Chicago-based Perry Bax worked as Operations Director for the Rolling Stones’ sound company on their 2003 ‘Forty Licks’ tour, and for Metallica, AC/DC, the Allman Brothers Band and many others. In addition, he has sound engineered concerts of all sizes.

His award-winning popular podcast, ‘The Best Radio You Never Heard’, features an exciting mix of recordings not commonly available on the airwaves.

Perry discussed the Stones; the chaotic state of concerts these days, and what some of his favourite artists are like behind the scenes.


PB: What do you remember about the chemistry of the Stones?

Perry: It was really all about Keith. I think this particular tour was the first one that Ronnie was doing sober. I know from the crew that it was difficult for him and he was very supportive of some of my crew guys, who were having a hard time. This tour was the first big tour that they had been on, and he was very fatherly and supportive to both some of them and the other band members. He said this was like a first for him too.

With the exception of Darryl Jones (The Stones primary bassist-Ed), some of the background players in rehearsal weren’t really involved - it wasn’t even at that phase yet where the horns or background players were involved. Darryl Jones seemed to be dialed in much more than anybody else. He probably knew his parts better than the band guys.

PB: What other key players have made an impression on you?

Perry: I had a run in with Bobby Keys (The Stones’ main saxophonist-ed). My wife and I were going to a fundraiser. I asked her if I had to get dressed up and she said, “No, I don’t think so,” and I said, “I don’t like the smell of this so I’m getting dressed up,” and it turns out I was in good shape.

It was one of those fancy places like the Hilton or the Palmer House. They had an area set up, which was the cocktail area. Then you would go into the big ballroom for dinner. When we walked in, there was a cheezoid band playing cheezoid music. Corporate event standards all the way to jazzy stuff, which was just kind of background music.

As we walked in, the band was playing Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ with a sax player. I look over and there’s Bobby Keys, and I’m the only person in the room that knows this. It was the weirdest thing and I thought, “Is this really happening?”

At the end of the song, I introduced myself to him, and he said, “Let’s talk during the break.” I had obvious connections through the sound company. But the nexus of this is really crazy and really interesting.

It turns out that any band that plays popular music doesn’t really make a whole lot of their living playing popular music. They make it playing corporate events. You play a lot of music for people who aren’t paying attention to you, but that’s where the money is. Even big rock stars play. When I was doing events for the sound company, we were doing events like Elton John playing for Sam Zell’s birthday party. There’s a whole market that the general public doesn’t know about.

In this case, this is what Chicago’s Tributosaurus does. They were playing this particular event. I wondered about the Keys connection and finally put it together. Tributosaurus was playing at Fitzgerald’s legendary American Music Festival and Keys was playing with Joe Ely. They must have hooked up together and said, “Listen, we’re doing the Stones up the road. Can we fly you in when we’re going to be doing the Rolling Stones for the night?”

It turned out Rolling Stones for the night was going to be the next night at Fitzgerald’s. Bobby Keys came to town and they say, “Do you want to put on a suit and do a corporate gig?” And he’s like, “Yeah, what the hell?”

I ran into somebody else I knew and asked, ‘”Did you know that Bobby Keys was in the band?” He was a lot less restrained than I was. He took a picture with him, and that kind of stuff. I just thought it was interesting that a guy like Bobby Keys was slipping in and out of town playing an incognito role in a corporate event somewhere, downtown. We had a great chat about the ‘72 Stones’ tour.

PB: You played a Stones’ concert track, ‘Midnight Rambler’, on ‘The Best Radio You Have Never Heard’.

Perry: That was Mick Taylor’s guest spotlight on this recent tour. I thought he did a really good job of walking up to that spotlight. It was the three-guitar army. I believe it was from one of the live Brooklyn shows.

PB: Did you air the entire event?

Perry: No. One thing I chose not to play was Lady Gaga doing ‘Gimme Shelter’ with them, which was a completely blown opportunity on a lot of levels. First of all, they gave her too much time. To me, she was singing in a key that I could not recognize, nor did it sound like she was on key at all when she was singing the verse, which was not good – but the perfect opportunity was there. I thought, why don’t you have her come three-quarters through the song, walk up to the microphone and sing the Merry Clayton part? That would have blown people’s minds!

PB: Sure. People want something familiar.

Perry: We do want something familiar, but there’s also drama, context and bringing out this guest. Everybody loves guests. It would be like Lady Gaga walking out and doing ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ from ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ with Pink Floyd.

I’m not a Lady Gaga fan, but don’t get me wrong. I do think that she’s talented. Could she step in and do ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’?’ Yeah, and I think she’d make your toes curl. I think it was a lost moment.

PB: Does being a soundman ever keep you from enjoying a concert?

Perry: All the time. I have a hard time going to shows.

PB: Besides using quality equipment, what else matters in the sound business?

Perry: It’s a non-teachable art. I know there are a lot of people that are more technically talented that I am, but I have a better brain for knowing where I want to get. I may get there unconventionally, but if you’re really good technically but you just don’t know what it’s supposed to sound like you can’t really get there either.

PB: It sounds all consuming.

Perry: It’s very unforgiving in that there is no take two like in the studio. That’s the main thing, and it’s also very underappreciated. I always make a little trip by the sound desk if it sounds good and tell the guy he rocks if he does.

PB: So will you go see the Stones in concert again?

Perry: No, not at today’s price. Once you’ve paid six dollars to see The Stones, $600 makes you go, “Eh?” The other thing - and this will be incredibly present at the Stones’ shows - is I’m getting to the point where I can’t stand to be in the audience anymore, and that is something that you can blame 100 % almost in its entirety on cell phones and digital cameras.

I’m a guy who took photos at shows and so I’m not opposed to taking pictures, but at the creation of the unlimited exposure digital crap camera is the decline of civilization, as we know it. I can’t go and watch somebody’s shows through their armpits as they take the same picture over and over and over.

Yes, I know, dude, it’s your favourite song but you’ve just taken that picture for the thirtieth time. That fact is the Stones show is going to be a Stones show, and it’s going to have that particular element out in full bloom. So that’s part of the reason, and this has got nothing to do with the Stones.

I stand on the side of Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree. There are two things that I would do with this – first of all, they have a “no camera rule” at their shows and he tells you straight up, “I don’t care if you take pictures of us. I’m worried about the person behind you.” And, secondly, if I’m a band guy this is what I’d do – first, two songs, we’re turning all the lights up. Take all the pictures you want. First two songs, go nuts. After the first two songs, you pull out your camera and you’ve just been warned; You’re out of here. Fair is fair.

Have you seen the posters that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are hanging outside their shows? This is brilliant. I’m going to read it to you. “Please do not watch the show through a screen on your smart device/camera. Put that shit away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen and Brian. Much love and many thanks, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.”

The whole thing it revolves around is that people need this trophy. It’s not even a souvenir anymore. It’s a trophy, and you have to take these horrible digital camera photos and put them on your Facebook page. and it’s got nothing to do with watching the shows through the lens of the camera. They’re not really there; they’re just there to create the impression that they were there, kind of like wedding photographers. Nobody’s really done anything at the wedding. It’s just staged to make it look like you had a wedding for your book for later. Did you really cut the cake or was it just staged to make it look like you cut the cake?

Here’s another story about Bobby Keys. In 1972, the Stones used the Playboy Mansion in Chicago as a base for about a week to ten days. They pretty much crashed the Playboy Mansion on Astor Street, semi-uninvited and brought the whole entourage there and made the place insanity ground zero for a week to ten days.

Keith and Bobby Keys set the bathroom on fire, which is legendary. People had to break down the door to get them out of there because they weren’t really aware of what they had done. Every night for 24 hours, the place was lit up, and every poseur on the face of the earth was there hanging out with them. So they got themselves ingrained into the Playboy Mansion – Hugh Hefner couldn’t say no and they ended up using Chicago for a base for about seven to ten days where they were flying in and out of Chicago to do gigs in the Midwest.

PB: Do you think this is The Stones last tour?

Perry: No.

PB: Thank you, Perry.









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