Long before gun-toting rap stars roamed America, the first manager of the Rolling Stones was terrorizing “Swinging” London, throwing errant journalists out of windows and others off bridges.
Accompanied by a thuggish bodyguard, teenage pop Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham was said to be quite the rogue 40 years ago: Sporting a cape, he would careen around the city in his Mini Cooper, speakers blaring from the roof of the tiny car.
This is not all completely true – especially the bit about the cape – but the anecdotes and rumors metamorphosed into “facts” over the years, a consequence of the hype and mystique Oldham engineered on behalf of his rabble-rousing charges.
Now 57, he is setting the record straight in his memoirs, “Stoned” (St. Martin’s Press, U.S.; Secker & Warburg, U.K.), which details the early days of the so-called greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. The star character is not Mick Jagger or Keith Richards, it is Oldham – an arrogant genius redeemed by self-effacing British sense of humor.
“I would hope that (Stones guitarist) Keith Richards would turn around and say, ‘Well finally, Andrew’s working on his favorite act – himself.’ Which I am,” Oldham said in an interview in his three-story Bogota apartment.
Oldham managed the Stones from 1963 to 1967 (in partnership with the late Eric Easton through 1965) and produced all their records during that period, including the hits everyone knows and loves to this day: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” “Play With Fire,” “Paint It, Black,” “Get Off Of My Cloud,” and others.
More importantly, practiced at the art of deception, he transformed the nice, middle-class boys into the anti-Beatles. To underscore their outlaw image, he invented the line, “Would you let your daughter go out with a Rolling Stone?”
These days, with the Beatles bigger than ever 30 years after breaking up, he still considers the Stones to be underdogs, albeit filthy rich ones.
“We’re always gonna be the bad boys. We’re always gonna be urchins,” he said. “I had to wait until the Rolling Stones had their last hit before my early work was recognized.”
After splitting with the Stones in 1967 – a case of mutual boredom – Oldham essentially disappeared. He did more drugs than any of his proteges, married a Colombian film star, moved to Bogota, got sober six years ago and became a Scientologist.
True to its subtitle, “A Memoir of London in the 1960s,” “Stoned” focuses on life in what would briefly become the hippest city in the world. Tantalizingly it ends in 1964, after the Stones had released their first album but before they had set foot in the United States. Two sequels are planned.
Richards and bandmates did not cooperate as their relations with Oldham are distant. But singer Mick Jagger’s publicist sidekick, Tony King, was one of 70 contributors to supply anecdotes, giving the book a hint of official recognition.
Other contributors include entertainment impresario Don Arden, Who guitarist Pete Townshend and former Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones.
Just 19 when he signed the band, Oldham already boasted a colorful resume, including stints doing publicity for fashion designer Mary Quant and Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
Although he was younger, the Stones warmed to his gung-ho ways, which were inspired by American gangster movies. And, inspired by American producers like Phil Spector and Bob Crewe, Oldham secured a lucrative recording contract, something Epstein did not initially do for the Beatles.
All this would have been pointless if Oldham had not forced blues aficionados Jagger and Richards to write their own songs, instead of “sparring with (covers band) the Swinging Blue Jeans for some black guy’s song that hadn’t been recorded to death.”
He got a songwriting credit on “As Tears Go By,” one of the duo’s first tunes, originally a 1964 Marianne Faithfull hit.
By his own admission, Oldham knew nothing about producing – he tried to plug an electric guitar into the wall – but he was a quick learner and eager collaborator, and the records “fell together… Next one, next one, next one.”
The fruits of those labors – gold records galore – adorn his apartment, which he shares with his wife, Esther Farfan, their teenage son Maximillian and beagle Ruby.
He does not need to work because he has a modest financial participation in publishing revenues generated by the Stones catalog up to and including the 1971 album “Sticky Fingers.” When director Martin Scorsese crammed a bunch of Stones songs into the 1995 film “Casino,” Oldham hit the jackpot.
He is already putting the finishing touches on a sequel, “2Stoned,” expected to come out in Britain by fall 2002. It will trace the band’s slow conquest of America through 1967.
“If the first book is in some ways an applause to the dream of America, then ‘2Stoned’ is the reality. ‘Stoned’ is like ‘Little Women;’ ‘2Stoned’ is like ‘In Cold Blood,”‘ he warned.
A third book, “Stoned Free,” will trace his downfall when he became a drug addict and smuggler. Now a bit of a health freak, he is hooked on a few TV shows: the “Law & Order” franchise, “Homicide” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Which brings us to his own criminal endeavors. “Stoned” attempts to correct some myths, but he inadvertently adds to the pile by including some of his contributors’ dubious tales.
For the record, he does cop to barging into a critic’s office along with his bodyguard, Reg “The Butcher” King and threatening to defenestrate the hapless scribe. And when a record company employee leaked the titles of the next Stones album to a music paper, Oldham and King threw him in a car and threatened to drop him into the Thames wearing concrete boots.
“It’s all theatrics,” he now explains. “You do what you do to keep yourself energized, to make every day count. Remember, it was us against them. We all have our own devices.”