I don’t know- maybe not even nine people. I know that Mick, Keith, Charlie, Pierre, my pal Johnny, the engineer and Johnny Depp know about the egg. And me. Maybe no one else. But I have the proof. It’s in my car. And I have a challenge for you audiophiles out there. But first we meander.
Everyone and everything affects everyone and everything else, and we all know about that butterfly in Africa that causes a hurricane in Florida or something like that, and you get the drift. In the spring of 1998, my pal Johnny was late for rehearsals in Toronto, where he’d join up with the Rolling Stones, already at work for their next tour, which they were going to call “Bridges to Babylon.” Johnny rolled in and waited for them to come out of their lunch break. No matter who you work for or what you do, sometimes waiting is what you do, but if you’re on the clock and it can be avoided, it should. And Johnny always had his roadie gear with him. And that’s how some traditions got started.
During rehearsals for a tour in the Eighties, Keith once opined that he was always away from home and never knew which direction home was, and he missed that. Rock ‘n’ roll rolls on duct tape, and a) it’s always in plenteous supply, b) in various colors, c) Johnny knew where to get some and d) he had his compass, and he was there to work, so Johnny made a 3-foot-round tape compass with the arrow pointed due north. Without knowing Johnny had gotten there, Keith came out of the dining area, saw the compass and said, “Johnny’s here!” I know Johnny so I understand that.
Keith liked it and thereafter one of Johnny’s jobs for that and the next few tours were the compasses that Keith used to look for before he hit the stage, and they became increasingly elaborate and colorful. Maybe he wanted to know where north was. Maybe he wanted to know where home was. I like to think it was the latter. Keith liked it and thus it was (ahem…) set in stone. Another time on another tour, Johnny lit a stick of Rain incense backstage, and the band came through the mist as they took the stage. Mick liked it and then that became one of Johnny’s jobs.
During a break in the tour, I spent almost a week with them at the Fillmore Auditorium as they rehearsed for their “No Security Tour.” While talking with Crew Chief Chuch Magee as he worked on Charlie’s drum kit, I noticed that Charlie had a miniature oriental rug on his tray. Tray? Each band member has a black tray (black so it won’t be obvious/distracting to the audience) onstage for their drinks, cigs and whatever. Charlie had this small Bokhara rug that was about a foot square for his tray. It was pretty nice. And I had one about that size that was maybe—if I may suggest—a little nicer, and I told Chuch about it. Chuch went back to the “Hard Corps” days with the band. The Hard Corps were the three guys —Chuch, Johnny and Gary— who travelled with the band and handled their gear. Today they’re called the Back Line Crew and the Stones use six men to maintain the instruments and who-knows-how-many to hump the gear, but this was early days when it was just those three. Chuch once told me about the time that a radio promotions guy came up to him before the show and told him he was with the station that was hosting the event, and he wanted to give the Stones crew some T-shirts. Chuch said, “Cool, thanks. That’ll be two larges and a medium.” The guy said no, he wanted to give shirts to the entire Stones crew [his emphasis]. Chuch said, “Yeah, two larges and a medium.” No, the guy said, “I mean everyone who travels with the Stones and handles their stuff. You know, the guitars and amps and keyboards and drums and...” Chuch explained how it worked, and the guy walked off, more confused and less two larges and a medium. Early days, yo.
When I bought my small rug I was told it was a practice rug, made by children learning the craft, but both mine and Charlie’s looked professionally done, both were about a foot square and his was mainly red and mine was green, and I offered it to Chuch to give to Charlie, and he hit the roof. He was as upset at the idea as he was grateful that I hadn’t offered it Charlie directly, because, as he explained, “If Charlie has that rug, then that’s one more fucking thing that I’m going to have to know where it is for the rest of my life!”
Interesting stuff, I think, but what if you’re wondering where’s the challenge and what this has to do with Johnny’s egg, and I’ll come to that now.
The band had almost completed their “Bridges to Babylon” tour and they were in the studio in Paris listening to the live tracks they’d recorded to determine which ones would be included on the upcoming album, an all-live release. The recordings had been made at shows all over the world and they were meeting to select which ones would be used. They were working on “Out Of Control,” in my opinion the best of their new stuff. Mick and Keith had already agreed that the recording from the Buenos Aires show was the one they liked the most. Mick signed off on it, but Keith wasn’t pulling the trigger yet, and he and Pierre, the new Crew Chief, were in a corner discussing it. It wasn’t all that animated a discussion, it was just one of the thousands of details that got discussed in their business, and it attracted no one’s attention until they nodded in some kind of agreement, looked at Johnny, who was stretched out on a sofa reading a magazine, and Keith said, “’Oi, Jaw-nee, yew got yaw egg?” and he pointed his thumb and nodded at the studio.
(Here is an image of the lounge and sofa from Studio A at Les Studio Davout in Paris [Link] - Editor)
Of course he did. Remember the gear Johnny always had with him? Add one egg. It was a black plastic egg-shaped, egg-sized egg with some sand in it. It was used as simple percussion, and Johnny always had it with him. Backstage during a song at the show or on the bus or the plane—there was always music—Johnny would break out the egg and keep the beat. Everyone knew it, it was just Johnny’s thing. Well, one of Johnny’s things. So they were in Paris with five days off to review the various live tracks from the tour, and they liked the track for “Out of Control” from Buenos Aires a lot, but Keith and Pierre were still discussing it. Should they sign off on it? Yes? No? Keith liked it but he wanted just a little touch-up to the drums. He thought it needed just a little crispness, just that little… chik! on top of the high-hat. Of course Johnny had his egg, and he looked at Tony, Keith’s guy, asking, “Is he serious?” Tony said, “Get in there before he changes his mind!” And Keith said, “One take, Jaw-nee! And yer not gettin’ paid!”
Johnny went into the booth, sat on a stool, put on the headphones, and nodded to roll the tape. He’d been at the show- at all the shows, they always played this song and now he’d heard this track several times. He knew it. He also knew that the egg was an instrument of severe limitations, and he knew that what it’s got, you can’t put it all out at once or you’ll have nowhere to go. The tape rolled and the guys in the booth were watching. He held back for the first chorus, then as the second chorus came around he put his arm behind his shoulder, started shaking the egg and bringing it in to the mic, and as well as he knew the music, soon he was in it and on it! He drew the egg to the mic and then brought it back; he turned the egg on its side for a different sound and then turned it back for the refrain. It was his instrument and his gig and when it was over he thought he’d nailed it, but he didn’t know because there was no more sound coming through his headphones and no sound ever came from the control booth that wasn’t sent over the speakers or into the ‘phones, and they were both silent. It was silent in the room when he opened his eyes and looked into the booth and everyone was standing and cheering and clapping. He’d nailed it!
Everyone poured out of the booth and everyone was happy and Johnny said to Keith, “Well, I hope you know I’m not in the egg union…” and Keith told him again he wasn’t getting paid, but he promised Johnny a musician’s credit.
And: As this took place in Rollingstonesville, every decision regarding every aspect of the band involved a discussion. Regarding the credits for the new album, Keith wrote the notes and included Johnny as a musician “on shaker.” Mick objected, saying that Johnny’s name already appeared on the album. Keith pointed out that that was as one of the road crew. Mick still said no, but Keith still wanted Johnny listed as a musician, and—as often happens in this band—the Glimmer Twins went to Charlie, who asked, “Can you hear him on the track?” They listened again, they could, and Johnny was listed as both crew and musician, although Johnny admits that you have to listen “real hard” to hear him. You probably also need some pretty good audio gear, and this is the right crew for that, so maybe y’all can let me know if you hear him.
(Here's a link to the credits of The rolling Stones' No Security live album, where you can see Johnny credited for Shaker and Technical Support (Link) and a link to the Wikipedia page, where you can see Johnny credited for "shaker on "Out of Control." (Link) - Editor)
So that’s the egg and here’s the challenge: Johnny’s egg work is on the album and his name is in the credits and you can hear it if you can hear it. Can you hear it? Listen:
Here’s the egg:
Here’s the track: (YouTube Video below)
And where is Johnny’s egg these days? Well, he gave it to me and it’s always in my car where I help the tunes out. And I’m pretty good with it by now, so invite me over some time.
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A portion of your correspondent in his lair holding the very egg upon which this missive is focused
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All of Johnny’s egg collection, and yes that cabbage is a shaker. They’re all shakers
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One of Johnny’s compasses
Gilbert Klein has enough degrees and not enough stories. He’s been a radio talk show host, a nightclub owner, event producer, and has written two books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, and FOOTBALL 101. He threatens to write one more. He spent 25 years in New York, 25 years in San Francisco, and is now purportedly retired in Baja.