In the 1990’s, when I was covering entertainment news for CNN’s Showbiz Today, I was sent to Toronto, where the Stones were in rehearsal for their Bridges to Babylon tour. They had taken over an old Masonic temple with a rehearsal space the size of a large basketball court, offices, a mess hall, and interview areas. Two-camera set-ups were provided so CNN had only to send me, and I interviewed the band members one after the other as they did a whole day’s worth of media relations.
Keith, who always disarms by welcoming you with, “ ‘Allo, darling!” was in high spirits. His deep accent and his voice, fresh from gargling with sand, it seemed, were a challenge for both interviewer and – later on – videotape editor. But a few usable sound bites emerged, including, “I think we’re just getting the hang of this thing, you know.”
And as our interview ended he said, “We’ll be rehearsing tonight after dinner; you should come back!” I made a beeline to Jane Rose, his manager, to ask her about the invitation. Also there for the same reason was a friend, Bill Flanagan, music writer and MTV newsman. Rose, seemingly somewhat reluctant, said okay, we could come back around 8:30 to watch a bit of rehearsal.
I walked back to the Four Seasons in Yorkville for a rest and a bite to eat. Back at the temple, Bill and I were led up to the bleachers in the basketball court rehearsal area by Rose. She said sternly that we could only stay for one number. Then she left and we were apparently forgotten about for the next couple of hours.
The band was spread out below us. Charlie’s drum kit was along the far sideline, bass player Darryl Jones under one basket, Keith and Ron Wood side by side down at the other baseline. Mick was at center court with a couple of music stands in front of him. A local gospel choir was in one corner; they were there for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
I was impressed by the way Mick ran the rehearsal. He would call a halt if he heard something that wasn’t right. He’d talk it over with the choir or with Charlie and then wait until everyone seemed ready to go back over those eight bars or so once again. He “read the room,” I thought; he wasn’t imperious or demanding or bossy. Never once had to order everybody to stop chatting and get back to work. (In our interview earlier that day, Mick was cordial but a bit buttoned-up as opposed to opening up, and, typically, less engaging than Keith.)
Keith and Woody were fun to watch. They did a lot of the chatting and laughing. They had pints of stout at hand. Behind them was an elaborate workbench for their guitar techs. At one point I noticed Keith wielding a credit card, chopping and dividing up some white powder atop of a piece of machinery on the workbench. Bill noticed, too; we elbowed each other. Keith had told me that afternoon that the rehearsals sometimes went into the wee hours of the morning. That was understandable.
After at least an hour and a half, maybe more, a roadie below us shined a flashlight up in our faces and motioned to the door. Time to go. Walking back to the hotel, Bill and I looked at each other, wide-eyed. We had just spent the evening watching the Rolling Stones rehearse. Holy shit. We agreed, though, that it would have been so much better if it was 1977 instead of 1997. Still, we were like kids at Christmas.