The Making of "Exile on Main Street"

The Stones exiled themselves from the UK to France in 1971 because of high British taxes, consequently, Exile on Main Street was born. 

They looked for studios in Paris and couldn’t find any they liked. They had a old BBC van that was equipped with a studio that could be parked by any theater or empty loft.

In the end, Keith Richard's house Nillcote in the south of France seemed to be the best choice, near lawless Marceau and Mafia Italy. Philipe Lymen, part of the Stone's tribe could make smack runs into Marceau, or into Mafia controlled Genoa. 

Once in France they felt like true expats, alone with nothing to lose, they were in a Catch-22 situation making Exile, close to bankruptcy, it was sink or swim, fight or flight.

Mick and Bianca Jagger (who was pregnant) were living in Paris. The musicians, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mike Taylor, Bobby Keys were scattered around the globe. Mick decided that they should move into Nillcote.

Once at Nillcote ready to record it was the positivity of their leader Mick Jagger that was the glue that held the thing together and got the ball rolling, his constant happiness and vision, his easy-going style, his ongoing joy of the whole process.

Keith on the other-hand was muddling through a junk habit.

Once they began recording and writing, it was a constant struggle, Keith would sleep all day and wake up in the middle of the night, then eating some fruit and fixing.    

The band had to be ready and waited for Keith,  This unnerved Jagger who felt Keith would do better to adhere to some kind of a schedule.

Mick would sit in the basement jamming during the day, fabricating lyrics and music, truly missing his best friend Keith who was sleeping or on the beach with Anita Pallenberg.

When Keith did work he was a taskmaster when a song was ready, a sensation or consciousness swept through the musicians, Keith would start staring at Bill Wyman, who would tilt his bass up 15 degrees towards the heavens, THAT WAS THE SIGN! A few takes latter the final cut was put in the can. 

The bewitching open party atmosphere is a major part of putting "Exile" together. It was an ongoing party in an egalitarian Tolstoy-like  Gypsy camp, there was no security, cool people would walk in and out. Anita Pallenberg (Keith's wife and constant companion ) reminisced later about walking into the living room and seeing a guy with a huge baggy full of smack sitting on the sofa. Of course, that was a ticket to get in on the endless partying with the family, but things got dark later.

Bobby Keyes who was from Texas and the band's sax player never mentioned seeing junk, but admitted seeing plenty of booze and ganja, all being used 24 hrs a day, this was a good old boy trying to put a positive spin on shit.  

Keith had a family whose job it was to score smack for him in Marceau. Tim Lyman would make trips between borders to supply and then use junk with Keith and Anita. Lyman's son Nicolas's (only 11) job was to roll joints. Nicholas later said when interviewed in the 90s that the scene felt dark to him at times, but that he could feel and see the charisma emanating from it all. 

When it was time to record they backed the studio van (an old BBC van) up a tiny alleyway through untrimmed trees, parking it and running the wires through the ground floor of Nillcote. It was weird, everyone had to play apart from one another in different sections of the basement, the horn section connected to the studio from a hallway, Bill Wyman was wired outside of Keith's section, walled off.

Once the recording began Nillcote was having power outages, one of the technicians realized that that amps of electricity coming from GDF Suez, a Southern France electric company wasn't enough to keep the studio juiced up. Amazingly he goes outside to the electric train track that what near Nillcote and splices their line, from then on the BBC van studio and the recording going on in the basement was devilish hot.   

Considering the cramped and broken up studio conditions it was amazing they got anything done, but of course what came out of was one of the most original and best blues/rock albums in history. 

Keith had a Jamaican maid and chauffeur, Matta and Jumbo Jack. Matta looked like a voodoo priestess and Jumbo Jack was as big as Howling Wolf and wore a top hat.

Matta was a gambler and loved to play dice, she would organize crap games and got rich winning money from Jagger and Richards. Jagger got the ideal for the song "Tumbling Dice" from the crap games with Matta.

Bianca Jagger wore a white silk dress without underwear, she radiated multicolored auras, she was the sun at the corp of Exile and to Mick's joy pregnant, he to this day loves fatherhood and family.  


The Stones were in debt near bankruptcy, tax under Labor was 83%. It was impossible for them to live in England, and the powers at be were threatened by the Stones.

Keith felt that they were edged out of their own country (UK).

The album was raw and edgy, the reviews were terrible. 2 years later it was called the best rock n roll album ever. 

Mick felt the PRESS was very disruptive to his and Bianca's personal life.

Charlie Watts suffered culture shock at first but remains in France today.

When the band felt the album was finished, Keith said it was getting cold outside and winter was coming, the tape was in the truck and everyone left quickly. 

The French Government was scared of the devilish voodoo going on at Nillcote and stayed away from the place.

The stones felt like exiles and they knew they had to do this album, but they never knew it would be as great as it is.

There was no mention anywhere where the money was coming from and who and who was funding the project.

The Stones were the center of the rock n roll universe in the 70s when rock music was revolution. 

The whole gathering, family, players, technicians, cooks were a tribe.

Charlie says Keith was a true Bohemian, a rasta man living from day to day, not sweating the small shit.

The bands best music came when they didn't think they were being recorded.

Bobby Keys was an open-minded, loving and accepting good old boy, somewhat straight compared to the rest of the Stones, but totally in the Nillcote family groove.

Mick Taylor wasn't making any money but was digging it all.

It was so hot in the basement at times that Mick wrote a song and sang it while playing piano "Where's our Ventilator?"

A French guy went to Nillcote to visit for a day, he was dumb fucked and awed, he ends up partying with the tribe for six months.

Ian Stewart, who was a stride piano genius, often called the 5th Stone and the founder of the band was never mentioned because he wasn't at Nillcote.

Keith does an interview after shooting junk, he talks intelligently but is wain, pretty cool huh!

Charlie and Mick went back to Nillcote to look around in 2010. Mick said to Charlie on film, "There was no master plan," and "It's a boring old recording session, who gives a shit now." 

Mick was the anti-christ of rock n roll in those days, Alan Ginsberg crowned Mick the KING of the flower movement.

Keith & Mick can play like a foot stompin balls to the wall John Hammond in duo and they often do, even now.

The Stones love Ray Charles and country music. 

Rock is a beautiful Navajo blue turquoise stone on gold caldron to mix things up in—Keith

The basement was the center of the universe, drink-in Jack, smoking ganja, snorting cocaine, they could play as loud as they wanted, but it was like recording in a sauna.

Pallenberg calls it a labor of love.

When Bianca and Mick were married it was supposed to be a secret but didn't stay a secret.

Bobby keys could play all reed instruments and he taught Charlie about time settings: 2/4 mostly, to count 2 counts to every 4 beats in a measure, 1+2+. 1 and 2 and down on the 1 & 2, up on the ands. Charlie was a quick learner who rarely plays out of time.

Nillcote was never empty, but there were few disruptions, amazing considering there was no security. 

The band and the party goers would only eat one large meal a day, you could drink Pernod, spring water, Jack Daniels, fresh juice, or champaign. There would be a large table of food, everything under the sun Shepard Pie, roasted chicken, ham, tacos, beans, rice, Yorkshire Pudding, waffles, avocados, olive oil, pecan pie, you name it. 

Charlie Watts said later recording Exile was hell for everyone, but not for Keith, laugh!

Keith would sleep for a whole day, so when the band and players went to bed, Keith would just work with whoever was there. Usually Jimmy Miller, who adored Keith and would stay up with him, he could play drums some. Affable good old boy Bobby Keys would stay up too.

The Stones music is from the heart, it is true, played with open hearts and empty minds.

Keith's Mum once said that Keith was born with an utterly amazing ear, Mrs. Richards was just being modest. Listen to "All Down the Line" Alternate Take, it rocks you to the bone. Don Was said later that they opened up "All Down The Line" Alternate Take as far as you can.

Mick keep saying, “There is no control."

When the band split to LA to edit the finished Exile taps, they felt drained emotionally. 

Casino Boogie, the lyrics, were inspired by the William Burrough’s cut up method, Mick would write 3 to 8 word phrases with a felt tip pen and cut the paper into pieces while singing and sing them the way they came out. 

Anita Pallenberg says it was a beautiful world, she and Keith liked to go to a deserted beach at Nillcote and smoke ganja while Keith jammed, both sitting cross legged on an Indian blanket.

Charlie Watts says they mixed the album constantly over and over again in LA. Mick and Charlie designed the album cover.

They used the beat photographer Robert Frank's photos for the cover. 

The driving of cars and the walking around in funky urban areas while on the Exile tour in the USA was filmed in black with Super 8 by Robert Frank. 

Mick doesn't like anything you did yesterday he is interested in tomorrow, that keeps him going.

Keith did junk to hide from the glare of the press, it was his halo/armor. He felt like junk hid him from the world and protected him. No doubt because when you take junk you feel like the coolest person on earth. The shit was a shield for Keith, he lived in his own universe at Nillcote and still does live in his own Beduin cushioned library universe at his mansion in Connecticut. 

Today Keith Richards is a book freak with an unreal vocabulary who no longer is a junk. He still enjoys a smoke of ganja and snort of Rebel Yell!

Aside: When the album " Exile on Main Street" was released I was one of the first to buy it. I smoked ganja, drank German Beer and listened to it over and over.


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