Ron Schneider – Legendary Organiser of The Rolling Stones’ 60’s US Tours – interview
Ronnie Schneider, nephew of Allen Klein played a pivotal roll in two of the biggest bands in music history. He reorganised Apple Corp, the business arm of The Beatles and acted for The Rolling Stones during their ’65, ’66 tours, and the 1969 tour which ended at Altamont. The festival descended into chaos which resulted in tragedy when one fan was stabbed at the hands of a chapter of Hells Angels brought in to supervise. Fifty years on from that fateful event Louder Than War photographer David Gleave gained exclusive access to Schneider to bring us the following interview!
David Gleave: Ronnie so thank you for agreeing to talk to us 50 years on from the Rolling Stones 1969 US tour which was a game changer I guess? I’m sure there will be many people who are interested in hearing your story from such a privileged and unique perspective in Rock and roll history.
Just to set the scene it’s the fall of 1969 and The Rolling Stones, for various reasons, drug busts, jail, Brian, longer recording schedules, haven’t toured America since 1966. In fact, they haven’t toured anywhere since 1966 and their last show was a one-off in Hyde Park a few months earlier in July. In the three years that they’d been away a lot had changed in America culturally. Also, the venues were bigger, the PA systems more capable and the audience now wanted to listen instead of scream. And the audience was stoned.
Was there anything else that was different about the 1969 tour compared to those previous ones just mentioned?
RS: The Stones picked the talent that would be on the stage with them; transported the stage, sound and lights for each venue. And we chose the venues.
DG: What was your background at this point? Was your connection to the Stones was their new manager, your uncle, Allen Klein? But I see you’d handled their US tours of 1965 and ’66?
RS: Only background at the time was accounting and bookkeeping classes in school. During that time my closest contact to the music business was dancing in clubs…😊 Got the job because of my uncle and good timing. I graduated U of Miami in ’65 had been coming up during summer breaks since 1963. Went from college to on the road with the Stones in 1965
DG: And we must point out that compared to the military operations that the Stones tours of today have become, in 1969 these tours were quite basic even though they were groundbreaking at the time. You were making it up as you went along. There was no blueprint at the time for anything on that scale. People that came after you were learning by your successes and failures.
RS: Of course, you’re quite right this was new territory. Nobody else had been there before on this scale and I agree that the methods of touring that exist today owes a lot to our pioneering and lessons learned.
Below: Keith Richards & Ron
DG: So it’s been 3 years since you last saw them play. How does the new lineup with Mick Taylor compare to the Brian version? Obviously, Taylor is a totally different player. Ian Stewart said Keith and Brian were like somebody’s right and left hand.
RS: It wasn’t something I was concerned with so far as the music. I would let the fans decide that and they did..I was concerned with the money..with that said.. Mick Taylor was a pleasure to deal with…no drama.
DG: And you said somewhere that on previous tours Brian was the one that demanded the most attention, was volatile and hard to keep track of. Around this time Keith is starting to develop his smack habit. Did you have much trouble with him and how did his habit impact on the day to day relationships in the band on the road?
RS: During my tours, I had no problem with anyone’s drug habits..everyone showed up on the stage in time to play and were able to perform. The only problem was waking them up in time..
DG: So just going back to compare. A stones tour now has maybe 100 crew including the steel guys. I think there are 13 people listed as being in the band. There are 3 stages leapfrogging around the World. Ocean containers, trucking, chartered planes. Oh, mobile phones, computers. I think you had a crew of 16 including Jo Bergman, Chip Monk, Sam Cutler and maybe a telex machine. Do you think it’s easier now despite the scale of the operation and what were the most challenging aspects at that time?
RS: I think I had it easier.. less cooks in the kitchen.
DG: Would I be correct in saying that Jo Bergman, Sam Cutler and Chip Monk were in charge of day to day logistics and you were responsible for the budget? If so there must have been so many incidents that couldn’t possibly be anticipated or budgeted for? Can you give any examples and did the tour come in on budget?
RS: We had no money so we had no budget..it was hand to mouth. Stones said “we need this” and I tried to make it happen. Luck and timing with our cash flow made it all happen. Somethings take on a life on their own and the tour did that.. from starting with money from the William Morris agency to cash from promoters, we drove on.
DG: Yes I heard you got an advance from the William Morris Agency and that you had to make sure that the first 5 shows happened and if they did there was a good chance you’d have enough revenue to make the rest of it work. The photographer Ethan Russell said that this touring party was made up of people from different parts of the world and different walks of life. The one thing they had in common was the Rolling Stones’ music. What did you think of the Rolling Stones music?
RS: Luckily, I loved it. I couldn’t image going on a tour, night after night of the same music and hating it ( being in the recording studio would have been even more hell if not for loving the music… I had loved and danced to Satisfaction before I met the Stones.
DG: There’s some footage of Jagger in a dressing room playing a new song to Ike & Tina. The new song is Brown Sugar. It must be October / November 1969 and the song is just a 12 bar chug at this stage. In the next month, Keith got hold of it, put the guitar in open G tuning and introduced the E flat riff section totally transforming that song. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals in December ’69 but not released as a single until April 1971. Did you witness that songs evolution? Or any other song for that matter? Were they doing it in Sound Checks, hotel rooms?
RS: Mick and Keith auditioned Brown Sugar for me …in San Francisco on their arrival from Muscle Shoals: http://www.ronnieschneider.com/somevideos/
Below: Ron & Brian Jones
RS: I don’t know for sure but that is when they left ABKCO so that might have stalled the release.
DG: As a photographer, I’m interested in photographers around at that time. I think Ethan Russell was the official tour guy, is that correct? Also, present around those times were Annie Liebowitz for Rolling Stone and Jim Marshall who did a lot of stuff with The Stones. I think I read somewhere that Jim Marshall wasn’t happy cos he wasn’t getting the access the other two were getting. Can you comment on that?
RS: No, I wasn’t involved.
DG: Ralph Gleason was going on about the price of the tickets for the tour in the press. But actually, the support acts were B.B.King, Chuck Berry, Ike & Tina and Terry Reid. That seems like good value to me.
RS: Don’t get me started on Ralph Gleason..he lied.
DG: Coming to Altamont which we have to, Sam Cutler said when he got there on the morning of the show there were already a few hundred thousand people there and smoke from campfires. It looked like there’d been a mushroom cloud over San Francisco and these were the survivors. It looked like the end of the world?
RS: When some of us came the night before to check it out..it was so peaceful and hopeful that Keith decided to spend the night.
DG: And it was Ralph Gleason complaining about the ticket prices that was probably the reason why the band agreed to do a free concert at the end of the tour which happened to be Altamont. Everybody, including the Hells Angels, blame The Stones, their egos and their greed for what happened but actually, the band left all the arrangements to The Grateful Dead who were supposed to be experts in West Coast free happenings. The Dead ended up not even playing, didn’t they? What can you tell us about Altamont? Did you arrive with Jagger and the rest of the band? Somebody punched Mick in the face as soon as he got out of the helicopter that must have sort of set the scene for what was to come. Considering all the trouble involved in making that show happen, not to Mention costs, Melvin Belli, the solicitor you got to handle this can’t have come cheap, why did you press on to make it happen? Two days away from show day there was no venue? Could never happen like that now but as I said earlier you were making it up as you went.
RS: Like I said, some things take on a life of their own (in this case continued by a con man- John Jaymes). I hired Belli ($10,000) to sue Filmways for screwing us on use of their venue-Sears Point Raceway. I didn’t want the free concert; felt it was an insult to people who had paid for earlier concerts. I didn’t know about the Dead not playing until I saw Gimme Shelter and always felt that might have made a difference in the violence. The Hells Angels came with Grateful Dead shows… maybe the Dead could have calmed things down but instead, they ran.. Mick getting punched was a premonition.
I must emphasise that The Stones didn’t hire the Angels. They had been used by the Grateful Dead, without problems, at previous east coast shows and this one was set up by the usuals Emmett Grogan of the Diggers, Rock Scully etc. The press didn’t want to incriminate the local boys so the blamed the Stones. Blame the guys that just left town is a good policy. Also be aware it was billed as a free concert with other acts, Jefferson Airplane, Santana and so on. It was never a Rolling Stones free concert.
DG: I believe you were on that famous Helicopter ride out of there? I think there were twice as many people as was safe to carry?
RS: The pilot told us we had too much weight after he took off. He warned us of a hard landing. He had to land it like a plane and couldn’t hover down like a helicopter because of the weight.
DG: I believe your last involvement was the 1970 European tour which seems to have been relatively straight forward after all this. Then, of course, they went to Villefranche to work on Exile. Did you go to villa Nellcote? Sounds like they had fun.
RS: I didn’t go to France with them..had to finish working on Gimme Shelter.
DG: What are you doing now Ronnie? Are you in contact with any of The Stones? When did you last see any of them?
RS: Not in contact directly with any of the Stones now but Last week I left a copy of my book for Keith..:) and now working with a studio, producer, writer/director to make a film of my book.. very weird for a shy guy like me…
Thank you so much for your time Ron.
Ronnie has an amazing book out called “Out of our Heads” The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and me. It can be bought from the usual places. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Out-Our-Heads-Rolling-Beatles/dp/0998166316
Photographer David Gleave is on Instagram and his personal website is davidgleavephoto.com. All photos are the property of RonSchneider© and must not be copied without strict permission. Edited by Nigel Carr.