The Stones: Time Is On Their Side

The Rolling Stones Back On Tour

Sure, it's only rock and roll, but it's also big business.

When The Rolling Stones set out last fall on their first world tour in three years, there were a lot of big numbers to marvel at. It was their 40th year as a band. They average 58 years old and were about to make as much as $300 million.

Three months into their tour, the Stones are winning their best reviews in years.

Not bad for middle-aged musicians. Ronnie Wood is 55; Keith Richards is 58; Charlie Watts is 61; and frontman Mick Jagger is 59.

This is the most ambitious tour the Stones have ever attempted, reports Correspondent Ed Bradley who first met them eight years ago. In addition to massive stadium shows, they are also are playing 20,000-seat indoor arenas and 3,000-seat theaters – sometimes all three venues in the same city. They will play 45 shows in North America before setting off around the world for the next year.

Every show demands the Stones' trademark energy, which is why Jagger has been exercising for months to get into shape.

"I haven't really found it that hard on this tour," Jagger says. "I was, like, ready for it to be hard. You know, you gotta, like, say, 'Oh well, I'm ready. If it's hard, I'll just do less.' Or I'll train harder, but I haven't really found it that hard."

To prepare, Jagger uses the bike, goes into the dance studio to work on his moves and lifts weights.

On the other hand, Keith Richards just turns up.

"People ask me if I work out," Richards says. "I say, 'Are you kidding? I play guitar with The Rolling Stones.' You know, I mean, you try that. I mean, that's enough of a workout for anybody."

They have plenty of help. The tour takes more than 300 people to run. The band has 350 tons of gear, and a 300,000-watt sound system, all transported by 53 semi-trucks.

In a stadium show, everything is bigger than life, seen on a 70-by-35-foot, $5 million video screen. Rehearsals and sound checks for every show are critical because each show features a different set of songs. They have more than 400 from which to choose.

Jagger says the band rehearsed 140 songs for the tour. "I don't claim to remember all the words," he says. "I remember all the lyrics of this show. I don't need any lyric prompting. But I might need prompting to do certain things like - well, remember what town I'm in, for instance."

Jagger's humor is a smokescreen. Age is not the Stones' nemesis; it's their friend. Four decades of experience has made them savvy businessmen.

In 1969, they revolutionized the touring business by bringing their own state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment to every show. In 1972, they gave themselves a brand identity, the now-iconic tongue logo. By 1975,
they turned mundane tour announcements into media events.

With each successive tour, the Stones have found ways to do it bigger and better. Since 1989, Fortune magazine estimates, they have generated $1.5 billion in revenue – money that comes from several complimentary, yet separate, businesses.

For their 40th anniversary as a band, they've released a Two-CD set of their greatest hits, called "40 Licks." That is also the name of the tour. The CD promotes the tour, the tour sells CDs, and each concert makes for a brisk merchandising business. T-shirts, concerts and CDs feed each other.

When he was starting out, Jagger says, "There was no business, hardly any business model or any business in it. All there was, was record companies that ripped you off."

Richards describes the band as part international concern and part mom-and-pop store.

"If I was to consider it all on paper, I mean, it's an international concern. But at the same time when you really break it down, it's still a mom-and-pop store. You know, we've got no shareholders, no stock orders. And basically, when it comes down to it, it's Mick and me, you know? And we're still fighting about who's mom and who's pop."

The family concern is not all business. Just look at how they travel from city to city: on a 727, customized for 60 to fly in style.

This expensive first-class operation means the tour won't break even for months. It's a big gamble, one that Jagger did all he could to guarantee a return.

He even confronted Ronnie Wood about the guitarist's lifelong drinking problem.

Asked about a story that Jagger gave him an ultimatum – clean up or no tour- Wood says, "Yeah, it wasn't an ultimatum. It was more like a plea from a friend saying, 'Please, help yourself.' It was, like, 'You won't be able to survive it if you don't do something. You know? You're not made of iron.'"

The plea worked. Wood is sober and in the best form of his life.

Ronnie Wood's problem was not the only hurdle Jagger had to clear. Last summer, he was knighted by the queen. Richards was furious. His partner accepting the title "Sir Mick" was not in the spirit of The Rolling Stones' outlaw image. And Richards said so to almost every reporter who would listen.

When he thinks of someone breaking rank, Richards says, "We're gonna talk about Mick, and knighthoods and things like that. I just really thought it was a paltry honor and that he'd thrown himself sort of into a pool of brown noses."

He doesn't call Jagger "Sir Mick"?

"No, we have other names," Richards responds as the others hoot in laughter.

Jagger refuses to talk about it. Richards admits the clash might just be good for the band.

"It's… the clash - the yin and the yang - that produces this chemistry," he says. "I mean, it's, like, we love each other very much and maybe that's one of the reasons you can do things to each other that would seem to be so offensive to anybody else. And in actual fact, it's just a sort of smack on the wrist as far as we're concerned, you know?"

But onstage, business models and dust-ups are left behind.

"It's the same as it was when I started," Richards says. "It's just that people still want to hear it. I mean, I'll do it as long as they want to hear it and as long as I'm capable. I get an incredible amount of satisfaction."

Jan. 2003 Update

The Stones have announced they will hold a free concert to raise awareness about global warming. The show will be held in Los Angeles on Feb. 6. The group is is staging the concert in partnership with the National Resources Defense Council.