLL band ever!

    4. I love exaggerating too

    5. Matt Gaffney says:

      I first saw the Stones on the 1969 tour that culminated in the Altamont show. I’ve since seen them 6 times & they STILL put on a great show. I just saw them in San Diego in May. I’ve always thought their best music was when Mick Taylor was in the band. The best thing that ever happened to Ron Wood was Mick Taylor choosing sobriety.

    6. Allan Sprecher says:

      I saw the Stones in Baltimore in 1969. It was more than a concert, it was magical ….BB KIng was one of the opening acts.
      After Brian Jones passed it firmly became the Mick and Keith show. The rest of the group became the rhythm section. Hired musicians. Each Glimmer Twin jockeying for the spot light. Ask Mick Taylor, Ronnie, Charlie how much they ( and Bill ) credit they get for the success of the group or how much money they make when they are not touring.
      Glad I had a chance to see “The Stones” before they became a product.

    7. scott forer says:

      It seems the happiest moments with The Stones occurred are when Brian was still in the band. I know this is my interpretation. But when Brian split, the band took on an ordinary rock & roll type vibe. Like an automobile tyre that has always been properly balanced & inflated. Then all of a sudden a slow leak is discovered and little by little both the tyre & traction of the automobile starts to waver & starts to slow down leaving us with a once bouncy attractive musical component. Mick Taylor stole all the the gloss & shine out of the band, that Brian left behind. Nothing to be left undone regarding Taylor’s playing but the individual “Rolling Stone” look & feel were gone.

    8. Pastorius says:

      Isn’t it interesting there is no evidence any of that stuff is true?

      • scott forer says:

        I know a fella named Jaco who got his head split open acting as an arse hole & died in some bar, years ago. Plenty of evidence there.

    9. BroadwayBill says:

      I bought a copy of Bill’s autobiography several years ago…I waited till it was marked down to a ridiculously low price – and I think I still paid too much for it! The entire book can be summed up like this “Brian was the REAL talent in the band….Keith and Mick forced him out…and while they were busy taking over the band, Bill was picking up teenage groupies (Despite the fact that he was married and was one of the older guys in the band!)” A disappointing book from a bitter guy!

    10. Jerry Martin says:

      I was there to launch us into the new world of Rock Videos three years before the launch of MTV in 1981. I was one of two cameramen who shot the first Rock Video in history with the Rolling Stones. We shot it in the summer of 1978 in an upper east side studio in New York City with the first hand held video cameras as a test to see if music video could replace, or at least augment touring for record sales. The video consisted of three song off of the “Some Girls” album. It was rolled into a show in New York at the time called “In Concert”, and it’s equivalent show in England.You can read about it at rollingstonesrock.com where you can see the only pictures of that historic event which were shot by me in 1978. Rock on Rolling Stones!

    11. Looks like a long haired Peter Sellers

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