Many stories and figures have emerged from the hazy shroud of the genre-defining, five-decades-long sex-, drugs-, and rock n’ roll-fueled bender of The Rolling Stones. God knows some of the stories are exaggerated, while others are even more outrageous than we know.
In celebration of The Stones’ 50th anniversary, broadcaster and music historian Pete Fornatale endeavored to get to the bottom of many of the stories surrounding The Rolling Stones’ members and catalog. He passed away in 2012 shortly before the release of his book, 50 Licks: Myths and Stories from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones, earlier this year, but I recently spoke with his two co-authors: son Peter Thomas Fornatale and broadcaster Bernie Corbett.
With LA preparing to welcome The Stones back to The Staples Canter this evening, the guys dished on the band’s longevity, surprising media savvy, and much more.
Pete [Fornatale] was obviously a longtime Stones lover. How and when did the book process begin and how did you become a part of it?
Peter Thomas Fornatale (PTF): The book was something Bernie was super passionate about from the beginning, and he really drove the train on in a lot of ways. My dad and I had worked together on this book about Woodstock [Back to the Garden] that was tied into the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, and we did have in mind that it would be great to capitalize on another rock n’ roll anniversary for the follow-up.
Bernie Corbett (BC): And I think after seeing my interview skills on Back to the Garden, Pete became more and more convinced of my music credibility. I started to talk to young Pete, and I said, “I gotta do a book with your dad.”
Are all the interviews in the book firsthand from Pete’s experience as a broadcaster and interviewer as well as done specifically for the book?
BC: Exactly. We were also able to get access to Dave Herman’s interviews [one of Pete’s colleagues at WNEW], which included a fabulous interview with Keith Richards. Then I did somewhere between 30-40 interviews for the book.
You had some fresh interviews from Keith — that’s a little bit of a coup. I think Keith often took a backseat in terms of speaking to the public and giving interviews.
BC: Absolutely. The interview was from the Dave Herman archive. I think the conversation was such that young Pete’s dad called Dave Herman and asked if he could use them, and Dave Herman says, “Yeah, you can have them on one condition. Can you take these off of cassette and put them onto disc for me?” [Laughs]
Given all the myths about the band, what were some of the biggest misconceptions you had going into the book?
PTF: There are so many little stories. It was really nice getting to the bottom of things like did Keith Richards really have a complete blood transfusion as a way of attempting to beat his addictions?
BC: One of the things we’ve kind of gone to bat with right up front was the historical reporting of who the drummer was when The Stones played their first gig on July 12, 1962. Keith’s contention was that Mick Avery was the drummer. Well, not to disparage Keith, but I think we have proven conclusively that Mick Avery was not the guy. We’re 90% sure that it was Tony Chapman.
Were the guys putting some of the myths that were propagated out there to have a laugh? Or do you find that among the multitude of stories and all the drugs that peoples’ memories naturally became a little muddled?
PTF: It’s a mix, I think. The blood transfusion was definitely a case of Keith having a laugh with a reporter.
Did The Stones deem any subject as off limits for you for the book?
BC: No, they really didn’t. If anything, some of them were way more expansive than we thought. God rest his soul, Andy Johns, a young engineer working on Exile on Main St., was talking about the first time he shot heroin with Keith in the basement at Nellcote. My jaw was dropping while I was doing that interview, let me tell you.
PTF: Some people were logistically tricky to get, but I was very pleased at the level of access we were able to get.