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Rocks, hard places

December 30, 2007|Randy Lewis

Coffee-table books on historic rock tours are a dime a dozen. Photographer Ethan A. Russell's weighty new tome, "Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones 1969 U.S. Tour," from Rhino Books will set you back about 6,500 dimes (for the limited edition; 9,500 for the deluxe version), but the subject is one of the truly pivotal events in the annals of rock.

Images dominate, of course, in a large-format work like this -- it's 15 inches long, a foot wide and 4 inches thick, and Russell, being one of a surprisingly small entourage of just 16 people on the tour, the Stones included, had a bird's-eye view of the action.

The tour started festively in November 1969 (at the Inglewood Forum, where Russell photographed a top-hatted Gram Parsons hanging backstage). Hendrix and Stones guitarist Mick Taylor were snapped trading licks in a dressing room at another stop.

Russell supplies his own observations and has interviewed others who were there, and he has assembled a sometimes hilarious, often enlightening, frequently sobering look at what was going on behind the scenes.

The tour culminated -- or bottomed out -- with a final added show that the band members wanted to play in San Francisco. But when they couldn't work out terms to do it in the city, they shifted to nearby Altamont Speedway. That's where the rosy glow of the Woodstock Nation born four months earlier turned black when a fan was stabbed to death in front of the stage by Hells Angels providing security. Russell's photos don't show the incident but capture much of the anarchy that led to it.

It's a rich portrait for the ardent rock lover rich enough to splurge for it.

-- Randy Lewis

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