Back in the mid 1960s, overnight, a street-smart east coast kid went from being a college student to tour manager/moneyman and confidante to the Rolling Stones. The band didn’t eat, drink, or even play unless Ronnie Schneider did his job, and this trusting relationship led to a wild adventure that would soon include the Beatles, Swinging London, and producing the mythical ’69 Stones tour that culminated in the infamous show at Altamont. In his new book, Schneider gives readers an all access pass into the most intimate spaces, from hotels and boardrooms to private planes and backstage debauchery, crunching deals, babysitting the band, tasting wine, woman and dope – this is a front row seat to rock’s last great era; jam-packed with rare artifacts and all the paperwork to back it up.
I spoke with him recently to talk about his book.
Ronnie, your story is fascinating. It all begins when your uncle, the famous/infamous entertainment accountant Allen Klein, hired you as an intern to help him manage artists such as Sam Cooke and Bobby Vinton. Then came that call in 1965 to go on the road with the Rolling Stones to both represent your uncle at the box office and also help manage the band. What was it like to first to be on the road with those guys?
You have to remember, “Satisfaction” had just come out. They were big, but nothing like they would become in a couple of years. They were not quite international superstars just yet. But it was still pretty crazy out there.
Two huge components of your book involve touring with the Rolling Stones in 1965/66, and also in 1969. Can you juxtapose those touring cycles?
Absolutely. It was very different. Society had changed so much from the mid 60s to 1969. In the mid 60s, a lot of kids wore shirts and ties to concerts. It’s still got crazy, but there was an innocence to it. Kids were wild and excited because they were thrilled to see the Rolling Stones. But it never felt dangerous, like anybody was trying to hurt you. By 1969, the country was very different. You had the Vietnam war, you had some very high profile assassinations and so there was a heaviness in the air. But audiences had changed, too. A lot of the screaming had stopped and they were really listening to the music. They were taking it seriously. And again there was also this kind of street fighting element out there. You always felt at the shows that maybe things could have gotten out of control. But thankfully they didn’t, at least not until Altamont.
What were the challenges of being on the road with the Rolling Stones and having to transport them from place to place?
Well in the mid 60s, it was very chaotic but we just did it. We were just kind of making it up as we went along. There was such hysteria but again, you never felt like anyone was trying to hurt you. The kids were just really excited and we factored that in. But it was primitive. No computers or cell phones. So it was a lot more work than today. The 1969 tour was relatively easy in terms of getting them from point a to point b. we could pretty much walk in and out of places without making too big a deal. Fans might get excited and say, “Oh look there’s Mick Jagger.” But there wasn’t his whole obsessed celebrity and media culture. Again, no cell phone pictures or anything. No calling people so they could rush down to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to watch us eat dinner. In ‘69 we had limos for the guys around-the-clock and the biggest challenge was making sure the drivers knew where they were going. But the audience had grown up and matured a lot so we could go to restaurants and whatever and it would never be that big deal. We often had our own little plane which helped a lot, too.
Of course there was a personnel change between those two eras. How different was it after Mick Taylor replaced the late Brian Jones?
For me it was very different. Brian, being the ultra sensitive artist that he was, needed a lot more care and looking after then the other guys did. He could disappear in a moment’s notice and you would have no idea when he would turn up. The other guys were nothing like that. Brian was the one that would say to you, “I was just dosed with acid and you have to please help me.” In that respect, Mick Taylor was a relief. He was basically presented to me as a temp hire and I never had to worry about him. He had a serious girlfriend, Rose, and she basically took care of him. So I went from having to look after five guys to just four.
Ronnie, there are several moments in the book where you get these calls from Jagger imploring you to go back on the road with them. They really seemed to trust you.
That’s something that Keith has always said; that it was all about trust. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we were all basically the same age, and just thrown into the trenches together. I mean, I got hit with cop’s nightsticks from time to time. Couple that with the fact that unlike most people, I didn’t want anything from them. I wasn’t trying to use them and they knew that. I was there work, and they were such hard workers that I think they appreciated our shared work ethics. I also think they realized that I understood their dynamics. When you’re thrown in the middle of five good friends who work together, the dynamics get very intense. You’ll have, at times, maybe two guys ganging up on one guy and then going behind their back and then trying to cover things up... I was the guy in the middle of all that. I was the guy they would call to plead their case and make things happen and cover things up. When you’re out on the road, this is happening all the time. And so I think they liked that I was able to take care of the business but also juggle all of the personal stuff, too.
There are some charming moments when you head off into the great American West to ride horses with Keith.
He loved doing that and the mere fact that he invited me along was always kind of evidence to me that Keith not only trusted me but actually enjoyed hanging out. He loved the whole cowboy, gunslinger thing out there on his horse.
You worked a lot on the road and often times during the shows, you were settling business at the box office. Did you have much of a chance to enjoy the music?
I absolutely did. I loved the 1969 tour because every night you had Ike and Tina Turner, or B.B. King or Chuck Berry up on the stage before the Rolling Stones. And then the Stones would come out and I think they were just at the peak of their powers then. So as much as I could, I would listen to the shows. I just loved that music.
Giving your uncle’s complex business relationships you also had a chance to work with the Beatles around the same time. How do you compare them to the Rolling Stones as far as what you could observe and experience?
In a lot of ways, I viewed them the same as the Rolling Stones, just with one less guy. I say that because I’m not sure anyone can realize just how driven, hard-working and disciplined both bands were. I would watch them both sweat over album covers and titles and every last detail. They both cared so much about what they were doing and how it would be viewed. And the most amazing thing was I got to watch them all as individuals, just hang out with them as guys. But then I would watch them come together and just start making this magical music. One minute they’re just these guys in a meeting or at a bar or something but then they come together and you realize they’re different. I remember the tours in the mid ‘60s. So much of the time, Mick and Keith would be in their rooms working away together. They were taking the energy of the experiences around them and making songs from it. That’s what they cared about, making the music. And they worked very hard at it, as did the Beatles.
Your book really shines a new light on how the acclaimed documentary, Gimme Shelter, came to be.
It’s just incredible how wrong people get this story. People that claim to know will write about how we had planned to do this documentary from the beginning. That’s not even close to the truth.
What is the truth?
I found out during the tour that the band wanted to shoot two songs to use as a promo piece to help advertise the upcoming 1970 European tour. That was it. It wasn’t until near the end of the tour that I even reached out to filmmakers and eventually met with and hired the Maysles brothers right before the shows at Madison Square Garden. Basically the end of the tour. They wanted to go to Baltimore, watch the show, and then figure out what they would shoot in New York. Right after they watched the band, David Maysles started talking about perhaps shooting some extra footage to develop a 60-minute television program. All I knew was, we needed the promo footage and so that’s what I was focused on. Then he wanted to shoot the sessions at Muscle Shoals. So they did that. David told me if we never used the footage, he would cover the costs. Everything was so last minute and on-the-fly. We never had plans to make a documentary. And the Maysles got so caught up in the excitement that they wanted to go to Altamont because I think as filmmakers, they realized how special the Stones were and they really started to imagine a longer length TV show. What’s funny is, Gimme Shelter is essentially just the product of a three-day shoot: New York, Muscle Shoals and Altamont, with some bits shot afterwards in the editing room.
Without giving too much away from the book, obviously they do make the trip west and eventually capture on film not just the concert, but a stabbing in the audience which led to the death of Meredith Hunter. And then you have to decide exactly what kind of film you have on your hands. I think that’s one of the most riveting parts of your book, the eventual birth of Gimme Shelter. When you look back on that concert specifically, do you think the controversy has been accurately depicted?
Not at all. When we were on the east coast, everything was set up out there by the Grateful Dead and all of the other west coast people that put shows together out there. The Stones had nothing to do with it. They didn’t hire security, they just expected there to be security. When it was all over, the west coast press, in my opinion, completely misrepresented everything. They acted as if the Stones had orchestrated what had happened when they didn’t. And they ran away from the shambles they created. The Grateful Dead didn’t even play that day. They were too scared. But the Stones did play and actually performed a really amazing set, given the circumstances. The writer Ralph J. Gleason had started this campaign against the band, claiming they were charging too much for tickets and other unfair accusations. It just created this attitude where the Rolling Stones ended up being blamed for everything by the people that actually created the event.
After the ‘69 tour, Jagger begs you to go on the road the next year in Europe, which you do. Soon after, you part ways. Throughout the book, in addition to detailing many fascinating financial and day-to-day details of touring with the Rolling Stones, there’s also the expected debauchery, drug use and other aspects that you dealt with (and even became a part of). Did that have anything to do with you leaving this job behind soon after that tour?
I definitely wanted to get back to my own life. I didn’t want to be a record company guy which is what I think would’ve happened given the bands sporadic touring. They would’ve given me a job but it’s not a job I would’ve enjoyed. And I was absolutely dealing with a lot of excesses and I think it probably would’ve killed me had I not gone off and done other things.
One of the real treats for fans I think, is the fact that you include dozens of rare and vital artifacts connected to many of your stories; contracts, articles and communications that provide many glimpses into the craziness of your world back then. Why did you want fans to see those?
I wanted people, especially the fans, to have a chance to experience some of what I got to do. And all of those artifacts are like the proof of everything. I think they help tell the story in a very unique way and that’s why I wanted to include them. Plus, they help humanize these guys. In the end that’s what you have to remember; that they’re people, working very hard to please the fans.
Do you think the band will read the book?
I hope they do. I’m still in touch with Keith and so he will be getting a copy for sure.
Writers note: Out of our Heads is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. In my opinion, it is a remarkable collection of both stories and artifacts that allows people to experience exactly what it was like to live and work through one of the most tumultuous artistic periods in modern history, alongside some of the most iconic musicians the world has known. We thank Mr. Schneider for his time discussing his book and will look forward to a follow-up piece where we will tour some of the places described in his stories.