EDITOR’S NOTE: Sad, sad news. We received word today that Tom Sheehy, aka The Colonel — longtime Philly music publicist/scenester/historian, storied music biz vet, barroom philosopher, perennial guest list fixture, late-blooming recipient of a P.H.D. in 20th Century American History from Penn, colonel in the ‘MMaRmy, and frequent Phawker contributor — passed away this weekend. This week we will honor his memory by re-posting some of his greatest Phawker hits.
We begin with his beloved Rolling Stones and the time he snuck into Keith Richards hotel room in New York in 1969. We will also be re-posting his remembrances of seeing The Beatles at JFK in 1964, seeing Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1966 for the princely sum of $1.90, seeing The Who, The Troggs and Pink fucking Floyd at JFK Stadium in 1968 (ticket price: $1.00!), and lastly being there the night Nirvana honored a longstanding booking at JC Dobbs (where he served as publicist) in 1991, one week after the release of Nevermind made them The Center Of Everything. A show that hundreds, if not thousands, claim to have attended, though in truth only 125 actually were there that night.
He never lost that gotta-have-it fire in the belly for loud, sweaty live-ass rock n’ roll in the flesh. Though he may have been pushing 70 (like his namesake, the actual facts of his life are swathed in unknowable mystery), he managed to die before he got old. For men like Tom Sheehy — self-appointed keepers of the aural memory of the tribe, who dedicated their lives to ‘being there’ and remembering what most have long since forgotten — there is no higher calling. I won’t pretend to know where he is now, but I do know this: wherever it is, The Colonel is on the guest list.
BY COLONEL TOM SHEEHY I know what it is like to be somewhat obsessed with The Rolling Stones at a young age. As I look back on my earlier days, I remember I liked the Beach Boys, I loved The Beatles, but I lived The Rolling Stones. So much so, that it began to affect my grades in High School. Consequently, my Guidance Counselor called my Dad on the telephone to discuss with him my “Rolling Stones problem.” The music of The Rolling Stones connected with me in a way that nothing before it ever had. They got my soul to the point where a priest confronted me with the question, “Son, are these degenerates your god?” I guess on some level they became such an important part of my young life that I converted from a devout Roman Catholic to a committed Rock & Roller.
This passion all came to a head on November 27, 1969 when the Stones performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Little did I know, that on that night, I would not only see one of the greatest performances the band ever gave, I’d get to meet The Man himself. For me, Keith Richards was The Rolling Stones and I had to meet him. My friend Harvey and I made a pact: We were going to meet Keith Richards, and all we needed was the perfect plan to actually make it happen. We knew the Stones were staying at The Plaza Hotel, but we didn’t know what floor Keith was staying on; we needed inside information and for that we turned to the groupies.
Back in the 1960’s, the groupies knew everything. They had all the information and the access because they took care of the limo drivers. We then bumped into one we knew, her name was Lizzy from Queens. We told Lizzy what we were up to, so she told us what we needed to know, and that was, Keith was staying on the ninth floor of The Plaza. Lizzy also told us that as soon as the band finished “Street Fighting Man” that night (the last song of the set) the Stones would literally jump into their awaiting limos and rush back to their hotel. There would be no after show backstage hang that night, so time would be tight.
Harvey and I crunched the numbers and calculated that in order to beat the limos back to 59th and Fifth, we would need extra time — and to get that extra time we would have to leave the Garden as soon as Keith hit the opening chords of “Street Fighting Man.” With our plan formalized, we went into the Garden, and saw one of the best Stones shows ever. The Rolling Stones always stepped it up a notch when they played Manhattan. There was and still is a special relationship between that band and that town. It is similar for Philly when Bruce Springsteen takes the stage here. One of the other reasons the Stones seemed on fire that night may have been the presence of cameras.
I had no idea who was filming the show, or for what purpose, but as the set progressed, the anxiety level began to rise, because for two guys among those 18,000 fans, a strategic mission was about to be launched. The documentary the Stones were shooting at Madison Square Garden that night ended up being called Gimme Shelter. You can see me when the camera pans the audience, I look like the pensive Stones fan, taking it all in for the sake of posterity. The audio recording made that night was later released as an album called Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
As the Stones hit it with “Honky Tonk Women,” my hearty started pumping because I knew our cue was next. At the end of “Honky Tonk Women,” Charlie Watts took a few extended drum rolls. Jagger smiled and said, “Charlie’s good tonight ain’t he.” It seemed like forever between songs, but I had my eye on Keith Richards’ hand. All of a sudden, there it was, that opening chord to “Street Fighting Man.” I looked at Harvey and we both turned around and started moving through the crush of humanity that was shoved up against the stage. It was like swimming through a formidable tide with people looking at us as if we were crazy to be leaving the Garden at that intense moment in time.
The subway ride uptown could have been dubbed: Operation Intense. Harvey and I didn’t say a word to each other on the train. The only sound I heard was of the wheels of the subway car scraping across the tracks. The posters on the wall of the subway car looked more vibrant than ever before and the ride seemed like it took forever, but the train finally stopped at 58th Street and the two of us tore ass up the steps out of the subway station and ran right towards the Plaza. When we arrived, we did a quick check through the glass door windows. Not a soul was in sight, so we darted through the entrance and began ascending the fire tower. It was very dark in there. It was simply a circular stairwell that was dimly lit and at every floor there was small sign indicating which floor. The steps were steep and I thought we’d never climb all the way to the ninth floor, but we did.
We were both out of breath, but we had to remain quiet so that we were not discovered. The door between the fire tower and the hallway had a lace curtain, so we could see the elevator. All of a sudden, the light above the elevator lit up, and the bell rang just as the elevator door opened. A huge guy who looked like a linebacker for the New York Giants got out and then he turned around and grabbed four black leather guitar cases, two in each hand. Just then, Keith Richards emerged from the elevator right behind him looking exactly as he did on stage at the Garden. Harvey and I then opened the door to the fire tower and said hello to Keith. The guy holding the four guitars, who was obviously Keith’s bodyguard, shouted at us, “Get the fuck outta here!” Keith looked at him and said, “No, they’re cool man.”
We then introduced ourselves to Keith. I told him we were from Philadelphia, and as much as I liked the show at the Spectrum earlier that week, I thought that tonight’s show was far better. Keith smiled and said, “Yeah, tonight was a really good one wasn’t it.” Harvey then asked Keith to sign a photo he had taken, and while Keith was doing that, I asked him who was filming the show that night. Keith explained to me that they wanted to make a documentary of the band on tour and in the studio. He said they shot a lot of behind the scenes footage, but New York was the only time the band was captured while performing in front of a live audience.
Harvey then told Keith he thought that he was the greatest guitar player in the world. Keith smiled and said thanks, but he added, “I think you should go downstairs and tell Mick Taylor that.” I had forgotten that the other members of the band were staying at the Plaza as well. I guess that was because I really had no interest in meeting them. I then asked Keith if I could take a photograph of him, and then get one of he and I together. I shot one of Keith, and just then, Sam Cutler, the tour manager showed up and asked Keith if everything was alright. Keith told him everything is fine and then he took my camera, handed it to Sam Cutler, and told him, “Take a photo of the two of us.” Keith and I posed, and Sam got the shot in one take [pictured, above].
Keith then asked me, “Do you have any rolling papers?” I told him sorry, but I do not. I didn’t do drugs so I had no papers, but boy I sure wish I did that night. Cutler came back and told Keith that he had to go into a meeting with him. So, we shook hands and said thanks and goodbye. Mission accomplished!