(I Can’t Get No)
I don’t think I’ve written about the Hard Corps before, but it’s worth knowing about their protean efforts on behalf of the Rolling Stones, and this one is about sleep. The Hard Corps? Knowing as you do that these days the top touring acts of any genre travel with dozens of crew for instruments, amps, sound and lighting, gear, wardrobe, catering, make-up, yoga instructors, masseuses and whatever and whoever else they want with them. Some tours have busloads of support staff. Up until the mid-1980’s the Rolling Stones, as big an act as they were, travelled with only a three-man crew to move and set up their gear. Those men would be Chuch, Gary and Johnny, and they called themselves the Hard Corps.
For so major an act, it was as unusual as it was heroic that only three men controlled, tuned, repaired and set up all that gear. Unusual? Chuch (pronounced “chooch”) told me about the time the Stones were playing a stadium in the mid-west and the Sales Manager of the radio station promoting the show came up to him and asked how many radio station T-shirts the crew needed. Chuch said, “Two larges and a medium, thanks.” The guy said, “No, no- I mean the whole crew,” and Chuch said, “Yeah- two larges and a medium. Thanks.” Because he’d been through this before with all the big acts whose shows his station was promoting, the guy said, “No, man, I mean everyone! Everyone who works and moves all the gear for the Stones- everyone on the crew!” So Chuch explained the deal. He told me the guy screwed up his eyebrows like he was trying to process what he’d just heard, then nodded and walked away shaking his head, two larges and a medium lighter. So it was a small crew, and they’d become very tight with the band. The band called them roadies, the roadies called them bandies.
Chuch, Gary and Johnny travelled, worked, partied and lived with the band in what had to be the tightest band-and-back-line team in rock and roll. They did practically everything together, on and off the buses, planes, trains, vans and limos, at the hotels, bars, parties, clubs, restaurants, airports and arenas. Well, I’m sad to say that Chuch is gone, so there’s no one who can confirm where this happened, but I know he said it was at Knebworth Stadium in England. Neither Gary or Johnny remembered the story, and while this may tell you something about life on the road with this band, what use were they? Oh, Gary, Johnny and me are still pals and all, but I have this column and they were no use; but I know it’s true because Chuch told me this story himself. If you knew him, you’d know he wouldn’t lie. I’m hoping you like Rolling Stones stories.
Chuch was the Stones’ crew chief, and had been on the rock ‘n’ roll road for years. In fact, I understand it was Chuch who’d printed the first rock ‘n’ roll band T-shirts for the Small Faces when he was out with them. Someone smart saw it, and rock n roll merch became a thing. That could be another article, but this is about sleeping while living with the Rolling Stones. Okay, it’s more about hanging out with Keith.
The show in question was at Knebworth in 1976. Chuch had just spent several days up on cocaine with Keith and, as crew chief, despite being desperately in need of sleep, he had to get to the stadium with Gary and Johnny several hours before the band went on. Not that Keith, still at the hotel, was going to use the time to catch up on some sleep… but back to Chuch. He got to the venue and they did their work; as headliners, the Stones would sound check first, and once that was done and the band gear was backstage, his road case (please see #3 below) was in place and locked, they had several hours ahead of them with nothing to do until the doors opened and people filed in. There was the usual backstage shuffle as the first of several bands was about to go on. More confusion, and no spare room anywhere…
Scheduled to open for the Stones that day were the Don Harrrison Band, 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and Hot Tuna. It would be seven hours before the Stones hit the stage and then two hours until they finished their set so Chuch could do his after-show work and get back to the hotel for some sleep. Ouch! Long day ahead, brother, and with nothing to do until the Stones went on, he went looking for an out-of-the-way place to take a little nap. Maybe just a half-hour or so, y’know? Just some solid z’s to restore some zip, help him get through the rest of the day…
Ever been backstage at one of those massive all-day rock fests? Where there were so many bands playing on one stage? It was jammed back there; people and equipment everywhere, movement everywhere, clutter and confusion. Amps, drums and drum cases, drum risers, mikes, mike stands, mike cases, instrument cases, work stations, road cases, spare gear, cases and cables upon cases and cables, and stuff that you didn’t know what it was for, and towels and rolls of tape, and keyboards and tambourines and maracas, and there wasn’t a spot that wasn’t being used for something. If a spot had been empty earlier, someone would already have put something there.
Then the doors were open, people were filing in, all the gear that needed to be somewhere backstage was somewhere backstage, and the first band was on. So… where ya gonna go for a nap, Chuch? He couldn’t go back to the hotel, the dressing rooms were all full and the trucks and buses were locked up and parked off-site. Where could a guy go for a quick snooze? Just a few minutes of shut-eye…
There’s no longer anyone one to ask where he looked before he found Hot Tuna’s drum kit on its riser off in a corner, surrounded by amps and instrument cases. It was a platform on casters, with another platform above it where the drum kit could be set up and left, then wheeled on and off stage with no set-up time. A lot of drum risers give you three or four feet of space between platforms, but looking at a photo of Hot Tuna onstage that day, we see that the drum riser was all of… maybe eighteen inches high? But you have to calculate for the casters. The photos reveal that for Hot Tuna, there was maybe a one-foot space, maybe fourteen inches between the lower platform and the platform the drums sat on. The drums had been assembled and were ready to be rolled onstage, the first band had just gone on, and they’d be just sitting there for a few hours. I guess twelve or fourteen inches looked like prime real estate to Chuch right then, and he slid inside.
The sun had set and it was getting close to the Stones’ stage time. Keith was now in his dressing room where he and Mick met to decide on the set list for the night, they had it and Keith wanted to get it to Chuch so he could distribute it. By now, Gary and Johnny had been looking for the crew chief, who was nowhere! They were waiting for the set list so they’d know which instruments to pull and prep. This had never happened before and they were getting alarmed. It’s never just the band you see onstage, it’s also the crew behind the stage that makes the show happen smoothly. It took teamwork outside of the band to put on a Stones show. They’d looked everywhere, but… No one knew where Chuch was until he casually showed up and started unlocking his road case and people started screaming at him, wanting to know where the hell he’d been, and no one believed it when he told them. It seems that Chuch had slid into that space in Hot Tuna’s drum riser, passed out instantly, had still been asleep when they rolled the drums out for the Hot Tuna set, and he slept right through their hour-long set, one foot below the drums.
Gary and Johnny thought they’d seen and heard everything about being on the road, but this one surprised them. They stood there, amazed. When Chuch reappeared at his workbench, he started setting up his road case for the show, not knowing that Hot Tuna had gone on, much less gone off, and that was when he found out. But while that was interesting to everyone, it didn’t really matter right then: he was rested and he had work to do. It was thirty minutes before show time, the set list was ready, so he went to get it from Keith. Now they knew which songs the band was doing, so they knew which guitars to get ready. Strings needed changing, guitars needed tuning, batteries needed changing and Chuch was back on the job, rested and ready. As it must, the show went on.
These days Keith’s body man is Tony, but for years it was Gary’s other job. The body man goes everywhere with his charge and takes care of the details, both small and large. For example, wherever Keith is, Tony knows how many cigarettes are left in the pack in his pocket. Keith is never going to be heard saying, “Hey, can we stop at that 7-11 so I can get some smokes?” Tony knows how many cigs are left in Keith’s pack, and I’ve seen him slip the old, crumpled pack out of Keith’s pocket and slip a new one in, always open, of course, while Keith doesn’t seem to notice. Keith never walks into an event without being led to the spot that had been reserved for him. Unlike the other members of the band, Keith and Ronnie both loved to party and needed someone responsible within reach. Until he got caught with a girlfriend, Ronnie’s minder on and off tour was his wife, Jo, but that was also a job description of the Hard Corps, and it wasn’t always easy. Well, to hear these guys tell the stories, it was almost always fun and only occasionally easy.
You have to understand that for several years, these three men went everywhere with the band—airports, harbors, planes, hotels, vans, nightclubs, wherever—and besides a few differences like pay and musical talent, they were tight. Chuch and Johnny might be off doing something else between tours, but Gary was on year-round full-time Keith detail. Hanging out in New York between tours, Keith had taken his usual suite of rooms at the Ritz-Carlton and settled in for the customary bacchanal. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that Keith eats iron and pisses rust, and his stamina is legendary, so as the party was rolling into its fourth straight sleepless day, Gary was getting a little tired. They were all hanging out in the main room of the suite when Gary told the others that he’d had enough fun, and went to get some sleep in one of the empty rooms. He told me he doesn’t remember getting into the bed, only that he was out like someone had flipped a switch. “Let those guys keep partying,” Gary thought, he needed a bed. As usual, Keith had taken the suite with no check-out date, and Gary thought he might stay right there in that bed until they all decamped. It wouldn’t be his decision, anyway, so… whatever.
Gary remembers: “I laid down on the bed and was asleep instantly. Ah, the blessed relief of sleep, and how good it was, for about twenty minutes, when the manager of the Ritz-Carlton knocked on the main door of the suite. It seemed that Keith and the Rolling Stones were regular and valued clients of the hotel and the manager was beside himself with how sorry he was, but it seemed that when Keith checked in and took the suite, he hadn’t announced his departure date, and now the hotel was booked to the max and they were out of rooms, and… ummm… uhh… would Keith mind… uhh… was it possible to get back… just one of the rooms? Mr. Richards?
“Apparently the room I chose to sleep in was promised to an old couple who every year takes this room and celebrates their anniversary. They were a very sweet couple. It was one of the rare times that I chose to wear a watch.”
Keith told the manager, “‘Course, mate, hang on…”
When someone knocked on Keith’s door, it was always someone or something interesting, and everyone paid attention, so everyone on the room knew what was going on, and everyone agreed that this was too good an opportunity to pass up. One of the partiers in the suite was the guy in charge of booking the rooms for the tour, and it was he that came up with a plan. They sent Chuch in to tell Gary that he’d been asleep for over twelve hours and they were getting worried about him. Slowly, groggily, Gary came out of his coma and read in Chuch’s face that something was wrong, and he sat up and asked, “What is it?”
Chuch told him that he’d been asleep for over twelve hours and they were all “a little worried” about him. “Are you okay?” Chuch asked again, and Gary looked at his watch and thought that he’d been out for twelve hours and twenty minutes; he assured Chuch he was okay. So Chuch said, “Good, let’s get back to Keith.” Gary said “okay,” got out of bed, stretched, and went back to the party after a full twenty minute nap, and they continued on until the next day.
Indeed, you may assume that they were. These days Gary and I are still pals; he lives on the east coast and still sees Keith when he’s in the area. Johnny’s still a pal and resides in sunny climes and would probably say hello if he knew you.
Chuch really was a remarkable person and is still sorely missed. Here are some links for you:
(The Bulldog decal was a hash café in Amsterdam that the backline favored [I still have a menu from there], and I’m proud to say that in the opening shot in the upper right is a decal from Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp, an event I produced in 1989. Nice to see that again. Thanks, Chuch.)
Rolling Stones at Knebworth “You Gotta Move”
Rolling Stones at Knebworth set list - LINK
We’ve heard from Johnny in this space before, and I wanted to include him with the other two members of the Hard Corps, but we were sitting around talking, as we do, and this came up. He’d heard Gary’s story from Chuch, but didn’t remember Chuch’s story about Knebworth. We laughed and laughed, and I asked him if he had a sleep story to contribute. He laughed some more, thought about it and said, “It was always like that!” We laughed, and then we talked about something else.
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 three books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, FOOTBALL 101 and God Watches Over Drunks and Fools. 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.