It’s the night before the Rolling Stones launch the biggest rock event of 1975—the Tour of the Americas ’75 at LSU in Baton Rouge—and Keith Richards goes down to Rock ’n’ Bowl back when it was upstairs on Carrollton to meet a friend. He’s expecting to get in for free but the woman at the front door is not obliging.
I’m not letting you in for free. It’s five dollars.
I’m Keith Richards!
Alright, will you let me in free to your show tomorrow night in Baton Rouge?
Richards pulls out his wallet and hands over the five bucks.
A few hours later, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are warming up onstage at LSU Assembly Center—the first of 58 days on the road.
It’s the honky tonk women, yeah
And give me, give me, give me the honky tonk blues (my my)
It’s the honky tonk women, yeah
And give me, give me, give me the honky tonk blues
National media is in town, including Geraldo Rivera with his show Good Night America. Rivera is doing a stand-up report on the arena floor as the Stones practice. Afterwards, Jagger sits down for an interview with Geraldo and plays Cosell to Jagger’s Ali.
Jagger: “I’d just like to say Geraldo has makeup on his eyes and I haven’t [giggles]. He has gloss on his lips. I don’t have any gloss on my lips [laughter].”
Rivera: “Jagger lies—he’s rude.” Ha ha ha ha.
Geraldo asks Mick if he sees himself still doing this 10 years from now and Jagger says he can’t see that far ahead—3 years, maybe 5 years or maybe he’ll consult a fortune teller. He says he has no desire to be one of those fossilized lounge singers doing it just to get paid.
They talk about his interview with a British society magazine, Women’s Rodeo, and conclude that in spite of that interview Jagger’s rebellious spirit is still indeed very well intact. Jagger and Richards sound off key in rehearsal at LSU Assembly Center and Jagger looks tired and disheveled and is mostly incoherent in his interview with Rivera.
Richards would later admit in his 2011 auto-biography Life that “The 1975 tour on which we were about to embark [starting in Baton Rouge] was fueled by Merck cocaine. It was when we initiated the building of hideaways behind the speakers on the stage so that we could have lines between songs. One song, one bump was the rule between Ronnie [Wood] and me.”
The Baton Rouge show was fast approaching and it would be the very first concert with Ron Wood as the Stones’ second guitarist, replacing the departed Mick Taylor.
“The Rolling Stones’ 1975 Tour: Baptized in Baton Rouge, Castrated in San Antone: Worlds’ Greatest Performing Band Bewilders the South,” blares the feature headline in the July 17, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone. There are differing views on why the Stones selected Baton Rouge to launch this giant tour—more than 1.5 million tickets are sold for this three-month journey that would cover North, South and Central America.
Legendary rock photographer and local entrepreneur Sidney Smith thinks it was the Rolling Stones’ love of New Orleans that was the deciding factor. “They loved New Orleans. They were probably practicing here in New Orleans before the tour.” The band stayed at the Royal Orleans in the French Quarter before the Baton Rouge performances.
Rolling Stone’s Chet Flippo thinks it all came down to risk—none would exist that night for the band on the campus of LSU.
“I began wondering about why the Stones opened in Baton Rouge. They said it was to escape the pressures of big cities, but it was more than that,” Flippo wrote in 1975. “Except for a mild traffic jam, Baton Rouge did not at all acknowledge the presence of a major rock ’n’ roll band. The audience was well behaved and receptive enough, but far from committing itself. That was why they picked a town like Baton Rouge: no physical or musical risk whatsoever. There were only two policemen on duty [at LSU’s Assembly Center] on the night of May 31, when the Stones pulled in for their last rehearsal before the tour opened the next day with two performances at that same hall. And, as Charlie Watts said that Baton Rouge was the last chance to put the show together and iron out the kinks.”
It’s less than an hour before the last rehearsal at LSU’s Assembly Center. Flippo observes Jagger and Billy Preston are reviewing tapes from a concert in Munich scheduled for release in the fall. Watts and Bill Wyman are regaling journalists from around the world. Bianca Jagger and Ben E. King are hanging with Atlantic Records royalty and Richards is playing Charlie Rich songs on a piano.
“From the upper reaches, the stage resembled a deep porcelain dish with six gently curving star points, each outlined with a foot-wide strip of metal mirroring that formed a circle in the middle of the figure” wrote Flippo. “Jagger would stand just in front of the circular trap door that would emit the giant phallus, a confetti-spouting dragon and Jagger himself via a hidden elevator. The 42-foot lightning ring with 300 lights was just beginning to be tested as Richards kicked off the rehearsal with a few bone rattling licks from ‘Little Queenie.’
Richards carries the band in rehearsal—ignoring Mick and coaching the new guitarist Ron Wood.
Charlie wants to hear me… Mick needs to hear me… drums and himself… and the bass wants to hear the drums… the amps are so directional I basically just hear myself… I don’t care what I hear as long as I hear something….
By three in the morning, Ron Wood knows what he’s doing on “Tumbling Dice” and by 6 a.m. the rehearsal finally grinded to a halt. While not entirely ready, it was as ready as it was going to get, observed Chet Flippo.
After a quick trip back down Interstate 10 for a few hours’ sleep in New Orleans at the Royal Orleans, the Rolling Stones are back in Baton Rouge—less than twelve hours later—and it’s minutes before the launch of Tour of the Americas ’75 at the LSU Assembly Center.
Geraldo Rivera describes the arriving crowd as nonchalant, almost subdued, and says the real test of whether or not the Rolling Stones are still the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world will be whether or not Jagger can get this crowd on its feet. The Meters open and after their encore at 5:20 p.m., the lights dimmed. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” blared from the PA system. The lights came back up and the Rolling Stones walked onstage with the Baton Rouge crowd screaming, “Hooray for the Rolling Stones!”
Jagger plays the crowd to the hilt. He dances downstage during “Honky Tonk Woman,” wearing black eye makeup and a black jacket over an outfit described by Rolling Stone as looking like a “baseball uniform, with red ankle ties and white shoes.” He changes identities from drag queen to macho mystery man and he has the crowd cheering with reckless abandon as he pouts, prances and preens across the LSU stage.
“‘Hey,’ Jagger called after a not entirely successful version of ‘You Got to Move.’ ‘This is the first show of our tour. We want to find out what we do good and what we’re doing terrible, so we’ll do a whole lot more.’ The announcement was met with cheers and it was not at all a bad show; merely a show where the band was still finding its way. And after the second Baton Rouge show set ended, Richards triumphantly holding his Fender overhead, the Stones were virtually whole again” wrote Rolling Stone.
“They were a very good audience. We had never played here. They had never seen us before,” Jagger tells Geraldo Rivera after the show. “So, they weren’t captive Rolling Stones freaks. You know, they may have liked the band but never seen us—the majority of them.”
A sycophantic Rivera gushes backstage to Jagger that he overheard a reporter calling in his report and that the reporter told his editor, “despite some very minor flaws, this show confirmed the Rolling Stones are still the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.”
Jagger, wearing a blue T-shirt, sporting sunglasses and with a cup of coffee in his hand, laughs and says, “I just think it’s a good band, you know, Geraldo. It ain’t great. Ha ha ha ha.”
A student reporter for the LSU yearbook Gumbo exclaims, “Can you believe it? The Rolling Stones kicked off their Tour of the Americas ’75 right here in Baton Rouge. What a trip! The Rolling Stones were here. BR has arrived!”