The story, anecdotes, clips, backstage behind the recording of Exile On Main Street in Villa Nellcote. Listen to all the outakes of the record.
The making of the Rolling Stones’s Exile on Main Street is a rock legend. But what really happened in those long weeks of 1971? Lets looks back at a drug-fuelled marathon that still haunts the Côte d’Azur..
It was Jagger who hand-lettered Exile’s titles and credits, using pens and paper Van Hamersveld had sent him. “And then those pieces of paper I pasted down, with tape, so that’s how you get that rough look. It doesn’t come from a typographer — it comes from Mick Jagger, with a pen in his hand.”
A dizzying cast of characters passed through the doors and passed out beneath the chandeliers of the 16-bedroom former Nazi stronghold, including film stars (James Caan, Faye Dunaway), musicians (Gram Parsons, Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins), cult novelists (William Burroughs, Terry Southern) and an endless parade of local Marseilles groupies, drug dealers and even a troupe of Bengali drummers.
For a six-month stretch, the Stones swapped partners, ingested every available drug, set fires and nearly drove each other mad while crafting rock’s most decadent record, 1972’s “Exile on Main Street.”
“It was like a royal court where the nobles were sleeping with each other’s women,” says Greenfield, who spent two weeks living at Nellcote — and a third just hanging around — while on assignment for Rolling Stone that May. He wasn’t the only one to notice the band’s exploits.
“Everyone screwed everyone else’s wives and girlfriends,” Johns says. “That’s just the way it was, and you didn’t think too much about that.”
Jam sessions went on for days, with hundreds of takes of rambling songs that were never finished. It ended with a drug bust and Richards was banned from France for two years. The recording were made in the underground bunkers of the villa and the Stones were divided into a myriad of rooms, tells Richards that “the drums were put a room far away, the sax of his friend Bobby Keys and others were scattered somewhere. To reach them you had to follow the electric cables.”
” Illegal power lines from the French railway system juiced their instruments, and when the temperature hit 100, they rehearsed with their pants off. A carnival of characters paraded through– Terry Southern, Gram Parsons, John Lennon, even a tribal band from Bengal… Dope dealers from Marseille; petty thieves, who stole most of the drugs and half the furniture; and hangers-on, all of them there to witness what was happening.”
DRUGS AND PILLS
Jean de Breteuil, the so-called “dealer to the stars” who supplied Jim Morrison with a lethal dose, bought his way into a two-week residence with a toot of ultra-pure pink heroin from Thailand. Richards snorted it from a gold tube he wore around his neck and promptly passed out. Later, Richards paid $9,000 cash ($50,000 today) to a couple of cowboy boot-wearing dealers known as “the Corsicans” for more of the pink junk.
The smack arrived in a plastic bag the size of a two-pound sack of sugar, Greenfield writes, and was so potent it had to be cut 97 parts to 3 — hence its nickname, “cotton candy.” Richards recalls that the plastic bag lasted from June till November.
“With a hit of smack,” Richards says, “I could work through anything and not give a damn.”