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Standing in the Shadow: Interview with Rolling Stones Producer/Manager Andrew Loog Oldham


RCM: While Itchycoo Park was the band’s biggest hit in the States, for many fans Tin Soldier is the quintessential Small Faces recording. What make that such a powerful and special song?

ALO: The beat and the space in it they are there! Great recorded moment of oneness.
RCM: Itchycoo Park was the band’s lone U.S. hit but the band, unlike other acts from The Kinks to The Who, the Small Faces never capitalized on that momentum by touring the States. The band themselves offer conflicting stories, what’s your take?

ALO: They were children. They did not have a strong manager. We were the record company. One of their managers co-managed the Kinks.

RCM: Another chapter in the book chronicles Phil Spector. You were a huge fan of Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production, so much so that you paid with your own money to place full page ads in British trades to champion The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, calling it “Tomorrow’s Music Today.” What was it about his work that so strongly resonated with you?

ALO: I took out the ad for the Spector-produced Righteous Brothers You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling because, no slight to Cilla Black, I did not want to see her cover version be the top ten record of the song. His sound took me over emotionally and made me complete.
RCM: Brian Wilson still reveres the work of Spector and feels his work pales in comparison. Could you sense the connective tissue between Spector’s work and Brian’s, particularly on Pet Sounds?
ALO: Not really, I don’t think Brian realizes how he opened up the realms of audio-visual possibilities in ways that had nothing to do with Phil Spector.

Look, you go in wanting to record yogurt, you come out with cheese. As long as it’s a great cheese, who cares if it was yogurt you wanted in the first place?

RCM: You first saw The Rolling Stones in April 23, 1963 at the Station Hotel in Richmond. Describe what you witnessed and what clicked for you to decide to manage them.

ALO: Tough to do when you’ve written about it and chosen your words in a way that you hope that universally can resonate with folks and their lives. But the wraparound version is I came, they played and I was conquered and wanted to spread the word and pass that wave that came over me to as many people as possible.
RCM: You were extremely young while managing the Stones, did that vitality of youth work to your advantage?

ALO: Who knows? We didn’t get asked to stay in school past 16. That helped. These days education is the new mafia. Totally unnecessary suppressive clan, filling in for parents who are working hard to pay the bills and unable to be parents.

Young ALO with young Keef. Pic: Oldham's official Facebook page.

Young ALO with young Keef. Pic: Oldham’s official Facebook page.

RCM: Describe your managerial style with the Rolling Stones, were you drawing any inspiration for managers of the past or present?
ALO: I always copied, I always had my idols, and most of them were on the screen… Sydney Falco, Johnny Jackson, Stephen Boyd in “The Oscar”. I just wanted great lighting and sharp dialogue.
RCM: In reference to The Stones, you once said, “I managed them less than I inspired them to become what they became”, which is a powerful statement, can you expand on that?

ALO: You open the door of possibilities, you tell your act they can do anything if they dream and work hard enough. It does help if you are right.
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RCM: The Rolling Stones’ first tour of the States was not a huge success, in fact, quite the opposite. What are your recollections of that first tour of America? 
ALO: Total panic. That’s why I booked them into Chess Studios in Chicago, so at least they’d go home with big smiles on their faces when landed. As you know we got some great records cut in those two days in May. I had no idea when or I we would break. I knew we needed vinyl legs which we really did not have until the spring of ‘ 65. If The Beatles ever looked over their shoulders, it was not the Stones they saw, they saw the Dave Clark 5 or Herman’s Hermits.
RCM: One of your most astute decisions as a manager yourself was insisting The Stones write their own material.
ALO: We were without material to record. The R&B barrel of tunes was getting raided and soon would be empty. I fancied The Stones trying that great James Ray thing If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody. Then somebody told me that Freddie & The Dreamers had covered it. That’s the moment I knew The Stones had to write. So thank you James and thank you Freddie!
RCM: You’re credited with locking Mick and Keith into a room and telling them they can’t come out until they came up with a song. Were you confident they could deliver the goods?

ALO: Yes.
RCM: Did Brian Jones express interest in a writing role? Did he have the ability to write songs?
ALO: He did, he did not. I out him with Gene Pitney, an old PR client and friend, and a great writer and asked him to see what he could get out of Brian. He didn’t get much out of him—he tried. But in pop music you do not write down to an audience. They can smell it. Brian was dismissive about the process but he wanted the rewards.
RCM: What was the first great Jagger/Richards song?

ALO: Tell Me.
RCM: As a producer, who were your role models, and how did deriving inspiration from them inform your work with the band?

ALO: Bob Crewe. The enthusiasm, the belief, the joy at being in the studio with those he was in the studio with. Bob was not only a great, great lyricist and producer, he was contagious. I thought the way he was turned into the Charles Nelson Reilly gay relief in Jersey Boys, he deserved better than that. Bob Gaudio should have listened to the records, not his ego to slight Bob in Jersey Boys.
RCM: Select a few Four Seasons songs in particular that best demonstrate Bob Crewe’s  imagination/skills as a producer and share your reasoning.
ALO: Big Man In Town, Rag Doll, I’ve Got You Under My Skin and all the rest. There’s no reasoning. The casting was just perfect. Voice, melody, lyrics and the finest New York arrangers and players. Charlie Callello was a great arranger.
RCM: Satisfaction was the track that ushered the Stones into super-stardom. When you first heard the song could you sense its commercial potential or did it seem to be just another album track?

ALO: We tried it first in Chicago minus the fuzz and it sounded not unlike The Rooftop Singers. Then Jack Nitzsche took Keith shopping (for a fuzz box) in L.A when we were at RCA and history was made that day. I was amazed. I knew we had nailed it.

RCM: Is it true that the fuzz guitar was just a placeholder for a horn line that would later be overdubbed?

ALO: Nonsense. That’s what Keith has decided to believe. We didn’t have the time to imagine horns; we had a gig to get to.

RCM: As mythology continues to unfold around him, the real Brian Jones seems to get increasingly lost. Was he is a hero or villain or a little of both?
ALO: He was just a confused conflicted cat who had already lived nine lives and who, in error, got sent back for a tenth. Before he was recalled he left some amazing musical gifts starting with his starting with The Rolling Stones.
RCM: As manager of The Rolling Stones, from your perspective, how would you characterize the relationship between The Beatles and Stones? Was there any underlying sense of competition/rivalry or was that manufactured by the press?
ALO: I cannot answer that except that I’d agree with you. They had a relationship and the press manufactured it into a competition.  Nobody complained, all par for the course.
RCM: Is it true you’d work in close alignment with the Beatles management about album/single releases to ensure neither conflicted with the release of the other?

ALO: No. The acts themselves sat in night clubs on their occasional nights off and worked that stuff out on a few occasions.
RCM: Were you in the studio when John and Paul came down and provided background vocals on We Love You? If so, any memories you can share?
ALO: Magic. We were in trouble. I’m not sure Mick and Keith could have nailed that vocal. John and Paul did and turned it into a single.
RCM: 47 years again you released Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra/The Rolling Stones Songbook. Now in 2013, Volume Two has arrived. What made you decide to do another similarly styled record so many years later? 
ALO: One day I thought that having Bitter Sweet Symphony on my mind as just a very unpleasant legal issue could be remedied by taking it into the studio. My pal, the guitarist Gary Lucas, stopped off in Bogota on his way back to New York from shows in Brazil. We went into the studio and cut a few things, Play With Fire, Lady Jane and Bitter Sweet Symphony. Later I added some horns and effects on Bitter Sweet Symphony up in Vancouver, then I sent it over to Scotland to Vashti Bunyan, whom I’d last recorded in ’66 and asked to see if she felt like singing it.
She did and it’s on the album. It all started to grow that way, I’d send tracks to folks asking them to consider adding themselves. Johnny Marr did a solo on As Tears Go By; Al Kooper added French Horn on Gruff Rhys’ version of I Am Waiting and Christine Ohlman’s You’ve Got the Silver and so it went.
Then stuff came in different ways, Elliot Easton delivered a whole finished track on Under My Thumb, I just had to add the strings and horns; same with the High Dials from Montreal. They delivered a great She Smiled Sweetly. I’d met Trevor in Canada and when he met his wife here in Colombia. Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals has been to Colombia a lot. In fact, one of my dogs is named Gruff because Gruff Rhys arrived in Bogota the same day we rescued a dog now called Gruff.

RCM: What’s the concept of the release?
ALO: There’s no concept. I owe it to the people who favored me with their time and talent to get the thing released.
RCM: Has your creative vision changed from the manner in which you approached it back in ’66?
ALO: Look, in ‘66 you sat down with the arranger and sung or hummed or described what it was you wanted him to arrange into what you heard. Then you went in four or five three hour sessions and recorded the lot. I probably did the basic tracks by themselves, then added the choruses, strings and horns. Today you build it up from the basic track just as you did before, except that now I could have contributions from all over the world, I could not have done that then.
RCM: What went into your choice of selection of 12 Stones songs for your new record?
ALO: Actually I recorded about 22, so it just got narrowed down from that. I just picked the songs I liked best.
RCM: Your Sirius XM radio show finds you once again taking on the role of being a vocal proponent for a new generation. What’s that experience been like for you? Is the current music scene 2013 healthy or on condition critical?

ALO: The world is so noisy.

Music has been wounded by Steve Jobs, technology; greed and ego are fighting for survival.

The main role of the artist is to serve the song as opposed to him or herself. That is difficult to understand in a world where we are all stars and technology supports that dangerous charade. Give me John Prine any day over what Simon Cowell barfs up.
What’s the result? You’ve got Adele who is great at receiving awards but could no more put a set together than a politician could tell the truth.
RCM: Looking back at your career, you’ve followed your own path and taken the road less traveled. What roads are left for you to explore?
ALO: I’m thinking about that. The great fashion designer Balenciaga was told by his doctor when he retires that he better find something to occupy physically his hands, because he had cut and sewn an stitched for 50 years—and as you know, if you do not use it you lose it. So I have to be mindful of my gifts and find a way to apply them in other quarters. For sure the radio helps, it’s a great ongoing opportunity but I certainly do not wish to be doing this on The Stones 60th… They can, it’s their right, they can always get up on stage and do their stuff, but for me to be talking to you about 1963 in 2023, I would find that idea slightly abhorrent and redundant.
Today it would have been a pleasure, but tomorrow it would be a chore and we only do chores at home…

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