In 1989, I was invited to tag along on the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Tour of America. My first day on the tour is the one that I describe as one of the most hectic days of my life:
Wake up in Chicago
Cab to the airport- fly to Boston.
Cab to the Ritz Carlton- call the road manager from the lobby.
Go to his room- get my passes and I am asked to leave my luggage in the corner of his room, with the supplied luggage tags affixed. Head to the lobby to wait.
One hour later a bunch of vans pull up. I am told which van to get in. A caravan heads out to Foxboro, where I shoot my first show as the official Stones Tour photographer. I am handed a set list and told to pack up and be in a van behind the stage before the final song starts.
A caravan of vans following a police escort leave the venue as fireworks explode overhead and head to the airport.
Drive out to a private plane and climb the stairs for a trip to Birmingham, Alabama.
All that in about 15 hours. Etiquette says that the band gets on the plane first, then the entourage. When I get on the plane, people are scattered all over. I am standing there wondering where to sit, not wanting to look like an idiot. There is a small table about halfway back in the plane. Sitting at the table are Bill Wyman and Bobby Keys. Bobby, seeing my distress, motions me over and invites me to sit with them. He starts asking me questions about my life and how I got to be there as we took off. Bill, whose job seemed to be watching out the window to make sure the wing didn’t fall off (he hates flying) didn’t say much throughout the flight. As we were making final approach to the Birmingham airport, Bobby turned to Bill and said, “Hey Bill, do you remember when you guys opened up for my band here in Birmingham?”
Bill looked at him like he was crazy, and Bobby explained that on one of those famous package tours in the early 1960’s, he was headlining a show playing sax behind Bobby Vee, and the Rolling Stones were one of the many opening acts. I decided that I was now at Rock and Roll fantasy camp for the next three months, and hung with Bobby as often as I could. A nicer guy you will never meet. Through three Stones tours, he was always smiling, happy and playing great.
During one of those tours, I got a call on the road from my friend Jay, who was producing a record for his band, The Insiders. He wanted to know if I could ask Bobby to play on a song on their new record. I said I would ask, not expecting a positive answer. But of course he said he would be delighted!! I met him and his horn in the lobby of the hotel on our day off in Chicago, and we headed to Jay’s studio. When we got there, and everybody was introduced, he went in to play. A few minutes later, as posted on Jays Facebook page, he came out and said “I am very hungover!” “aw man, if i put that thing in my mouth and blow one more time my head will explode”. He asked to come back the next day (a show day) and we made the trip again. He of course played great, and made a bunch of people very happy.
I last saw him earlier this year when the Stones came through town, and he greeted me with a hug and a smile.
Bobby Keys passed away this week after battling cancer and liver failure. He was 70 years old. He will be missed.