The Stones’ First Roll Through Georgia

Charlie Watts backstage at the Georgia Southern show.

By Fred Gretsch

I’ve been a fan and follower of Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones for many years. After all, Charlie is one of the longest-running Gretsch drum artists—a fact of which I’m very proud. But though I thought I knew a good deal about the band’s history, I recently discovered a bit of that history that I wasn’t familiar with . . . and which connects the Stones with the Gretsch family’s current home state of Georgia.

In 1965 the Rolling Stones were at the vanguard of the British Invasion. They were contemporaries of the Beatles, but they took a very different approach than the Fab Four. Instead of creating happy pop melodies, the Stones’ music was more heavily influenced by the raw, earthy sound of American blues. The band also looked different, with longer hair, a street-oriented wardrobe, and a generally grittier overall attitude.

After two successful European tours, the Stones headed for North America in April of 1965. They started out in Canada, then worked their way through the US Northeast . . . a routing that took them into New York City and their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 2.

The Rolling Stones play their first-ever college show on May 4, 1965 at Georgia Southern College in Statesboro.

Following their TV appearance the band headed south. And that’s where the Georgia connection comes in. On May 4, 1965 the Rolling Stones played their first college show—and their first southern-US performance—in Hanner Gymnasium at what was then Georgia Southern College in Statesboro. The show was sponsored by the school’s Sigma Epsilon Chi fraternity, and tickets cost $2.50.

Charlie Watts and bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman headlined a show that featured a popular local band called The Bushmen as an opening act. The Stones played ten songs to a subdued audience that, frankly, was largely unfamiliar with their music. Although the Stones had appeared on American TV twice, they had yet to break into the US recording scene with the sort of mega-hits that the Beatles had enjoyed.

A ticket for the show cost $2.50.

According to an item that appears as number 38 in Georgia Southern University’s 100 Things You Should Know About GSU, “The Rolling Stones performed their first United States college act at the college on May 4, 1965. Some concert attendees reported a successful show, but the George-Anne reviewer praised the opening act for saving the concert. The review suggested that the Rolling Stones would be easily forgotten.”

As we all know, The Rolling Stones were not forgotten. They went to Florida on the day after the Georgia performance, and while they were there they wrote a little ditty called “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”  Some Stones historians say that the song title was connected to a blues tune that was a favorite of Keith’s. But other Stonesophiles speculate that it might have been a response to the lukewarm reception that the band received at their Statesboro show.

After finishing the southern leg of their tour in Jacksonville, Florida on May 8, the Stones moved to Chicago. While there they worked on “Satisfaction” at the Chess recording studios.  Two days later they were in Los Angeles, where they recorded the song at RCA studios.  It was in this session, the story goes, that Keith Richards rigged a version of a “fuzz box” to his guitar, giving the song’s opening riff its signature sound and sending  “Satisfaction”—and the Rolling Stones—straight up the charts.

A pensive Mick Jagger in Florida the day after the show in Statesboro…and one day before co-writing “Satisfaction.”

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