Bassist Bill Wyman Recalls Rolling Stones’ Wild Early Days

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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