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No Stone Unturned
Author James Phelge provides a first-hand
look at the early days of the Rolling Stones

by Chris Parcellin
Have you ever wondered what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were like before the models, private jets and drug busts?
Well, get ready, because your questions are about to be graphic detail.
Just released in the United States Nankering with the Stones (originally titled Phelge's Stones ) chronicles the early, poverty-stricken days of Rolling Stones Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones---living in a small flat in London's Edith Grove section.
The man who provides us with this window into the making of the legendary rock group is James Phelge. Phelge was a roommate and friend to the Stones in the early-'60s, and had a front row seat as they evolved from an unknown local band into international superstars.
And Phelge proves to be more than up to the task of capturing the real people behind the public facade. His biting humor and incisive commentary show the Stones as three-dimensional human beings, as no other biography has. And his genuine fondest and respect for the band shows through at all times.
D-FILED had the privilege of speaking to Phelge recently, and he did not disappoint.

How long did it take you to write Nankering with the Stones?
James Phelge:
I suppose the real answer is thirty-five years, although physically, it was only three. There were lots of little myths and facts about the Stones that were getting out of perspective, or just being told totally wrong. I decided to write the book just to correct some things and also tell what actually happened. It became an evening job after I returned home from running my business. I did have 'off' periods though, where I did nothing for two or three months.

Was it something that you'd planned to do for a long time?
I had thought about it occasionally over the years but it was really a part of my life that was extinct. I'm not a great believer in going back. You usually get disappointed.

(seated) James Phelge, Brian Jones; (standing)
Paul McCartney, Brian Epstein; at the reception
for "A Hard Day's Night", 1964

When you first heard the Stones---what did you think?
I thought they were great. Maybe it was just that they were playing a different kind of music compared to the pop pap being put out at the time. And playing it good. Maybe it was because they were my age and part of my local scene. Whatever it was, they had an air of rebellion about them. Maybe we all did back then, and it was a mutual recognition among those visited the clubs on Stones nights. On the other hand maybe it was just the fact that it was cheap to get in.:-))

It seems like Bill Wyman didn't like you very much. What was his problem?
Wyman is aware that they never wanted him the band from the start. One of the Stones office staff told me after Bill left the band that Wyman had himself said that it had stayed like that for thirty years. Although he was in the band, I still don't think he ever grasped or understood what the Stones were about. Maybe it was because he was boring......yawn.

The Rolling Stones "Now!" album

It sounds like--from reading your book---that even in the early days, Keith was someone who'd never backdown from a fight. Did you see him get into many scraps?
Not really. It is just that he would stand up for himself. He was never afraid to be outspoken. I could not imagine him giving way to someone if he thought he was right or had just been insulted. Sometimes people would find with Keith they'd bit off more than they could chew and backdown. Talk is cheap as they say...unless you're Marlon Brando, then it's about ten dollars a word.

In Stanley Booth's book The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones he gives a brief overview (mostly from Keith's perspective) of the same era your book covers. Did he have his facts straight?
Dunno. I never read it. Nothing against his book but I have never read any Stones book. Never felt the need. Most of the people who write about them don't or won't ever really know them. Anyone from the outside is going to already be tarnished by the hype around band. They will never get to grips with the normality of the guys as ordinary people. They never knew them then of course.

The Rolling Stones, 1969

Is the stuff about Jagger wandering around Edith Grove in a housecoat true? Do you think his sexuality was questionable---or was he just goofy?
He had a womans nylon dressing gown he wore occasionally. I think he nicked it from one of the girls downstairs. His sexuality is not worth arguing over. Mick's been in the papers for 30 years with a different chick each week and the same before he was famous. Where does this gay bit come in...?

Do you think Brian Jones has gotten a bad rap over the years?
There is no doubt that his memory has been maligned over the years. It's sad to still see that no one ever quotes anything nice about him. I don't mean just in terms of his music ability which would have grown over the years and moved with the progressive music, he was that capable. People always quote his drugs problem and the various kids etc. He could be difficult to deal with, sure, but so are many people. I can think of one or two others who have had a drug problem not to mention illegitimate kids. Should be easy to pick two names to go in that last sentence. Maybe the fact that Brian's memory won't die bugs some people.

Did success change those guys a lot?
I can still see the original guys and their attitudes come through on occasion. They were bound to have changed in someways - maybe a few airs and graces with Jagger. As I said earlier, most people never knew them so would not know what to look for. They are expected to be entertainers now and that is what they do. They still have their original attitudes, if you know where to look. I sometimes see the fleeting looks that cross their faces when they're pissed off, although the mask only drops for second.

Has the book been a big success for you?
Not as much as I would have liked. Distribution was the problem. Big book stores won't buy books anyway, they want them on consignment. Like, I wanna sponsor Barnes and Noble? Things have improved for me. The US rights have been sold to a Chicago publisher and the new American Edition came out April 1, 2000. It is now called Nankering with the Rolling Stones. Not my choice of title, but I guess it's better than Eating Shit with Keith, Maybe not tho'...

Phelge today

Where can fans order it?
It is now available from any US bookstore, as well as It is also now part of official Stones merchandising and will be available from their website soon. More details are on my website.

Any plans for a follow-up book?
I'm working on a second, but nothing to add to that at the moment.

Have you heard any reaction to Nankering with the Stones from Keith or the other Stones?
Not at all, apart from the fact Jane Rose rang after a year saying 'If I give Mick my house he won't sue.' Just kidding. She rang about it becoming official merchandise, so I guess it's okay. Wyman actually bought a copy while I was in America. I gave another copy to Keith personally, but he was on his way to gig. Knowing him, he probably lost it.
2000 Chris Parcellin, All rights Reserved.