We Lurked Outside the Rolling Stones' Rehearsals in Burbank
Last week, the center of the rock & roll universe was located in an industrial part of Burbank. In one room at CenterStaging studios, Paul McCartney was rehearsing with his band for their upcoming world tour. Next door, his old pals and supposed rivals the Rolling Stones were preparing for their first tour in five years -- and possibly their final series of concerts ever.
This is Mick Jagger's car.
McCartney and his crew soon moved on to Brazil to start their tour, but the Stones occupied the studios for the better part of the past two weeks, winnowing through at least 60 different songs -- both old and new, along with rare covers -- that are being considered for their "50 & Counting" tour of England and North America. You know, the one that kinda kicked off at the Echoplex on Saturday and gets going for real tomorrow night at Staples Center. We were there, outside, while they practiced.
Although the Rolling Stones have often recorded in Hollywood over the past 50 years, they've only opened two of their previous tours in the L.A. area -- at a half-empty Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino on the first U.S. visit in 1964 and two late-night sets at the Forum in Inglewood in 1969, following a warm-up show in Ft. Collins, Colorado. With the British blues-rockers ensconced in the Southland for such an extended period of time, it wasn't surprising to longtime observers that the Stones would end up playing a small show at the Echoplex.
But even that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the band in such an intimate environment wasn't enough for a dozen or so truly hardcore fans, who gathered expectantly and hovered reverentially (most of the time) on the sidewalk every day outside the gates of the Burbank studio, hoping to catch a glimpse of the band.
There usually wasn't much to see. The rehearsal rooms were located in a windowless building with blank white walls. Occasionally, guitarists Keith Richards (wearing a hat and a light-blue striped shirt) and Ron Wood (slouching in a green shirt) and backup singer Bernard Fowler (his thick dreadlocks spilling down his fuchsia long-sleeve shirt) stepped outside during breaks between songs. The rest of the time, Stones roadies and studio staff milled around the parking lot, moving trucks and carrying guitar cases back and forth.
There may not have been a lot to see, but there was plenty to hear. The eastern edge of Burbank Airport was just a half block away, and landing jets sometimes drowned out the band, but the music was unmistakably coming from the real Rolling Stones -- the distinctively jerking interplay between the punchy drums and bobbing-&-weaving guitars was a dead giveaway. The vocals were usually faint or inaudible, with Mick Jagger saving his energy for the real shows, but Darryl Jones' deep bass and Richards' and Wood's trademark chiming suspended chords rang clearly over the parking lot, broken up only by Charlie Watts' stutter-step drum fills.
The small crowd gathered on either side of the driveway entrance and ranged in ages from 9 to 70 years old. Fans would come and go throughout the afternoon, dealing with family obligations and job duties, as the practices wound onward from 3 to 8 p.m. Early in the afternoon, as few as three people might be waiting outside the studio, with the number increasing to as many as 30 near the end of the sessions.
Some had heard rumors that the Stones were practicing in Burbank, so they visited every rehearsal studio in the area before finding CenterStaging. One especially clever onlooker should be a detective or private investigator -- after seeing a photo that Fowler texted of the band hanging outside the rehearsal room, the fan recognized the shape of the Verdugo Mountains in the background and was able to pinpoint the studio's location.
Autograph hounds, waiting for the Stones
There were basically two kinds of fans who showed up every day -- Ardent Listeners and Autograph Hounds. Ardent Listeners were primarily there to hear the songs, gathering closest to the entrance in a respectful huddle and craning their necks to absorb each precious note of the quieter tracks. The Autograph Hounds, on the other hand, were clutching vinyl copies of Between the Buttons or the expensive edition of the new Grrr! box set in the hopes that they could score autographs from band. Most of the Autograph Hounds appeared to be genuine fans of the Stones instead of mercenaries intending to resell the autographed LPs. One of them ordered a pizza for everybody and had it delivered right there on the sidewalk.
Not all of the Autograph Hounds were interested in hearing the Stones, with some of them gathering out of earshot around the corner or talking nonstop in groups away from everybody else. The most intense fans were the Ardent Listeners, who seemed to know every obscure piece of trivia about the band.