They first came to America in 1964, quickly becoming "accidental tourists" as they barreled around the country in station wagons, vans and small prop planes. More than a dozen tours, and countless side trips later, the Rolling Stones have left their mark on hundreds of sites around the U.S.
Not just at concert venues, hotels, clubs and recording studios — though there is plenty of Stones-related DNA scattered at those sorts of locations. There are also places that the Stones discovered outside the realm of their show business bubble. Like early explorers, they also set out to find the great escapes, the sanctuaries and natural wonders that, ironically, might then go on to inspire ideas that would require visits back to the more obvious rock and roll haunts like the aforementioned studios and arenas.
Wandering the U.S. while on a road trip, you could do far worse than to take a few cues from what some refer to as "The Greatest Rock and Roll band in the World."
In 1968, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and a groups of girlfriends, pals and hangers-on (including seminal music legend Gram Parsons) headed out to the beautiful and mystical California desert. They went to camp out, climb rocks, looks for UFOs, and expand their consciousness with the help of some peyote, mescaline and perhaps some LSD. But as anyone who has been to Joshua Tree National Park knows, it does not take any chemical stimulation to appreciate the majestic and desolate beauty of the high desert. The Stones were in the midst of one of their most creative and provocative musical periods when they hit Joshua Tree. The album Beggars Banquet would soon be released, followed shortly by Let It Bleed. But within a year band mate Brian Jones would be unceremoniously fired, and then found dead after drowning in his swimming pool. Tumultuous times to be sure, but it's easy to imagine how the music may have been shaped for the better after several trips to Joshua Tree.
Keith Richard's reputation as a desert rat had started taking shape back in 1965. In December of that year, just after finishing the band's American tour, Richards (along with two friends) visited McDowell Mountain Ranch Park just outside of Phoenix to ride horses and camp out along the lower Verde River basin for a taste of the great American west. Today, a visit to what is now called McDowell Mountain Regional Park is still a treat; a chance to wander and hike in the great unspoiled outdoors. It seems the place may have left quite an impression on Richards, too. According to local real estate records, he recently purchased a small ranch adjacent to McDowell Mountain Regional Park.
If It's Good Enough for Andy Griffith and Captain Kirk…
Just after Richard's jaunt to Arizona, he rejoined the band in Los Angeles for a photo shoot that would expose the Stones to a remarkably beautiful spot located right in the midst of the great American sprawl: Franklin Canyon. You may have already seen it on TV. The popular Andy Griffith Show's main credit opening featured Andy and his son Opie (Ron Howard) walking toward a lake, toting their fishing poles on a lazy summer day. They were not in North Carolina, in Mayberry. They were right near Beverly Hills. Nestled right off Mulholland Drive, the pine and redwood-rich park is home to Franklin Canyon Lake.
This location was used in the 1960s for such TV shows as Combat, Star Trek, and How the West Was Won, but it is also where the Stones came one day with photographer Guy Webster to shoot what became the cover of their 1966 collection Big Hits (High Tide & Green Grass) . Originally the photos were to be used for an album called Could You Walk On The Water? But the title was deemed too controversial, the album was renamed Aftermath, and the pictures were used for Big Hits (High Tide & Green Grass) both on the cover and as an inside booklet. Incidentally, Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence album cover was also shot here.
Rolling Stones on a Beach
In 1975, the Stones had taken up residency at Eothen, the artist Andy Warhol's compound in Montauk, a lonely retreat at the tip of Long Island. Here, Warhol entertained many jet-set celebrities at the five-home compound he co-owed with filmmaker Paul Morrissey. The Stones rehearsed here for their 1975 American tour and a local business ended up inspiring one of their prettiest ballads. The Memory Motel on Montauk Highway is a 13-room motel and bar immortalized by the Rolling Stones in the song of the same name, which appeared on the band's 1976 album Black and Blue. Mick Jagger supposedly spent time at the motel because it had a pool table and a decent jukebox, and one night while here he supposedly was inspired to write the beautiful song about "Hannah, a honey of a girl," and where they spent "a lonely night at the Memory Motel." (Rumor has it he actually wrote part of the tune at the bar.)
In February of 1976, the Stones wanted another private escape for an album cover photo shoot, so they headed south to Sanibel Island Beach on Sanibel Island near Fort Meyers, Florida. Along these gorgeous, desolate beaches, noted fashion photographer Hiro shot a series of images that resulted in the cover of the 1976 Stones album, Black and Blue. The five members now look ragged, jaded and aged, a far different cry from the 1965 Franklin Canyon images (with guitarist Ronnie Wood now in place for Mick Taylor, who had taken Brian Jones's slot). But still, the band provided another peek into a lush natural setting well worth discovering.
As travelers, many of us can relate to the frustration of finding peace and solitude in an increasingly shrill and urban world. As we sometimes realize in trying to finding these escapes, as the Stones pointed out in song, "You can't always get what you what want."
But if you follow the lead of a certain band from Britain that always made a point of searching out some of America's prettiest natural paradises, then you just might find, you get what you need.
Author, travel writer, AOL Music contributor and avowed Rolling Stones devotee Chris Epting has written a new e-book, Moonlight Miles — A Guide to Rolling Stones Landmarks Across America 1964-1981, available now from Miniver Press.
Let's Spend The Night Together by Chris Epting
A Tale of Two Music Cities by Tim Leffel
Frank Lloyd Wright's Humble Desert Palace by Michael Shapiro
I Don't Know if She is Worth 900 Kroner by Peter Moore
Other United States travel stories from the Archives
Books from the Author: