So The Rolling Stones made it to Savannah once, but they didn’t ever play here.
On one of the band’s 1965 tours, the Stones spent at least one night at the Manger Towne and Country Motor Lodge on Ogeechee Road (also known as U.S. 17 and the Coastal Highway). Back in the days before I-95, U.S. 17 was one of the key gateways to Savannah and was lined with motels, restaurants, and other businesses that took advantage of post-WWII middle-class mobility.
According to tour details at Wikipedia (hey, it could be right), the Stones played Philadelphia on 5/2/65, Statesboro on 5/4, Clearwater on 5/6, Birmningham on 5/7, Jacksonville on 5/8, and Chicago on 5/9 (that’s a long drive). According to a Rolling Stones database, the band played 5/1 in Philly, appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on 5/2 (their 2nd appearance), appeared on The Clay Cole Show in NYC on 5/3, and then played Statesboro on 5/4 and Clearwater on 5/6.
So the Stones’ Savannah stopover was most likely on May 5th, 1965 (Cinco de Mayo!), but it’s possible they spent the night of May 4th here as well. They could easily have driven down after the Statesboro show and checked in late. [UPDATE 7/18: Check out the comment below from Stan Deaton at the Georgia Historical Society. He says that the Stones spent the night of 4th in Savannah and then headed to Florida the following day, but not before Charlie Watts took a cab out to Fort Pulaski.]
From Today in Georgia History for May 4th:
In May 1965, two days after their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the Stones played Georgia Southern College in Statesboro. Tickets cost $3. Mick, Keith, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, and Bill Wyman played 10 songs to a subdued audience largely unfamiliar with their music. One week later, the Stones recorded “Satisfaction” in Chicago. Coincidence? You decide.
An online copy of a ticket stub suggests that the tickets might have been even less — $2.50.
Local Savannah legend has it that “Satisfaction” might have been written in response to their show in Statesboro or their time spent in the area, but I can’t find any corroborating evidence to support that speculation.
There’s some entertaining documentary evidence of that Statesboro gig at Hanner Gymnasium, which apparently was opened by The Bushmen and was sponsored by Sigma Epsilon Chi fraternity. [UPDATE: One Savannah resident remembers The Roemans opening. This site lists The Roemans as an opener in 1965 but not The Bushmen.] Check out this blog post by Fred Gretsch and some photos taken by Kevin Delaney. Here are just two of Delaney’s photos embedded from Steve Denenberg’s Flickr stream, one of Mick Jagger in the gym locker room before their set and another of the band on stage:
So The Rolling Stones spent part of an early May afternoon by the Manger Towne and Country Motor Lodge pool. While pretty well known at this point from three albums, two Ed Sullivan appearances, regular tours, and a few hits, the band was still far from the big time. So they could hang out at a motel pool and apparently attract little attention. I’m going to guess that they also ate at least one meal at the Harvest House restaurant right next door, which overlooked the manmade fishing lake behind the motor lodge. Harvest House was owned by Herb Traub, founder of the world-famous Pirates’ House.
And The Rolling Stones posed for photos beside the pool.
These next two images were taken by Bob Bonis, and Bonis himself appears with Mick Jagger in the third pic. These were released just a few years ago by Not Fade Away (NFA) Gallery; a small portion of Bonis’ extensive archive appeared in The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966, published by Harper Collins. The following three images are being used with permission from NFA Gallery (click on through the links if you’re interested in inquiring about purchasing prints):
Here’s a photo of Mick Jagger by Bonis shot at the pool at the Manger motor lodge (Savannah history buffs will also remember that there was a Manger Hotel on Johnson Square):
This image of Mick Jagger looking at Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home (1965) is also by Bonis and was apparently shot poolside at the motor lodge:
And this photo shows photographer Bob Bonis with Jagger here in Savannah. The Harvest House appears to be in the distance over Jagger’s right shoulder (viewer’s left):
From an interview with Larry Marion, author of The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964 – 1966:
Q – It looks like The Stones were very approachable at the time these photos were taken. You could probably have gotten their autographs or posed for a picture with them.
A – At that time, that was definitely the case. They went wherever they wanted to go without the pandemonium that surrounded The Beatles. The Beatles on the other hand were basically sequestered in their hotel room and transported often by armored car from one place to another. The Stones, there’s a photograph in the book of the station wagon they toured in, which is a remarkable contrast to the fleet of semi-trucks they tour with now. There are photographs of The Rolling Stones at a bowling alley and you can see there are other people at the bowling alley and there aren’t security guards keeping people from talking to them. They were a lot more approachable.
Q – Take a look at that photo Bob took of The Stones at The Manger Town And Country Motor Lodge in Savannah, Georgia in May of 1965. There’s a guy in the background with an expression on his face that seems to be saying “Who the hell are these guys?” Did you notice that? [I'm pretty sure that the questioner is confusing the pics taken in Savannah with others taken in Clearwater, Florida on the same tour.]
A – (laughs) Yeah. I’m sure. He was probably looking at them like everybody else was at the time, saying who are these dirty, greasy, long-hairs hanging out by the pool, drinking?
In a phone conversation on 7/13, Kurt Benjamin of HCP Partners, a joint venture partner of NFA Gallery, noted that the photos published so far just scratch the surface of the ones that Bonis took.
“Ninety percent of the archives have never been seen by the public,” Benjamin told me. “NFA Gallery is in cooperation with a number of major companies in music and publishing to release the majority of the archive over the next couple of years.”
“The man had an incredible eye and incredible passion,” Benjamin said of Bonis, who died in 1992 having allowed few of his photos to be published during his lifetime.
Click here to read more about Bonis and about the events that led to the release of the first images from his archives.
So here’s a postcard embedded from Flickr of the Manger Towne and Country Motor Lodge and of the adjacent Harvest House. Pretty swank for a roadside motel, with great mid-century details and vintage signage. The Stones were not exactly slumming it.
Jack Miller, a Savannah native now living in Atlanta, remembers one other spot in town that the band visited: “The Stones actually came to a drive-in restaurant we all called The X, the full name of which was The Triple X, before that name had its current connotation. It was on Victory Drive near Daffin Park. It was the month of my high school graduation, full of high energy and excitement.” (That quote is in the comments below.)
And that makes sense. The Triple X was a popular spot at the time, but it also was owned by Herb Traub, owner of Harvest House. It’s easy to imagine The Stones relying on the suggestion of someone at the restaurant right next door to where they were staying.
I don’t know where I was in fall 2012 when news came that Lauren White had found a new set of intimate tour photos at a flea market. These newer photos just got my attention last month. From an interview with White alongside pics at Cool Hunting:
These photographs were a lucky find—tell us about how you came across them.
I feel lucky. I really didn’t expect to find them at a flea market. Basically, a guy who runs one of the stands called me over because I “looked like I would like rock ‘n’ roll”—and he was right. I don’t know what was lost in translation, however. He obviously didn’t know what he had. To tell the truth, I didn’t either. I obviously knew it was the Stones, but it took about a week of looking them over to realize that this was really a very unique circumstance. After extensive research, I came to find that these are unpublished, never-before-seen photos of one of the most legendary bands in rock ‘n’ roll history. Not only that, they are beautifully composed, candid, raw and perfect in every way. They really convey a band innocent to their destiny.
White speculates that, although the original photographer has not been positively identified, it was likely only a woman could have taken these images:
In a lot of the images, the guys are looking directly into the lens. It’s hard to get boys to be that vulnerable, especially in front of a camera. They are also sort of showing off. I think a girl is the only thing that could convince them to allow those kinds of shots. It’s hard to imagine a dude is evoking these intimate moments, but you never know.
Pshaw. Anyone who has witnessed the intense relationships between band members would almost have to disagree with that conclusion. And so would anyone who has seen young performers who realize that they are selling themselves in their entirety — their looks along with their music.
A couple of the more recent photos are of Brian Jones, perhaps the most important musician in the band in the early days. Things went badly for Jones, who struggled with addiction and drowned in his own pool in 1969 shortly after being asked to leave the band. Another image is of Mick Jagger and Ian Stewart, the band’s co-founder who left the lineup in 1963 but continued to work as tour manager and pianist. Stewart died suddenly 1985 at age 47.
Interestingly, while the pool and the fishing lake have been filled in, all the buildings in these photos are still standing. The site is now an Americas Best Value Inn at 4005 Ogeechee Road. These days it’s pretty inexpensive, in the range of $50 to $70 per night. When I dropped by a couple of days ago, the current owner did not know when the pool had been filled in, but did seem familiar with the stories of the Stones’ stay and of the popular restaurant next door.
Here’s what the site looks like today:
And here are a couple of the building that once held the Harvest House, with an embedded image of a postcard for comparison:
It looks like the current motel sign is in the exact location as the old one. Both the sign and the power pole are visible in the more recently found image of Brian Jones doing a handstand on the diving board.
I think I’ll take the 1965 version.
It’s interesting to note that the old images show this stretch of Ogeechee Road as having just two lanes despite its vital role in intercity travel. Now this same stretch has four travel lanes and a continuous center lane for turns. So the road is much uglier than it used to be, comes closer to the front doors of businesses than it once did, and encourages much higher-speed traffic. The creation of I-95 might have contributed to some of the current blight and the decline in desirability of properties along here, but the changes to the road certainly compounded those problems.
Anyway, I find all of these images — from those of the Stones back in the day to the current ones of Ogeechee Road — strangely poignant.
How many other young bands on the verge of hitting it big are wiling away their days like this while they are right on the cusp of changing music history?
Given the ubiquity of cell phone photos and social media, will there ever be a day again when a flea market shopper can turn up lost images like these?