Down the Rabbit Hole: LSD, the CIA and The Rolling Stones

They were strange days all around as the Vietnam War marched on and The Rolling Stones gave rhythm to a blooming counterculture, evolving social norms, and dangerous civil unrest.

To quell the rising movements in opposition to the war, the Central Intelligence Agency and British Security Service MI6 carried out secret illegal (and immoral), covert experiments to explore mind control techniques for use in espionage, warfare, and population control. Most of the subjects involved were never informed they were being used in these experiments.

Project MK-Ultra, often referred to as the CIA’s mind control program, was extremely broad in scope, but the experiments conducted with LSD, or “acid,” were some of the most notable, and disturbing. While Keith Richards and Brian Jones would end up trying the drug with a little help from their friends, but according to author John L. Potash, Mick Jagger needed a little coaxing from an undercover British Intelligence asset.

Keith, Brian and The Merry Pranksters

Richards and Jones were first introduced to LSD while The Stones were winding down their fourth American tour. At the same time, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey and his troupe of Merry Pranksters were ramping up their historic Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test parties, promoting the use of such psychedelic drugs.

Outside the Stones’ concert in San Jose on December, 4, 1965, the Pranksters passed out handbills, trying to capture the frenzied energy created by the Stones, inviting the concertgoers to the second ever Acid Test. Although the band didn’t attend the Test, Stones bassist Bill Wyman wrote in his book Stone Alone that after the tour’s final show in Los Angeles the next day, “Keith and Brian took LSD at a party given by the writer Ken Kesey and his followers [The Merry Pranksters].”

Mick Jagger, though, fell into a different, bizarre, and covertly sinister rabbit hole. Much to the chagrin of the CIA, he had successfully resisted taking the drug until February of 1967. Some experts argued that LSD could be effectively used to disarm radical political beliefs. As a result, both the CIA and the MI6 used various methods of manipulating and controlling popular music to influence its listeners: the millions of youth in opposition of the Vietnam War.

Operation ‘Get Mick High’ is a Go!

In Drugs as Against Weapons Against Us, author John L. Potash explains that by glamorizing drug use with music from bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Project MK-Ultra could create a bandwagon effect, increasing drug use while decreasing commitment to political beliefs. Prior to 1967, Jagger unwittingly dealt a blow to the plot by publicly defending himself against false claims of using the drug.

But Jagger’s actions would soon be corrected. The morning after a party held at Richard’s English estate, guests who stayed the night (including Jagger, George Harrison and his wife Pattie Boyd) were offered a special LSD-laced tea by David Schneidermann, a known drug dealer working for British Intelligence and the FBI.

Potash writes the group was tripping all day, and later on, hashish was added to the party. But that evening, the house got raided by police and both Jagger and Richards were arrested and imprisoned on drug charges, which were later appealed. The mission, though, had been accomplished.

Identity Confirmed

Through a web of covert operations and agencies, Schneidermann admitted he was linked to the MK-Ultra program and its plot to manipulate mass populations with drug use. Potash notes that during this time, the CIA and British Intelligence were in the process of bringing LSD into England and were actively trying to introduce the drug to musicians.

In 2010, London newspaper The Daily Mail confirmed that Schneidermann did indeed work as an undercover operative to set up Richards and Jagger for the drug bust. The raid and the ensuing court case proved the band used drugs, subconsciously coaxing fans to imitate their idols by turning on, tuning in, and dropping their radical beliefs.

While serving as U.S. Tour Manager for The Rolling Stones (as well as for The Beatles) between 1964 and 1966, Bob Bonis had the rare privilege and unrestricted access to witness band’s non-drug antics. He was uniquely positioned to build a friendship with the band and to watch them wander down the occasional rabbit hole. He captured candid, historic, and never before seen moments on film. But instead of a spy camera, he had his trusty Leica M3 strapped to his hip.

These photographs are available for the first time as strictly limited edition, custom-printed fine art prints, from the Bob Bonis Archive. Each photograph is hand numbered, estate embossed, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE! To buy your very own and to share a piece of true rock history, click here.

Peeling a Glass Onion: 4 Facts About The White Album

The Beatles’ ninth studio album “The Beatles”, more commonly referred to as “The White Album,” was released on November 22, 1968, to an eager audience. The stark white album cover with the band’s name embossed in black was a conscious departure from the vibrant colors of the previously released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

The band’s songwriting was evolving along with the world, and the collection of 30 songs featured John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr branching into a variety of musical styles. The album, primarily written at a Transcendental Meditation course, was recorded at a tenuous time for the band as relationships became strained and band members quarreled over creative differences. The same tensions continued throughout the following year, leading to the eventual break-up of the Beatles in April 1970.

But despite the growing tension within the band, The Beatles reached number one on both United States and British pop charts and is hailed by some music critics as one of the best albums of all time. Test your Beatles fandom and see if you learn anything new! Here are a few facts you might not know about “The White Album”:

Martha, my dear dog

In 1997, McCartney revealed that the album’s ninth track “Martha My Dear” was actually written about his pet Old English sheepdog of the same name.  According to FeelNumb.com, McCartney said Lennon was amazed after seeing him act so lovingly toward his dear pet, adding he had never seen him act like that before. McCartney said, “It’s only when you’re cuddling around with a dog that you’re in that mode, and she was a very cuddly dog.”

Eric “Candy Cavity” Clapton

The song “Savoy Truffle” was written with the sole purpose of poking fun at a fellow rocker. George Harrison was hanging out with Eric Clapton, who at the time, was suffering from numerous cavities and needed dental work. But despite having a perpetual toothache, Clapton was always eating chocolates. According to BeatlesInterviews.org, Harrison wrote the song after Clapton was told to quit eating sweets. Harrison said, “So as a tribute I wrote ‘You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy truffle.’ The truffle was some kind of sweet … just candy, to tease Eric.”

Happiness was a warm puppy

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” read the headline in a gun magazine, a play on Peanuts’ cartoonist Charles Schulz’s 1962 bestselling book Happiness Is a Warm Puppy. Lennon said, “I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means that you just shot something,” Rolling Stone Magazine reports. Recording the song required two nights and over 70 takes, but McCartney has called it one of his favorite tracks from that album.

Where was Ringo?

During the recording of The Beatles, Ringo Starr quit the group for two weeks, foreshadowing the fate of the band. Starr was feeling like an outsider more than ever, and he let his band mates know. In Anthology, Starr recalled, “I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider.”  UltimateClassicRock.com writes that Ringo escaped to an Italian island on a yacht he borrowed from a friend. The band would soon send him a telegram expressing their love and asked that he please come back. Upon returning, he was greeted by flowers on his drum kit arranged to spell “Welcome back, Ringo.”

Bob Bonis wasn’t working with The Beatles any longer when The White Album was being recorded. Rather, he had the privilege to serve as the band’s U.S. Tour Manager for all three American tours between 1964 and 1966 (as well as the Rolling Stones’ first five trips stateside). During his time with these bands and with his Leica M3 camera always at the ready, Bonis captured rare, candid, historically important and often iconic moments of the stars as they rose to fame.

These photographs are available for the first time as strictly limited edition, fine art prints, from The Bob Bonis Archive at BobBonis.com. Each photograph is hand numbered, estate embossed, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE. Click here to buy your very own piece of rock history (or give one as a gift for a Beatles fan you know).

Lennon of Arabia

It’d been a hard day’s night, and John Lennon had been working like a dog.

During The Beatles’ second U.S. tour, many of their scheduled tour dates were double-headers. On August 22, 1965, at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, The Beatles were set to play two shows in front of a total 20,000 fans.

The concerts took place at 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and tickets for both shows were priced at $4, $5 and $6, including a number of free pink tickets for the upper level. While flying to the show from Minneapolis, however, The Beatles received quite a fright as one of the airplane’s four engines caught fire.

According to BeatlesBible.com, Lennon was shaken, and amidst the chaos jotted down a few last messages which he sealed in a film canister for safe keeping. Thankfully, fate had better plans for The Beatles and the plane landed safely. In a moment of comic relief, or perhaps just relief, different sources report hearing either John Lennon or Ringo Starr shouting: “Beatles, women and children first!”

Perhaps in the lightness of being which follows living through a potential disaster, Lennon was captured in a pose reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia, a character from the 1962 epic historical drama of the same name, but this time waving the Union Jack. But while “Lennon of Arabia” played out his own epic drama in his imagination backstage, The Beatles were embroiled in the days of social injustice and the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, during an era of social unrest and political sorrow (Vietnam, the assassinations of president John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to name a few), The Beatles brought a new light and energy to America, and changed the world of music, fashion, style, culture and politics forever.

In January 2013, the original contract for the Coliseum concert was released to the public. And, as a testament to the power of love, the contract specified (unusual for the time, but perhaps not for The Beatles): “Artists will not be required to perform before a segregated audience.” Shortly after the second show, the band flew to Los Angeles, but this time in a different plane.

Bob Bonis was fortunate enough to capture this candid moment while backstage, working as The Beatles’ U.S. Tour Manager. Bonis served as U.S. Tour Manager for all three of their U.S. tours (and also for The Rolling Stones’ first five trips stateside). His personal passion for photography is evident, and his close friendship with the bands was captured in intimate, iconic and behind-the-scenes moments such as “Lennon of Arabia.”

This photograph and other rare images of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones from their early and most important days heralding ‘The British Invasion’ are now available for the first time as strictly limited edition fine art prints from The Bob Bonis Archive at BobBonis.com. Each photograph is custom printed by one of the world’s leading fine-art photography printers, and is hand numbered, estate embossed, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE.

You know you want one. Click HERE to buy your limited edition numbered print now, before they’re sold out.

With a Little Help From Their Friends: Writing “I Wanna Be Your Man”

In their early years, The Rolling Stones got by with a little help from their friends – The Beatles. The Stones had been together for less than a year and a half and were just beginning to build their following. It was a point in time before Mick Jagger and Keith Richards discovered their potential as a songwriting duo.

In November, 1963, the Rolling Stones released their second single, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which peaked at number 12 on the British pop charts. It was released only as a single and never appeared on a studio album. Although the song helped to solidify their presence in the world of rock-n-roll music, it was actually written by their fellow British Invaders, Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

The hit single would be the result of a chance encounter between Lennon, McCartney and Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ manager, producer and former Beatles publicist. In Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones, musician and author Bill Janovitz wrote, “Oldham had almost literally bumped into Lennon and McCartney as they stepped out of a cab. He invited them to the studio where the Stones were rehearsing and, right then and there, the two finished off what had been a McCartney sketch of an idea, handing it to the Stones for their single.”

John Lennon Paul McCartney Bob Bonis Archive

In 1968, Jagger commented on the song, saying, “We knew The Beatles by then and we were rehearsing and Oldham brought Paul and John down to the rehearsal. They said they had this tune, they were really hustlers then. I mean the way they used to hustle tunes was great: ‘Hey Mick, we’ve got this great song.’ So they played it and we thought it sounded pretty commercial, which is what we were looking for…”

Stones bassist Bill Wyman said the band adapted the song to their style and learned it rather quickly “because there wasn’t that much to learn.” Guitarist and Stones founder Brian Jones incorporated slide guitar into the song, and Wyman provided the driving rhythm and blues beat. Wyman said doing that made the song more “dirty” as they “completely turned the song around and made it much more tough, Stones and [blues] like.”

Years later, however, both bands looked back on the song on a different light. Perhaps as a testament to their growth as artists, both Lennon and Jagger recognized the song for what it was: a catchy pop song and not much more. Reflecting on the song, Jagger said, “I haven’t heard it for ages but it must be pretty freaky because nobody really produced it. It was completely crackers, but it was a hit and sounded great onstage.”

The Beatles released their version of the song three weeks after the Stones on their second UK album, With the Beatles. In the book All We Are Saying, Lennon brushed the song off by saying, “It was a throwaway. The only two versions of the song were for Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it: We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?”

By the time Bob Bonis became the band’s U.S. Tour Manager in 1964, though, Jagger and Richards had already moved on to writing their own songs. Before then, the Stones’ catalog consisted of mostly R&B covers. Jagger and Richards would later confess that watching Lennon and McCartney work that day gave them a greater understanding of how to write a song, a talent now proven many times over.

Bonis served as the U.S. Tour Manager for the Rolling Stones) on their first five trips to the U.S. from 1964 to 1966, as well as being U.S. Tour Manager for all 3 of The Beatles U.S. Tours throughout that period. During his time as Tour Manager, he captured intimate, unguarded and often iconic moments of both bands as they rose to stardom.

These photographs are now available for the first time as strictly limited editions fine art prints from The Bob Bonis Archive at BobBonis.com. Each photograph is hand numbered, estate embossed, and includes a Certificate of Authenticity from the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. Live.

Without Jones, There Would Be No Stones

It’s difficult to imagine a world without the Rolling Stones, but once upon a time, the world of music didn’t have the sharp edge forged by the British Invasion. Everything grand, though, has to begin somewhere. As fate would dictate, the story of how The Stones began rock-n-rolling starts with Brian Jones.

Jones was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on February 28, 1942 to music loving parents. Brian had an IQ of 135 and performed well in school with minimal effort. He did, however, have qualms with authority and would eventually quit school under less than optimal circumstances. He opted to travel for the summer throughout Northern Europe, but soon returned to England and eventually settled in London. There he befriended musicians such as Paul Jones and Eric Clapton.

Growing up, Jones had listened mostly to classical music but had a special affection for the blues. In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, original Stones bassist Bill Wyman said Jones began performing at local blues and jazz clubs, all the while working odd jobs and performing on the street. In May of 1962, Jones placed a want ad calling for musicians to audition for a new rhythm and blues band. The Stones’ original keyboardist Ian Stewart responded first, followed shortly thereafter by Mick Jagger and his childhood friend, Keith Richards.

In the book According to The Rolling Stones, Richards explains how Jones, in a moment of panic, came up with the band’s name the Rolling Stones. Richards said that while Jones was on the phone with a venue owner, “The voice on the other end of the line obviously said, ‘What are you called?’. The Best of Muddy Waters album was laying on the floor – and track five, side one was ‘Rollin’ Stone.’”

Untitled Jones

On July 12, 1962, the Rolling Stones performed their first show at the Marquee Club in London with Jagger, Richards, Jones, Stewart, Dick Taylor on bass and Tony Chapman on drums, according to “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Ultimate Guide to the Rolling Stones”. In the early years, the band members played the instruments they could afford, such as Richards’ Harmony Meteor and Jones’ Harmony Stratotone. During the band’s years with Bob Bonis serving as their U.S. Tour Manager, Jones was approached by British guitar maker Vox. The company asked him to promote its two-pickup MK III guitar, and with its unique teardrop shape, the instrument quickly become as iconic as the band itself.

In the early years of the Rolling Stones, Jones used his influence as a multi-instrumental musician to help shape the band’s core sound. In a 2013 interview with Q107 Toronto, Richards recalled how what he calls “guitar weaving” was created during this period. He said, “We listened to the teamwork, trying to work out what was going on in those records; how you could play together with two guitars and make it sound like four or five.” The layered rhythms of the duo’s guitars would become signature to the band’s sound, and Jones’ ability to play multiple instruments is best displayed on the albums Aftermath (1966), Between the Buttons (1967), and Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967).

Despite his innate talent, however, Jones began feeling alienated from the group as the charisma of Jagger’s stage presence, combined with Richards’ and Jagger’s songwriting abilities, precipitated his eventual departure from the band. Jones’ managerial duties were also changing, further displacing him from another role. As his role in the band continued to diminish, so did his health as he sought the solace of drugs and alcohol.

Speaking of Jones, Wyman told the Los Angeles Daily News that “[Jones] formed the band, he chose the members. He named the band. He chose the music we played. He got us gigs … he was very influential, very important, and then slowly lost it – highly intelligent – and just kind of wasted it and blew it all away.”

Tragically, Jones struggled to bear the weight of legal troubles, estrangement from his bandmates, substance abuse and mood swings, making him unable to maintain an active role in the band. Jones was asked to leave the band that he helped create, and officially left on June 8, 1969. Less than one month later, on July 3, 1969, Jones was found dead in the swimming pool at his home in East Sussex, England. His death was ruled accidental. Like his contemporaries such as Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, he died at the age of 27.

Bob Bonis was fortunate enough to know Jones while working with the Rolling Stones as U.S. Tour Manager for the band’s first five trips (as well as all of The Beatles’ U.S. tours) to the United States from 1964 through 1966. During his time with the band Bonis was in the unique position to capture some of the most candid and profound moments with his Leica M3 camera always at the ready.

Bonis captured many moments of Jones both by himself and with the band. These photographs are now available for the first time through The Bob Bonis Archive at BobBonis.com. Each photograph is released in strictly limited editions and is hand numbered, estate embossed, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from The GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. Live.

The world wouldn’t be the same today without Brian Jones and the work he did to make the Rolling Stones into the rock-n-roll powerhouse they are today. Despite the tragic end to this young musician’s life, his work and influence on the world of music will never be forgotten.

Brian Jones, we hear hear you still, and always will.

All John Needed Was Love: Meeting Yoko Ono

John Lennon on stage, JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, PA, August 16, 1966 #1

A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.

Yoko Ono, Grapefruit

The British invaded and conquered, and The Beatles continued to shine their light on a world shaded with war and civil unrest.

But little did John Lennon know at that time, in 1966 (or was it 1965?), his meeting of Yoko Ono would bloom into a loving relationship, let alone a symbol of world peace.

There are actually two differing accounts of how Lennon and Ono met. The story as told by the Lennons places the two meeting on November 9, 1966, at the Indica Gallery in London where Ono was preparing for her conceptual art exhibit.

According to this version of the story, Lennon was initially unimpressed with Ono’s exhibits as he felt most concept art he encountered was anti everything. A particular piece of Ono’s work, though, convinced him to stay — a ladder with a spyglass at the top, which upon looking through, revealed the word “YES.”

The other account of the pair’s first meeting, as told by Sir Paul McCartney, puts the two in London in 1965 while Ono was collecting original music for the score of a book. McCartney didn’t want to give her his own manuscripts, but suggested she ask Lennon. He agreed and gave Ono the original handwritten lyrics to “The Word,” according to the biography titled, “Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.”

Although their relationship was often embroiled in controversy, nobody could deny the love they had for each other as it shifted into both Lennon’s and Ono’s work, and inevitably, out into the world. During their first years together, Lennon’s work began to spark with new life, but it bore a humble request – give peace a chance.

The pair quickly became an icon of the era, bringing into the limelight a juxtaposition of violent global affairs and the power of love. The Vietnam War continued to rage on unabated, and Lennon, with Ono by his side, showed the world what life could be like if we were to imagine world peace, together.

Despite the differing accounts on how Lennon and Ono met, the mark that they, as partners, left on the planet and the message of peace they brought to the people has been etched into modern history, and continues to resonate as the future unfolds.

And, despite decades of various debates about Yoko’s influence on, and suppositions that she was responsible for the break-up of The Beatles, and that she was the reason behind Lennon’s divorce from the well-loved Cynthia, the fact remains that John found love (albeit with a lot of road bumps and hardships) and, after all, as John eloquently put it, “All You Need Is Love.”

John Lennon was clearly one of the most prolific and influential musicians the world has ever known. And while there are many photographs of John by numerous photographers, we are fortunate that Bob Bonis, who served as U.S. Tour Manager for The Beatles (as well as for the Rolling Stones) from 1964 – 1966, through his unique access to Lennon, was able to capture some of the most poignant, playful, powerful, intimate and iconic photographs of John in the earliest days of The Beatles’ conquest of America.

These photographs are now available for the first time for fans and collections through The Bob Bonis Archive at BobBonis.com. All photographs are issued in strictly limited editions, and every print is hand numbered, estate embossed, and accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity from The GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. Live.

Thank you, John Lennon, for making the world a better place. We miss you. The world misses you. Looking at your photos reminds us that one person can indeed make a difference.

I Love You, Michelle, But I Can’t Speak French Very Well

In a beautifully intimate moment in the middle of 25,000 fans, Paul McCartney turns away from the audience and beams when he finds Bob Bonis. The Bloomington, Minnesota, show on August 21, 1965, was The Beatles' only stop in the Land of 10,000 Lakes on all three US tours. (Image title: Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, MN, August 21, 1965 #3)

Oh, Michelle… ma belle, the words that go together so well. It’s been almost 50 years since Sir Paul McCartney was searching for ways to win the heart of his fictional flame. But really, he only needed one phrase, and a translator, to make her understand: “I love you.”

Recorded on November 3, 1965, the song “Michelle” was featured on The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album, which was released on December 3, 1965. Composed primarily by McCartney, “Michelle” stands apart from other Beatles recordings because some of its lyrics are sung in French. In 1967, the song won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

The instrumental music of “Michelle” came about separately from the lyrics and was a breakthrough for the band because it featured a finger-picking style that had not yet been used in rock-n-roll. “Michelle” was a tune that I’d written in Chet Atkins’ finger-style picking … This was an innovation for us; even though classical guitarists had played it, no rock-n-roll guitarists had played it,” McCartney said in the 1998 book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.

The lyrical content, as well as the style, resulted from the popularity of French Left Bank culture while McCartney was living in Liverpool. While at a party attended mostly by art students, McCartney encountered one particular student, in true française fashion, with a goatee and striped shirt singing a French song. Not long after, McCartney wrote an imitation of what he had heard, which was more parody than actual song, and used it to entertain his friends. That version didn’t have any real words but instead it included French-sounding groaning.

In an interview with The Guardian, McCartney said, “…we’d tag along to these parties, and it was at the time of … the French bohemian thing … So I used to pretend to be French, and I had this song that turned out later to be “Michelle”. It was just an instrumental, but years later John said: You remember that thing you wrote about the French? I said: Yeah. He said: That wasn’t a bad song, that. You should do that, y’know.”

While developing the lyrics, McCartney asked a friend’s wife, a French language teacher, to find a French name and a phrase that rhymed with it. And so, ‘Michelle, ma belle’ became the lyrical base for the song. A few days later McCartney asked that the line “these are words that go together well” be translated into French, which reads, “sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble.” In A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song McCartney is quoted as saying, “It was because I’d always thought that the song sounded French that I stuck with it. I can’t speak French properly so that’s why I needed help in sorting out the actual words.”

After McCartney had played the song for John Lennon, Lennon suggested that he add the “I love you” bridge. In Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties, author and British music critic Ian MacDonald wrote that “Michelle” was made in nine hours, the majority of which seems to have been played by McCartney himself using overdubs. He also speculated that McCartney may have even sung backing vocals, and played the drums.

To purchase a limited edition print of photographs of The Beatles or of Sir Paul McCartney, visit the Bob Bonis Archive at BobBonis.com. Bob Bonis served as U.S. Tour Manager for The Beatles (and also for the Rolling Stones!) from 1964 to 1966, during which time he captured over 3,500 photographs of the two bands in some of their most candid moments. All photographs are archival fine art prints, hand numbered, estate embossed, and accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity from The GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. Live.

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