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'Hot Rocks' Tribute Lineup Moves Like Jagger

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The Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks 1964-1971 was the first record - a double gatefold album - I ever bought, back in 1972 when I was 14, unleashing an obsession with recorded music that remains more than 40 years later.

I thought of me forking over my saved-up allowance money to the suburban mall store Sam Goody's cashier when it was announced that New York live music impresario Michael Dorf was assembling an all-star lineup to play Hot Rocks, as part of his continuing benefit concert series for young people paying tribute to the music of great artists.

Last night (March 12) at Dorf's intimate City Winery venue in Manhattan's Tribeca, an eclectic group of artists took the stage for about a ramshackle two hours in what essentially was a rehearsal gig for the Carnegie Hall concert tonight (March 13) . Patti Smith Group leader Lenny Kaye led the house band, supported by PSG cohorts Tony Shanahan on bass and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums and a few other musicians.

Highlights included bluesman Taj Mahal on "Honky Tony Women", and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes on "Winter," which didn't make Hot Rocks but was an unearthed chestnut from Goat's Head Soup (1973), which like most albums for the next decade, had its moments; and John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats in a dirge-like "Paint It Black" with funereal-like backing drums.

Actress Juliette Lewis, who moonlights as a rocker clad in leather, most likely studied old Stones performances on YouTube as she strutted (and warbled) her way like Mick Jagger through "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" but in the style of Ike & Tina Turner, a one-time Stones opening act.

David Johansen was seen leaving the City Winery soundcheck, but ended up not performing. Headliners promised for the Carnegie Hall gig including the likes of Art Garfunkel, Jackson Browne, Ian Hunter, Ronnie Spector, Rickie Lee Jones, Roseanne Cash, Steve Earle, and Marianne Faithful, among others.

I clearly remember hearing as a kid listening to WABC-AM on my transistor radio to then-Stones hits like "Time Is On My Side" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and wishing I was older, even though I wasn't quite sure what the lyrics "let's spend the night together" meant.

By the time I finally saw the Rolling Stones in concert in 1975 at Madison Square Garden, I had to admit they were sadly past their heyday and merely going through the motions. Billy Preston on keyboards was inexplicitly a highlight; Eric Clapton playing on the encore of "Sympathy for the Devil" saved the night from being an overall disappointment. I admitted to myself they were no longer "The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band," as billed on the opening sounds of the 1969 live, indispensable Get Yer Yah Yahs Out.

Despite my ambivalence about the band's relevancy as I came of age, I didn't hesitate to name in my 1976 high school yearbook Mick Jagger as the one person I'd like to be reincarnated as.

Hot Rocks, shrewdly released by Allen Klein's ABKCO for the 1971 holiday shopping season, predated by nearly six months Exile on Main Street, the last truly great Stones album and one that succeeded three other, as good if not better masterpieces.

Let's face it, what came after Exile more often than not were retread riffs we've heard millions of times before. Or they clumsily attempted to join whatever musical fad was happening at the time (e.g., disco and "Miss You"). Even the band was in on the joke by naming a compilation Sucking in the Seventies. They've mostly sucked in the decades since then, too. Sorry, but Mick and Keef's solo excursions haven't fared much better.

On stage, they've rested on the laurels of a hit-rich catalogue (i.e., a glorified oldies band that hit the road every few years). Since the Beatles took another route (i.e., cash out while on top as only a studio band after 1966), we'll never know what would have happened if they stayed in the game. Meanwhile, as long as there are babyboomers with disposable cash, the Rolling Stones and other classic rock favourites will be around to collect the spoils from tours, or royalties. Pushing septuagenarian status, Jagger and Richards were rumored a few months ago to be planning to regroup for another farewell tour, but all's been quiet of late in that camp.

Klein, who died at 77 on July 4, 2009 (interesting irony in that date), might have lost the mechanical and publishing rights to the Stones' post-Let it Bleed catalogue, but he had the last laugh regarding sales: Hot Rocks is by far the most successful Rolling Stones release at 12x platinum. In contrast, its second best-selling album is Some Girls at 6x platinum.

Several hundred people a few years ago packed the Riverside Memorial Chapel on Manhattan's Upper West Side to listen to stories about what a great man was Allen Klein.
Perhaps the most apt eulogy came from impresario Lou Adler, who wasn't present and knew Klein well, but asked Andrew Loog Oldham to deliver it for him: "There are no words to express these feelings of loss, but if there were, I'm sure Allen already secured the copyright."

Oldham said he enlisted Klein's help to manage the Rolling Stones when he realised what a massive task that had become ("I wasn't equipped to handle the force of the Rolling Stones"), and how the first time he met Klein in 1965 he asked Oldham what did he want. Oldham responded "a car," and he soon had one. Oldham reminisced about introducing "Mick and Keith" to Klein at the Dorchester Hotel in London. "Allen was incredibly passionate about the record business. British people were really quiet about it."

Oldham also told a story about how he once accompanied Klein to see the Broadway musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, starring Al Green and Patti Labelle. Oldham ducked around the corner to light up a spliff. Klein asked Oldham, "Am I boring you?" Oldham told the audience, posthumously, that Klein never bored anyone. He name-checked some of the people who made the scene with them in the Swinging 1960s, such as Mickie Most, Donovan, John & Yoko, Pete Townshend and Phil Spector, "who can't be with us here today," sparking some laughter in the chapel.

There were a few mentions of Klein's ruthlessness as a businessman, but he was more often portrayed as a benevolent pioneer who fought for the rights of musicians.

His son Jody Klein, who's now running the ABKCO business, spoke the longest - about a half hour - retelling the familiar biographical details, such as how his father grew up an orphan, trained to be an accountant after the war, and convinced Bobby Darin that he will give him $100,000. While in high school, Klein, perhaps unsurprisingly, was undefeated on the school's boxing team.

Jody said his father expressed uncertainty about managing Sam Cooke because he had never done it before, to which Cooke responded: "I wasn't a songwriter until I wrote my first song."

A string quartet backed by a guitarist and bassist opened the service with an instrumental version of Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," while the attendees filed out to the band playing John Lennon's "Imagine." Several references were made to Klein's long-time dream to manage not only the Rolling Stones but also The Beatles. A lawyer working on Klein's behalf about the dissolution of the Beatles as a corporate entity, described an all-day and all-night negotiating session. Among Klein's demands was that John & Yoko have dinner with a relentless Allen. Although I didn't see her, Klein's former assistant told me that Yoko attended the 80-minute service.

Richard Roth, a music packaging executive of some renown, claimed to me about 10 years ago when Abkco re-released the Stones catalog on SACD that he named Hot Rocks. "I thought of it while lying on the beach. [Allan] Steckler always takes credit, but I actually named it."