It’s been a year of unusual retrospection for the Rolling Stones. May brought Universal’s high-profile reissue of 1972’s “Exile on Main Street,” which has sold 197,000 copies in the United States since its rerelease, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and more than 900,000 worldwide, according to Universal. Further global re-examination of the group’s colorful past is guaranteed by the Oct. 26 publication of Keith Richards’ much-anticipated memoir, “Life.”
Before that, on Oct. 12, Eagle Rock Entertainment will release “Ladies & Gentlemen the Rolling Stones” on DVD and Blu-ray. The concert film, shot on the 1972 North American tour, had a limited cinematic release in 1974 but has effectively been out of circulation since. Drummer Charlie Watts spoke to Billboard about the movie and other developments in his-and the Stones’-world.
What are your thoughts about “Ladies & Gentlemen,” almost 40 years on?
I’d forgotten completely about it and I still don’t remember much. Anyway, it’s a good period for us, the Mick Taylor period. A golden era, really, for the Rolling Stones. He’s wonderful live, and he had some good songs to play with.
Do people find it strange that you don’t recall the intricacies of tours from that long ago?
I kept trying to explain to a guy interviewing me that being in the Rolling Stones is one thing, but looking at it from the outside… I’ve never done it, never had the interest or inclination. But being in it is wonderful. People look at you aghast and say, “Don’t you remember?” whatever it is, and you think, “No, I don’t, because we were playing somewhere else the next day.”
On the 1972 tour you introduced new “Exile” songs like “Tumbling Dice,” “Happy” and “Sweet Virginia.” How do you generally go about fitting new material among the hits?
We have a bit of a problem with touring, because we always think, “Oh, make this one totally different,” but of course you do have to play “Satisfaction.” You don’t have to, and you can [leave] it out, but generally people would love to hear it. I mean, would you really want the Stones to go onstage and quietly sit down on stools? I don’t know if you would. We haven’t built up an audience like that. We are what we are, a rock’n’roll band. I love it, but it’s difficult to get out of that.
Were you pleased with the reaction to the “Exile” reissue?
Oh, I loved it when they said, “You’re No. 1 [in the United Kingdom].” Mick [Jagger] and I thought it was going to be about 10 50-year-olds buying this thing. It’s amazing, really, and the documentary [“Stones in Exile”] was OK; I thought they did a very good job. Mick as well, he did a lot of work on that.
Have you read what Keith Richards has written about you, or the band, in his book?
No. I hope he’s said nice things about everyone, but it’s his take on it. It’s not meant for me, it’s meant for other people to read it. I know Keith, I love him, and he’s whatever he is to me. But I hope it’s all right for him-it sells and all that. He’s been writing this thing since the middle of the last tour.
Is there any talk among you of touring or recording again?
Well, it’s always been “next year”-it’s been like that for two years. We’ll go on the road when Keith’s bored, when his book’s out of the way and he’s bored, and Ronnie [Wood’s] bored. At the moment, they’re both not bored. Bored enough, I mean. So I think that will happen. How long and how we do it will be another thing. It takes a lot of thought, an awful lot, and it usually takes a lot of time.