The Rolling Stones are rolling out their 50 and Counting tour across America, while Andrew Loog Oldham, the manager who launched the Stones’ storied career 51 years ago and parted ways with the band five years in, says, “You never stop managing them.”
Oldham was astonishingly still a teenager when he began his stint with the Stones, a run that included their first recording sessions, their first U.S. tours and their first global hits such as “The Last Time,” “Satisfaction” and “Paint It Black.” By 1967 he was on to other adventures.
Oldham defines the pinnacle and he makes clear that as the Stones’ original manager he owns a large portion of credit for the achievement. “There is a hierarchy in success,” he explains. “Very few bands have achieved that seamless blend of live shows, singles, albums and overall image that puts a band like the Stones at the top.”
So why did their incredibly productive run end so soon? Oldham shrugs and explains, “When the band runs out of ideas, they no longer need a manager, just an accountant.”
Just as Mick Jagger can still sprint across concert stages like a spry lad half his age, Oldham’s gifts of wit, vision and creative drive are undiminished by the passage of years and the indulgences he shared with so many rock stars past and present.
Thankfully, Oldham has penned three lively and informative books about his times and views of the music business, starting with the autobiographical Stoned, followed naturally by 2Stoned. “Stone Free” (Escargot Books), his current tome, is a frank, funny and valuable survey of pop music “pimpresarios” as he lovingly calls the managers and promoters he (mostly) admires for their collective chutzpah, drive and tolerance of pop stars’ egos and often fatal foibles.
What all the biz pros in “Stone Free” have in common, per the book’s underlying thesis, is Oldham’s belief that “the difference between the bands and acts that had major careers and those that didn’t is the major acts all had great managers.”
Oldham believes the acumen and zeal of pros like Bob Dylan’s early manager, Albert Grossman, the Who’s Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, and the Beatles’ Brian Epstein was the deciding factor that put those stars firmly at the top while noteworthy bands like the Animals, Kinks and Yardbirds wound up in the second tier due to their undistinguished management. The book also dives into the careers of notorious figures such as Brit tough guy (and father of Sharon Osbourne) Donn Arden and American Allen Klein, the latter who served time as manager of Sam Cooke, the Stones, Beatles and for tax fraud.
“I think Klein took London by storm in the ’60s because back then, we all saw Americans as wonderful. At that time, we’d only seen them in the movies, with good lighting.”
But while “Stone Free” could effectively be used as a “things they don’t teach you in business school” textbook, at least as valuable as Oldham’s detailed recountings of the tricks of the music biz trade are his bitchy, often lacerating observations about the biz’s top personalities.
For instance, where many other observers have credited Jagger’s oft-reported take-no-prisoners business demeanor to his (brief) time at London School of Economics, Oldham isn’t buying it. “There’s only one explanation for Mick’s irrationally tough way of doing business. I think the analogy is that abused children become child abusers. I don’t think he ever got over the Allen Klein years.”
Oldham’s disdain for the egocentric games of the Rock Gods ranges from fury to disdain, but it’s also tempered with a bit of sympathy for the devil(s). “No one tells these stars when they are 21 that they’ve inherited a disease called ‘celebrity,’ an addiction that is hard to quit. Standing on a stage, one with the world; that’s a drug that most of them are fighting for, for the rest of their lives.”