“Mick Jagger really put Montauk on the map,” Andy Warhol wrote in his book “Exposures.”
“The motels were overflowing with groupies. When Mick went into town everything stopped. Surfers chased him from White’s Drug Store to White’s Liquor Store.”
I’ve been to Whites dozens of times over the years for sunblock or Pepto Bismol, and always wonder what Mick picked up at the only five-and-dime within miles of the sandy estate where he stayed. I like to think it was lip gloss or chap stick.
I immediately hear Rolling Stones music in my head whenever I go to Montauk.
As if on cue, when I round the bend on Route 27 into the village, and the scrub oak and pine make way for sandy dunes and the blue Atlantic, “Brown Sugar” or “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” fill my head.
The Rolling Stones never actually performed on Long Island’s easternmost point. But in the spring of 1975, after Mick Taylor had left the band, they decided to rehearse at Eothen, Warhol’s 5.7-acre Montauk compound.
Significantly, guitarist Ronnie Wood was joining the band for the first time for its North American Tour that summer.
“I remember learning 150 songs from their repertoire,” Woody said. “I gave up trying to remember which key each one was in or the chord sequence to a lot of them. It’s impossible to log all of those songs.”
Eothen where the Stones were holed up had a main house, five cottages, a private beach, and spectacular views of the Atlantic.
Originally built as a fishing camp in the 1930s, the Stones practiced and worked out new songs for their upcoming album, Black and Blue.
Eothen means “at first light” in ancient Greek. It was a curious name for the camp considering the Stones were entering a new chapter of their collective careers.
But not much else has changed at the compound located at the end of Ranch Road, across the street from Deep Hollow Ranch on Route 27.
I have driven by many times enroute to the Montauk Lighthouse, but Eothen’s remoteness really struck me when I cycled from the village to the point one gusty afternoon.
The serpentine and hilly street was taking its toll on me and I stopped for a breather at the turn at Ranch Road. I eyed the private property sign and looked southward towards where the Stones made camp 40 years earlier.
I thought about whether Keith or Charlie back in 1975 would have offered me a glass of water down at the compound.
Photographs from when the Stones were there don’t really look that different from ones snapped during our fall fishing trips.
There’s one of Keith, bare chested with a cigarette dangling from his lips as he pours his morning tea. The table is cluttered with used beer glasses, empty liquor bottles, and an over-filled ashtray.
Substitute the guitars and amps in the background with fishing poles and rubber waders and this easily could have passed for one of our rooms at the Albatross Motel down the street in the village.
Montauk is no longer a secret hideaway only for rock stars and celebrities; it is a popular summer destination for thousands of vacationers.
It can be said that Warhol’s compound is what really made Montauk what it is today. Guests such as Jackie Kennedy, John Lennon, Liza Minelli, and Elizabeth Taylor coming out to the end of Long Island to be under the sun.
Warhol first met Jagger at a party in 1964, a time when the band was just embarking on their first ever US tour. Warhol was a rising artist himself and captured the Rolling Stones frontman in lithographs and photos.
Warhol purchased the compound in 1971 for $225,000 (1.5 million in today’s money). To illustrate how much things have changed in 40 years, it went back on the market in 2015 for a jaw-dropping $85 million and ultimately sold for $50 million.
Jagger enjoyed eating at the Shagwong Tavern, a fixture on Main Street. Wife, Bianca, the sexy Brazilian model, would go into the kitchen and open clams herself, rolling up her sleeves and disregarding her designer clothing.
According to former owner Jimmy Hewitt, the couple came in two or three times a week and Mick liked to park himself at the end of the bar with a bottle of Grand Marnier.
The moment Jagger walked into the restaurant, “Get Off of My Cloud,” the sole Stones offering on the jukebox, usually began to spin.
“One night after ten ‘Get Off of My Cloud’s and ten pina coladas Mick got so fed up that he put on a black disco song, “Shame, Shame, Shame” and sang along in falsetto,” Warhol wrote in his book.
Many nights after closing, Mick would invite Hewitt back to Eothen to hear the Stones rehearse until the sun came up. The band’s iconic music could allegedly be heard throughout Montauk in those wee hours.
The Shagwong Tavern is still there and my friends and I have hoisted many pints in its barroom over the years.
The jukebox is gone now, replaced by intrusive flat screen televisions and Quickdraw machines, but the anchor light fixtures and checkered ceiling under which the Stones’ frontman sipped his liquor, are still there.
I always notice the black and white picture of Jagger on the wall among the stuffed swordfish and framed snapshots of charter boat hauls.
If there’s an opening, I try to squeeze in at the end of the old oak bar so I could feel like the frontman for a drink or so.
Mick and Bianca also liked to go to Gosman’s, the beautifully positioned seafood restaurant on the edge of the Montauk Harbor.
Mick tripped one night and in an attempt to break his fall, smashed his hand through the window, requiring twenty stitches.
Despite the gash, the Rolling Stones’ North American tour started on schedule two weeks later.
Gosman’s is packed in the warmer months, but closed for the season by the time I got there in mid October. I usually make a stop at their deserted wooden deck, now clear of tables and umbrellas.
As the wintering geese fly over the inlet’s flow, wonder where Mick cut his arm and let it bleed.
A year after the Stones’ stay in Montauk, Black and Blue was released and though it hit No. 1 in the States, it received mixed reviews.
Lester Bangs, then of Creem magazine called it “the first meaningless Rolling Stones album,” while Robert Christgau gave it an A- in the Village Voice and commended the band for taking risks.
Black and Blue doesn’t contain the group’s best constructed songs, but I dig the jams and grooves.
The diversity ensures that the experience never grows monotonous and while it doesn’t really yield any true classics, it still constitutes a highly enjoyable listen.
Knowing that a chunk of the material was conceived in Montauk, I naturally have grown a personal attachment to it.
The album’s best track, “Memory Motel,” was supposedly written about the only motel in Montauk that had a piano and pool table.
Legend has it the Stones hung out, got drunk, shot pool and messed around on the piano before heading back to Warhol’s to rehearse.
The memories at the motel were short lived, however, as the owner was not a fan of the band. The Stones were apparently not too fond of the motel either; they just liked the name.
“Memory Motel” is a unique track in the Stones’ catalog. It’s one of the few which feature two members (Mick and Keith) sharing lead vocals. At over seven minutes it is one of the band’s one of the longest songs.
Richards played electric piano instead of guitar, while Jagger played an acoustic piano and Billy Preston worked the string synthesizer.
Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were the ever reliable rhythm section and Preston and Wood provided additional backing vocals.
The song is a dreamy and rambling epic ballad that offers the listener snippets about life on the road and the waning love brought on by a one-night stand at the Memory Motel.
The lyrics describe Hannah, the female subject, as an intoxicating “peachy kind of girl” who plays the singer a song on guitar.
She is a strong and independent woman and there’s been plenty of speculation as to who the “Hannah baby” in the lyrics refer to. She easily fits the mold of a few women I’ve met out in Montauk over the years.
The track is soaked in nostalgia and the Stones even add doo wop-inspired “sha-la-la”s to further the point.
I can smell the sea and taste the salt as I listen and Mick and Keith’s shared vocals that move like the ebb and flow of the tide. The mellow and somewhat melancholy vibe evoke images of dusky and foamy ocean beaches and the purple and orange Montauk sunsets over Fort Pond Bay.
It’s hard not to notice the Memory Motel driving into Montauk. The hundred-year old single story white-and-green motel is almost as iconic as the town’s lighthouse.
It features live music on weekend nights through the summer, though the Stones never played there. Whenever I ask local bartenders about the Stones’ connection with the motel I get shrugs. Even my friends show indifference when I broach the subject.
It has become something of a joke when I suggest to the guys that we pop in The Memory’s bar for a beer. They usually flatly reject the idea and I say I will meet them at The Point Bar and Grill directly across the street after a drink.
I am usually the only one in The Memory that early in the evening. As I sip my plastic cup of overpriced tap beer and my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see some Stones memorabilia adorning one of the walls and note the absence of a pool table and piano.
The place is dingy and black, save for the television and the dusty tubes of neon and smattering of colored spotlights above the grungy dancefloor. But if I really concentrate, it’s 1975, and Mick and his droogs are there relaxing before rehearsal out at Eothen.
I stand with my back to the bar, as if waiting on a friend, as the images begin. I am under the Stones’ thumb as I slip into a barroom reverie…
Mick, with bronzed Bianca hanging on his arm and a pina colada in his hand, stoops to read the titles of the soul records in the jukebox.
Charlie is seated cross-legged on one of the ripped pleather stools and talks about jazz to the ancient bartender as she pours the drinks.
Bill, the little lothario, leans against the absent piano and chats up one of the blonde groupies who got wind of the band’s whereabouts.
At 39, he could easily be her daddy. Keith and new boy Woody, looking like a pair of crows, brandish cues instead of axes and shoot stick against a couple of local fishermen at the imaginary pool table.
A half empty bottle of Jack Daniels sits precariously next to a blue chalk cube on the table’s edge and a glint from Keith’s skull as the bare chested guitarist lines up his next shot snaps me out of my illusion.
I let my daydream bleed into my memories of Montauk weekends as I finish my beer. Satisfied, I get off of my cloud, and head over to meet the guys at the Point. I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.