Andrew Loog Oldham, famous 1960s impresario behind the early Rolling Stones, is seated in a dark recording studio on Vancouver's east side.
The Stones' first manager and producer listens to his own instrumental version of the band's early hit The Last Time, recorded in 1966 as part of a side project called the Andrew Oldham Orchestra.
He is in Vancouver doing a follow-up to that recording, called Rolling Stones Songbook, Volume 2. It features mostly instrumental versions of hits like Paint It Black, Lady Jane, Play with Fire and You Can't Always Get What You Want.
Oldham says he got the idea to revisit his old Stones side project after watching the 2006 film Children of Men, which includes an Italian version of Ruby Tuesday on its soundtrack. He sees little point in releasing a CD in this era of downloading, and he wants his new tunes released on soundtracks for film and television - so he's recording the songs out of his own pocket, without a record label deal or any licensing offers. He may believe the record industry in which he once thrived is all but dead, but the 66-year-old doesn't intend to stop writing or producing.
"Just because the record business has stopped doesn't mean I have to stop," says Oldham. "And I can't just go to pilates and yoga all week."
The tracks have mostly been recorded in Bogota, Colombia, where Oldham has lived with his wife, model and actress Esther Farfan, for the better part of 30 years. The songs feature Captain Beefheart's Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas, who flew to Bogota to work with Oldham.
But Oldham is recording the remainder of the project in Vancouver. He got to know the city in 2003, when he rented an apartment downtown to write his third book and be closer to his music manager son, who was living in Los Angeles at the time. He's maintained his connections, and is now working with local musicians Steven Drake and Wyckham Porteous.
With the renewed interest in iconic rock acts, there's a new generation of Stones fans. A lot of them showed up at the Rio Theatre last Saturday to hear Oldham talk at the screening of his unreleased 1965 tour documentary Charlie Is My Darling, which shows the very young band and manager touring Ireland.
"We had the usual wackos out - the Brian Jones fans and all the experts on Allen Klein," notes Oldham dryly, referring to the flamboyant Stones member who died in 1969, and the Stones manager who followed Oldham after he parted ways with the band in 1967.
Oldham became the Stones' manager in 1963, when he was 19. In his short career with the band, he co-wrote As Tears Go By with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and discovered Marianne Faithful. He also produced enough hits to ensure a lifetime of royalties: Satisfaction, Under My Thumb, Get Off Of My Cloud, Lady Jane, Play With Fire, Out of Time, Mother's Little Helper, 19th Nervous Breakdown, Paint It Black.
Back in the day, Oldham had his finger on every pulse that came to define Swinging London. By the time he discovered the Stones playing R&B at the Crawdaddy Club, he'd already worked for legendary miniskirt designer Mary Quant and Beatles manager Brian Epstein as press agent.
In his post-Stones life, he founded Britain's first independent label, Immediate Records, which released recordings by Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Small Faces, and Fleetwood Mac.
But before he left the Stones, in 1966, Oldham recorded The Andrew Oldham Orchestra's Rolling Stones Songbook, a collection of instrumental Stones songs that included The Last Time. It's a slowed-down version of the original, barely recognizable in its symphonic grandeur. In 1997, British band The Verve generously sampled Oldham's version of the song on their hit Bitter Sweet Symphony, and the lawyer's letters began to fly. In the end, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards got songwriting credit and The Verve gave up all royalties and received only small compensation for writing the lyrics.
"In the real world of commercial art, we've done very well," Oldham says of his reward from the lawsuit. "It's not the watch strap - it's the watch buckle, but that's fine. "
Oldham has slyly recorded his own versions of Bitter Sweet Symphony for the new project, including one that features Porteous singing. "Without doubt, I'm acknowledging the sample they took off my record, off the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, the original record," says Oldham.
As for his process, Oldham doesn't actually know how to read or write music - but he's clearly got an ear for what works, and he has produced records just by singing out loud what he wants to an arranger.
For the last six months, Drake has been working long distance with Oldham on the Rolling Stones Songbook. He's spent the last two weeks in the studio with him in Vancouver, adding a little extra guitar here, a little tambourine there, and translating what Oldham wants into written music.
"Andrew is the best musician I know who doesn't play an instrument," says Drake. "He'll sing a note to me and he doesn't know what it's called, but he knows how to sing it. People wonder what this guy does [in the studio] but he sings the stuff, and it works."
In fact, Oldham's not finished reaping the rewards of what he sowed back when he was 19. He and legendary music producer and manager Lou Adler are producers of a proposed HBO pilot for a miniseries based on Oldham's published autobiography series. Oldham will go to Los Angeles for business meetings about the project after he leaves Vancouver.
If the pilot gets the green light, Oldham's unique career at the epicentre of a cultural revolution might be captured as a biopic. And although he won't say the name, he even has in mind the actor he'd like to play him.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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