Authors: Keith Richards; James Fox
In which I am pulled over by police officers in Arkansas during our 1975 US tour and a standoff ensues.
hy did we stop at the 4-Dice Restaurant in Fordyce, Arkansas, for lunch on Independence Day weekend? On any day? Despite everything I knew from ten years of driving through the Bible Belt. Tiny town of Fordyce. Rolling Stones on the police menu across the United States. Every copper wanted to bust us by any means available, to get promoted and patriotically rid America of these little fairy Englishmen. It was 1975, a time of brutality and confrontation. Open season on the Stones had been declared since our last tour, the tour of ’72, known as the STP. The State Department had noted riots (true), civil disobedience (also true), illicit sex (whatever that is), and violence across the United States. All the fault of us, mere minstrels. We had been inciting youth to rebellion, we were corrupting America, and they had ruled never to let us travel in the United States again. It had become, in the time of Nixon, a serious political matter. He had personally deployed his dogs and dirty tricks against John Lennon, who he thought might cost him an election. We, in turn, they told our lawyer officially, were the most dangerous rock-and-roll band in the world.
In previous days our great lawyer Bill Carter had single-handedly slipped us out of major confrontations devised and sprung by the police forces of Memphis and San Antonio. And now Fordyce, small town of 4,837 whose school emblem was some weird red bug, might be the one to take the prize. Carter had warned us not to drive through Arkansas at all, and certainly never to stray from the interstate. He pointed out that the state of Arkansas had recently tried to draw up legislation to outlaw rock and roll. (Love to see the wording of the statute—“Where there be loudly and insistently four beats to the bar…”) And here we were driving back roads in a brand-new yellow Chevrolet Impala. In the whole of the United States there was perhaps no sillier place to stop with a car loaded with drugs—a conservative, redneck southern community not happy to welcome different-looking strangers.
In the car with me were Ronnie Wood; Freddie Sessler, an incredible character, my friend and almost a father to me who will have many parts in this story; and Jim Callaghan, the head of our security for many years. We were driving the four hundred miles from Memphis to Dallas, where we had our next gig the following day at the Cotton Bowl. Jim Dickinson, the southern boy who played piano on “Wild Horses,” had told us that the Texarkana landscape was worth the car ride. And we were planed out. We’d had a scary flight from Washington to Memphis, dropping suddenly many thousands of feet, with much sobbing and screaming, the photographer Annie Leibovitz hitting her head on the roof and the passengers kissing the tarmac when we landed. I was seen going to the back of the plane and consuming substances with more than usual dedication as we tossed about the skies, not wanting to waste. A bad one, in Bobby sherman’s old plane, the
So we drove and Ronnie and I had been particularly stupid. We pulled into this roadhouse called the 4-Dice where we sat down and ordered and then Ronnie and I went to the john. You know, just start me up. We got high. We didn’t fancy the clientele out there, or the food, and so we hung in the john, laughing and carrying on. We sat there for forty minutes. And you don’t do that down there. Not then. That’s what excited and exacerbated the situation. And the staff called the cops. As we pulled out, there was a black car parked on the side, no number plate, and the minute we took off, twenty yards down the road, we get sirens and the little blinking light and there they are with shotguns in our faces.
I had a denim cap with all these pockets in it that were filled with dope. Everything was filled with dope. In the car doors themselves, all you had to do was pop the panels, and there were plastic bags full of coke and grass, peyote and mescaline. Oh my God, how are we going to get out of this? It was the worst time to get busted. It was a miracle we had been allowed into the States at all for this tour. Our visas hung on a thread of conditions, as every police force in the big cities also knew, and had been fixed by Bill Carter with very hard long-distance footwork with the State Department and the Immigration Service over the previous two years. It was obviously condition zero that we weren’t arrested for possession of narcotics, and Carter was responsible for guaranteeing this.
I wasn’t taking the heavy shit at the time; I’d cleaned up for the tour. And I could have just put all of that stuff on the plane. To this day I cannot understand why I bothered to carry all that crap around and take that chance. People had given me all this gear in Memphis and I was loath to give it away, but I still could have put it on the plane and driven clean. Why did I load the car like some pretend dealer? Maybe I woke up too late for the plane. I know I spent a long time opening up the panels, stashing this shit. But peyote is not particularly my line of substances anyway.
In the cap’s pockets there’s hash, Tuinals, some coke. I greet the police with a flourish of the cap and throw pills and hash into the bushes. “Hello, Officer” (flourish). “Oh! Have I broken some local law? Pray forgive me. I’m English. Was I driving on the wrong side of the road?” And you’ve already got them on the back foot. And you’ve got rid of your crap. But only some of it. They saw a hunting knife lying on the seat and would later decide to take that as evidence of a “concealed weapon,” the lying bastards. And then they made us follow them to a car park somewhere beneath city hall. As we drove they watched us, surely, throwing more of our shit into the road.
They didn’t do a search immediately when we got to the garage. They said to Ronnie, “OK, you go into the car and bring out your stuff.” Ronnie had a little handbag or something in the car, but at the same time, he tipped all the crap he had into a Kleenex box. And as he got out, he said to me, “It’s under the driver’s seat.” And when I go in, I didn’t have anything in the car to get, all I’ve got to do is pretend that I have something and take care of this box. But I didn’t know what the fuck to do with it, so basically I just scrunched it up a bit and I put it under the backseat. And I walked out and said well I don’t have anything. The fact that they didn’t tear the car apart is beyond me.
By now they know who they’ve got (“Weeeell, looky here, we got some live ones”). But then they suddenly didn’t seem to know what to do with these international stars stuck in their custody. Now they had to draft in forces from all over the state. Nor did they seem to know what to charge us with. They also knew we were trying to locate Bill Carter, and this must have intimidated them because this was Bill Carter’s front lawn. He had grown up in the nearby town of Rector and he knew every state law enforcement officer, every sheriff, every prosecuting attorney, all the political leaders. They may have started to regret that they’d tipped off the wire services to their catch. The national news media were gathering outside the courthouse —one Dallas TV station had hired a Learjet to get pole position on the story. It was Saturday afternoon and they were making calls to Little Rock to get advice from state officials. So instead of locking us up and having that image broadcast to the world, they kept us in loose “protective custody” in the police chief’s office, which meant we could walk about a bit. Where was Carter? Offices shut during the holiday, no cell phones then. It was taking some time to locate him.
In the meantime we’re trying to get rid of all this stuff. We’re festooned. In the ’70s I was flying high as a kite on pure, pure Merck cocaine, the fluffy pharmaceutical blow. Freddie Sessler and I went to the john, we weren’t even escorted down there. “Jesuschrist,” the phrase that preceded everything with Freddie, “I’m loaded.” He’s got bottles full of Tuinal. And he’s so nervous about flushing them down that he loses the bottle and all the fucking turquoise-and-red pills are rolling everywhere and meanwhile he’s trying to flush down coke. I popped the hash down and the weed, flushed it, the fucking thing won’t flush, there’s too much weed, I’m flushing and flushing and then suddenly these pills come rolling there under the cubicle. And I’m trying to pick ’em up and fling ’em in and everything, but I can’t because there’s another cubicle in between the one Freddie’s in and the one I’m in, so there’s fifty pills lying stranded on the floor in the middle cubicle. “Jesuschrist, Keith.” “Keep your cool, Freddie, I’ve got all the ones out of mine, have you got all the ones out of yours?” “I think so, I think so.” “OK, let’s go in the middle one and get rid of them.” It was just raining with fucking shit. It was unbelievable, every pocket or place you looked… I never knew I had that much coke in my life!
The sleeper was Freddie’s briefcase, which was in the trunk of the car, as yet unopened and we knew he had cocaine in there. They couldn’t fail to find it. Freddie and I decided we should disown Freddie strategically for that afternoon and say he was a hitchhiker, but one to whom we were happy to extend the powers of our legal adviser, if need be, when he finally appeared on the scene.
Where was Carter? It took some time to marshal our forces, while the population of Fordyce was swelling to riot-size proportions. People from Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee—all coming in to watch the fun. Nothing would happen until Carter was located, and he was on the tour, he wasn’t far away, just having a deserved day off. So there was time to reflect how I had dropped my guard and forgotten the rules. Don’t break the law and get pulled over. Cops everywhere, and certainly in the South, have a whole range of quasi-legal tricks to bust you if they feel like it. And they could put you away for ninety days then, no problem. That’s why Carter told us to stick to the interstate. The Bible Belt was a lot tighter in those days.
We did many miles on the ground in those early tours. Roadhouses were always an interesting gamble. And you better get ready for it—and be ready for it. You try going to a truck stop in 1964 or ’65 or ’66 down south or in Texas. It felt much more dangerous than anything in the city. You’d walk in and there’s the good ol’ boys and slowly you realize that you’re not going to have a very comfortable meal in there, with these truckers with crew cuts and tattoos. You nervously peck away—“Oh, I’ll have that to go, please.” They’d call us girls because of the long hair. “How you doing, girls? Dance with me?” Hair… the little things that you wouldn’t think about that changed whole cultures. The way they reacted to our looks in certain parts of London then was not much different from the way they reacted to us in the South. “Hello, darling,” and all that shit.
When you look back it was relentless confrontation, but you’re not thinking about it at the time. First off these were all new experiences and you were really not aware of the effects it might or might not have on you. You were gradually growing into it. I just found in those situations that if they saw the guitars and knew you were musicians, then suddenly it was totally OK. Better take a guitar into a truck stop. “Can you pick that thing, son?” Sometimes we’d actually do it, pull out the guitars, sing for our supper.
But then all you had to do was cross the tracks and you’d get a real education. If we were playing with black musicians, they’d look after us. It was “Hey, you wanna get laid tonight? She’ll love you. She ain’t seen anything like you before.” You got welcomed, you got fed and you got laid. The white side of town was dead, but it was rockin’ across the tracks. Long as you knew cats, you was cool. An incredible education.
Sometimes we’d do two or three shows a day. They wouldn’t be long shows; you’d be doing twenty minutes, half an hour three times a day, waiting for the rotation because these were mostly revue shows, black acts, amateurs, local white hits, whatever, and if you went down south, it was just endless. Towns and states just went by. It’s called white-line fever. If you’re awake you stare at the white lines down the middle of the road, and every now and again somebody says “I need a crap” or “I’m hungry.” Then you walked into these brief bits of theater behind the road. These are minor roads in the Carolinas, Mississippi and stuff. You get out dying for a leak, you see “Men’s” and some black bloke is standing there saying “Coloreds only,” and you think “I’m being discriminated against!” You’d drive by these little juke joints and there’s this incredible music pumping out, and steam coming out the window.
“Hey, let’s pull over here.”
“Could be dangerous.”
“No, come on, listen to that shit!”
And there’d be a band, a trio playing, big black fuckers and some bitches dancing around with dollar bills in their thongs. And then you’d walk in and for a moment there’s almost a chill, because you’re the first white people they’ve seen in there, and they know that the energy’s too great for a few white blokes to really make that much difference. Especially as we don’t look like locals. And they get very intrigued and we get really into being there. But then we got to get back on the road. Oh shit, I could’ve stayed here for days. You’ve got to pull out again, lovely black ladies squeezing you between their huge tits. You walk out and there’s sweat all over you and perfume, and we all get in the car, smelling good, and the music drifts off in the background. I think some of us had died and gone to heaven, because a year before we were plugging London clubs, and we’re doing all right, but actually in the next year, we’re somewhere we thought we’d never be. We were in Mississippi. We’d been playing this music, and it had all been very respectful, but then we were actually there sniffing it. You want to be a blues player, the next minute you fucking well are and you’re stuck right amongst them, and there’s Muddy Waters standing next to you. It happens so fast that you really can’t register all of the impressions that are coming at you. It comes later on, the flashbacks, because it’s all so much. It’s one thing to play a Muddy Waters song. It’s another thing to play with him.