A veteran rock-and-roll manager returns - in South America
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - He was once one of London's best-known '60s-era rogues, dressed flamboyantly, spinning around town in a Mini Cooper and using a bodyguard known as "the butcher" to threaten his rivals.
Andrew Loog Oldham also changed rock music forever, managing the Rolling Stones in the early years, manufacturing their bad boy image and producing some of music history's most memorable hits.
Now 66 but still characteristically self-deprecating, Oldham said he could be enjoying the perks of a free bus pass in London. But more than four decades after his highly publicized split with the Stones, Oldham said it's still about the music.
So in this latest chapter of a remarkable life, Oldham is once more managing rock-and-rollers. But this time he is doing it en español, here in South America.
"You could say it's the wrong time to be investing in making records," said Oldham, speaking in the dining room of his Bogota apartment, "but then again, I couldn't resist the songs, you know. It's as simple as that."
The man who helped make Mick Jagger a mesmerizing showman is working with an Argentine band, Los Ratones Paranoicos, or the Paranoid Mice, a foursome that worshiped the Stones. The collaboration has resulted in six albums, the latest last year, a medley of blues-oriented ballads and hard-driving guitar riffs that include lyrics Oldham wrote with the group's front man, Juanse.
"Basically, they are like the Rolling Stones," said Oldham, who with his lanky frame and long, slightly kinky hair, still looks the part of a rock impresario. "All I had to do was to upgrade technically. I fell in love with them immediately."
He also recently produced "Peregrino," or "Pilgrim," for Juan Galeano, an up-and-coming Colombian rocker who has won Oldham's admiration for not only writing his own songs but playing myriad instruments.
"I'm a vampire, man - keeps me young," Oldham said with a laugh, describing his now hectic schedule. "What I mean is while you are engaged, you don't feel your age. And all of a sudden, I am recording a lot of stuff."
In rock's early years, Oldham was a fast-talking hustler, fascinated with fashion and music when he saw the Stones in a London bar in 1963. He became their manager, producing "Paint It Black," "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Satisfaction." Those and other hits he produced relied on explicit lyrics unheard of in rock, antithesis to the sugar-coated lines of the more popular Beatles.
"If he did nothing but that, he'd be important to rock-and-roll, but he did a lot more," said Mark Kemp, a former editor for Rolling Stones magazine.
After Oldham split with the Stones in 1967, he remained financially and creatively successful but he said drug use nearly killed him - three times, to be exact. "In about 1967, I basically went out to lunch for about 25 years," he explained.
Oldham partly credits his recovery to a near-epic project he undertook in the 1990s, writing "Stoned" and two other lengthy volumes that make up his memoirs. Oldham said that he had not been ready to expend his energy on music.
"When I straightened up in 1995, the worst thing you can do is dive straight back into the world which supported or tortured or enabled your addictions," he said. "So I concentrated on doing my books, because the first thing to do was to prove to myself that I could start and finish a job."
Off drugs and healthy, Oldham also took on a steady job - hosting "Underground Garage" on Sirius Satellite Radio from his Bogota apartment. The hyperkinetic Oldham can offer a long soliloquy on the merits of the old Mayflower Hotel in New York one moment, then switch to the roots of garage bands before delving into Kennedy at Chappaquiddick.
"I was not looking for a typical DJ, but someone who could speak from experience, and who better than him?" said Steven Van Zandt, who recruited Oldham for "Underground Garage." "He has an absolute love for the music and a healthy dose of cynicism."
Oldham moved to Bogota after marrying a Colombian model and actress he had met in London, Esther Farfan, and gathering "what remaining marbles I had at that time."
"I couldn't stand the idea of staying in England and becoming a relic," Oldham said.
On the surface, it is hard to imagine Oldham thriving in Colombia, a land of salsa and regional folk music, or Argentina, where the tango is king. "It gives me a headache," he said of the local music scene.
And it is also easy to see how life could be one of mundane routines, like walking the two lovable mutts Oldham found in the street or going to bed shortly after dusk, as his wife said he is prone to do.
Yet, ask Oldham to elaborate on Latin music and he gushes about Carlos Vives, a Colombian who took folkloric music, mixed it with world music and became an international star. "He has a pop sensibility that I can understand," said Oldham.
These days, Oldham has taken on yet another project: working with Lou Adler, himself a famous rock producer, on an HBO pilot for a possible series.
It would be about the Rolling Stones in the 1960s - so it would largely be about Andrew Loog Oldham and his escapades. The writing had been taking place of late in Malibu.
"Tough life!" Oldham said from California. "This is rock-and-roll heaven."