The Rolling Stones, live at Georgia Southern

Jim Hilliard Special to the Herald

The following is the unabridged version of  Jim Hilliad’s story about the Rolling STones

It’s 9:20 p.m., May 4, 1965 – 50 minutes behind schedule.

The huge, overflow audience in the Georgia Southern College Hanner Gymnasium is restless. The waiting members of the starring band are agitated at a near hour-long delayed entrance on stage. Few things were going as planned but the moment, finally, was at hand.

A large cargo parachute, borrowed from somewhere, serves as a curtain blocking the view of an audience estimated to be more than 3,500 concert fans. The seating capacity of the gym is half that number. Standing room can barely be found.

On cue, the ropes holding up the cargo parachute are loosed and it drops to the floor just as fraternity member and master of ceremonies, Ricky Murray,  shouts into the microphone: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!”

The noise is deafening as the original Stones lineup of Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts hit the stage.

Story behind the story

At that moment, 50 years ago, what is now known as Georgia Southern University became the first American college campus to host an appearance by the popular British rock musicians.

The performance that night is what is remembered most about the story of the Stones appearing at GSC, but, there is so much more to this unlikely tale of a major world attraction finding its way to the campus of a small southern Georgia college campus.

It was a time when the United States was beset by the historic British invasion of rock and roll music and musicians.

In the spring of 1965, Georgia Southern was the envy of every college and university in America.

Preparing for the Rolling Stones concert was a time of pure joy tempered by moments of terror at the thought of failure. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before or since.

I’m Jim Hilliard, but in 1965, everyone called me Jimmy. I signed the contract booking the Stones on behalf of Sigma Epsilon Chi Fraternity for a concert on our campus.

None of us involved ever gave any thought to the fact that the Rolling Stones appearance at GSC would, in years to come, become the subject of newspaper and magazine articles, or listed as a historical event in “Today in Georgia History.”

The Internet was still 25 years away but pictures of the 1965 concert pop up dozens of times in a Google search of the event. As fraternity brothers, we lived for that moment only.

Looking back on it, what 20 year olds in their right minds would attempt such an undertaking? After all, we were just college students with little or no experience in organizing or dealing with big name, live entertainment. But, we weren’t in our right minds at the time. The challenge was there and we just assumed we could pull it off.

The Beginning

The birth of the Rolling Stones concert at Georgia Southern actually began when the chapter of Phi Mu Alpha fraternity agreed to sponsor, early in the fall quarter of 1964, a sock hop in the Hanner Gym, featuring Atlanta’s Tommy Roe. Roe was best known at the time for his chart hit “Sheila.”  Roe’s backup band was known as the Roemans and they would be one of three groups set to perform as opening acts to the Stones performance.

Phi Mu Alpha was a national music fraternity which, at GSC, had shifted away from exclusive membership of male music majors to a more diverse membership made up of friends of friends, most of whom had no connections to the Georgia Southern music department.

The summer of 1964, I became friends with a Waycross, Ga., radio disc jockey by the name of Johnny “Bee” Mosses, who became well known for sponsoring concerts and dances in South Georgia.

He also did some booking of groups throughout South Georgia and North Florida. He was connected to the Douglas, Ga., rock band known as the “Bushmen.”

The Bushmen also would be an opening act for the Stones that evening of May 4.

Because of his work booking bands, Johnny Bee was connected with other booking agencies, one of them being located in Atlanta and owned/managed by a fellow named Jack Martin. Johnny Bee helped me arrange to get Tommy Roe and, later, Jay and the Americans booked for appearances on the GSC campus, hosted by Phi Mu Alpha.

Both events turned out to be great successes and the fraternity never had so much money in its treasury.

I was told by Johnny Bee that the Rolling Stones would tour the U.S. in the spring of 1965 and were available to play at Georgia Southern on May 4.

“Would we be interested?” Johnny asked.

Only the Beatles were a more popular rock and roll band than the Stones at that time so, of course, I was interested.

Johnny said I would have to go through the Jack Martin Booking Agency in Atlanta if I wanted to procure a contract. When I phone Jack, he confirmed that the Stones would be available that date so I asked him to go ahead and “ink” us in for that date and let me know when I needed to sign the contract.

Forming a fraternity

When I proposed that Phi Mu Alpha sponsor the Rolling Stones in concert the idea was rejected. The long-haired rock group was emerging as the “bad boys” of British rock groups and neither the music fraternity nor the GSC music department wanted to be associated with their appearance on the GSC campus.

This decision led to several members joining me in leaving the fraternity in order to form a new brotherhood. A total of 14 of us met and agreed to form a new fraternity which would host the Rolling Stones. Thus, Sigma Epsilon Chi fraternity, later to become Kappa Alpha, was born. The path to its creation was filled with challenges from student, faculty, and administration sources but the group finally prevailed with the support of W.H. Holcomb, Dean of Men, and faculty advisor, the former Miss Jane Lightcaps.

Charter members were Curtis Farrar, Mike Nix, Virgil “Porky” Haynes, Jimmy Brown, George “Butch” Chambliss, Jerry Long, Carl Brooks, Ricky Murray, Albert Green, Holt Johnson, Robert Fullerton, Gilbert Peel, Buddy Wright and me. Johnny Bee was made an honorary member for his assistance to the fraternity.

In the meantime, Jack Martin mailed a copy of the Rolling Stones contract to me. The contract called for the fraternity to pay the band $3,000 for the appearance and half, $1,500, was due at the signing of the contract. As a new organization, we had very little money in the treasury so I visited First Bulloch Bank, opened our fraternity’s bank account, and then begged for a $1,500, six-month signature loan. I convinced the loan manager that my parents would be responsible for the loan if we could not repay it on time, and he approved the loan.

Once we received our order of checks, I signed the contract and mailed it along with a check, signed by me and fraternity president Holt Johnson, for $1,500 to Jack Martin. We were on our way.

A long road to success

The first thing we had to do was secure a venue on campus. I met with Coach J.B. Scearce and asked if we could use Hanner Gym for the concert. He was generous with allowing the gym to be used for entertainment events in the past and was once again willing to turn the facility over to us for the week night event.

As I recall, the gym’s capacity was around 1,500 but we believed we could get around 1,800 inside. We figured if we could sell 1,800 tickets at $2.50 each then we would have enough money to pay the Stones, with some left over for other expenses.

Tickets were printed with a start time of 8 p.m. but later the schedule had to be changed to a 7 p.m. start time. We did not print new tickets. However to encourage advanced sales, the price of admission at the door would be $3 each. That way we would not have to deal with making coin change.

We had to come up with plans for the show from scratch that included a stage large enough for a five-member band, have tickets printed with numbers so that they could not be counterfeited, a cheap but effective publicity program  and a work schedule that would fit into everyone’s class schedule. By the end of Winter Quarter – mid-March – all plans were in place and work was underway.

We met a great deal of resistance from various sources in the college community. The staff of the school newspaper, The George-Anne, was simply not interested in helping us promote the concert. I suppose I was most disappointed with the lack of interest by the school’s newspaper since, later, I spent 30 years in the newspaper business and learned to recognize a hot news story immediately. I have often wondered why the George-Anne staff could not get beyond their prejudice against rock and roll. Sadly, the school’s newspaper did not respond to my offer to assist them with a 50th anniversary story for today’s student body.

That said, all the newspapers in surrounding counties sought me out for information about the May 4 concert. They wanted stories about the event. We also got the cooperation of nearby radio stations with publicizing the event. Fraternity members were invited to visit the stations for on-air broadcasts and advance tickets sales.

Perhaps the most help in keeping the publicity alive for weeks and weeks came from Statesboro’s WWNS radio announcer Joe McGlamery (now president of the Statesboro Herald) who was a friend to the fraternity and did all he could, within reason, to promote ticket sales. He even went so far as to host live broadcasts at remote locations which helped boost advanced ticket sales.

By early April we had sold around 700 tickets and paid off the bank loan, plus interest. Still, we were only half way toward having the money needed to pay the Rolling Stones.

All the preparations

Fraternity member Buddy Wright’s family owned a hardware and building supply business in St. Mary’s, Ga. Buddy’s father agreed to build a large stage – 8 x 16 ft. with bolt-on backdrop – that could be disassembled and shipped to the GSC campus on concert day then reassembled inside the gym. I recall the stage cost us $600 for materials, construction labor, and shipping. It was a bargain.

Meanwhile, the fraternity agreed to a proposal by Johnny Bee, which featured, at a reduced rate, the appearance by the Bushmen and the Roemans as front groups for the Rolling Stones.

Later, I was approached by a local Statesboro band, “The Apollos,” made up of Statesboro High School students, begging to be allowed to kick off the concert in exchange for playing at future fraternity parties at no charge. I thought if we allowed the local band to play, we might attract more high school students living in the area to the concert. I agreed to include them.

It was a decision I later regretted.

When I agreed to let the local band play, it changed the concert schedule that allowed a block of 45 minutes each for the two front bands. With the addition of a third band, the time was cut to 30 minutes each. I didn’t know it at the time but once a group starts performing for an audience, it is difficult to get them to stop.

The Rolling Stones expected to take the stage at 8:30 p.m. and play for at least an hour. The schedule I had set with the addition of a third front band was not realistic and it proved to be a fatal flaw in our plans for the concert.

As the weeks rolled into mid-April, I began to worry that we might not sell enough tickets to cover the cost of the concert, but ticket sales began to pick up and with a week to go we finally sold ticket number 1,000.

We were getting requests by mail for tickets from all over the southeast. Most envelopes came addressed to the Rolling Stones Concert, Georgia Southern College, Statesboro, Georgia.  The campus postmaster knew to put them in my mail box. I would send tickets by return mail. I remember getting requests from Florida, many places in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina. There were also requests from various media sources for tickets and access to band members for interviews.

Ticket sales on the GSC campus did not pick up until the week before the concert. I have always been puzzled about why such major event, which put the college in the spotlight all over the southeast, did not earn the support of the college administration or student organizations such as the student newspaper and student government.

Up to the week of the concert, little was reported about the event in the college student newspaper. Its staff was not interested in writing a feature story about the coming event and allowed only a couple of brief announcements about the concert.

As a side note, I’d like to add that although we could not get favorable press or open support from the college administration, I received several incognito requests from many on the school’s faculty and staff who wanted tickets for their children, friends, and/or family members living nearby. I gladly honored each request and hand-delivered tickets in person.

The Friday before May 4 concert, ticket sales picked up drastically and we knew the fraternity would have the money needed to pay all expenses relating to the concert. I breathed a sigh of relief and for the first time actually began to enjoy all the activities leading up to the event.

It became apparent that we might have more attending the concert than could be seated in the bleachers so fraternity members fanned out across the campus and community trying to locate as many folding chairs as possible that could be borrowed or rented and set up on the gym floor. The funeral homes were very helpful as were a few of the campus academic departments.

In the end, we were able to secure 600-700 folding chairs for the event.

On Sunday, May 2, two days before the Statesboro show, many Georgia Southern students and people across the nation were in front of televisions, as the Rolling Stones appeared on the Ed Sullivan Television Show, the most popular show in 1965.

Advanced ticket sales were very brisk the following Monday and during lunch Tuesday, the day of the concert.

Pre-concert

On Tuesday, May 4, most every Georgia Southern fraternity member and pledge skipped classes in order to devote the entire day toward getting the gym ready for the concert, which was to begin at 7 p.m. Doors were to open at 6 p.m. for those holding tickets and persons without tickets could purchase them at the door a few minutes afterward.

The task involved in setting up the gym was monumental. Keep in mind that regular physical education classes were being held in the gym and we were required to work around them. Fortunately, the 14 original members were supplemented by a hard working pledge class that nearly doubled those available to work on setting up for the concert.

The hardwood basketball court had to be protected so the first order of business was to cover it with heavy duty canvas. The stage arrived and was assembled inside the gym.

Setting up the gym continued right up to the start of the concert.

Picking up the Stones

Around 3 p.m. that day, fraternity brothers Jimmy Brown,  Albert Green and Jerry Long drove to Savannah in separate vehicles to pick up the five members of the British band, their instruments, one female, said to be the wife of drummer Charlie Watts, and the band’s road manager, Ian Stewart.

According to Jimmy Brown, he didn’t recall them having much luggage. Mick, Brian, Watts and his wife rode with Brown.  The others rode with Green and Long.

“A few minutes down the road Mick asked to stop for eats,” Brown said. “I pulled off at the next place I saw. It was a restaurant attached to a motor lodge and looks very much like the Harvest Restaurant at the motor lodge.”

He added, “I do recall the restaurant being empty at 5 in the afternoon, except for a family with two young teen girls. They recognized the Stones immediately and became all giggly. The waitress had no clue who they were. I checked with Mick first, then went over to the parents and invited the girls over for autographs and photos all around.

“After departing the restaurant, we stopped at a country liquor store for a bottle of Scotch. While I went in for the booze, they all got out and walked over to the big live oak and grabbed big piles of Spanish moss. They had never seen it before and were hanging it all over each other. As I was coming out of the store, some ole redneck was coming in and said, ‘that looks like a bunch of them damn Beatles.’ All I said in return was, ‘buddy, you are pretty close,’” Brown said.tongue-gsu

Afterward the caravan headed to Statesboro and the GSC campus.

Crazy ticket sales

Meanwhile back at the gym, a few minutes before 6 p.m., I walked to the front of the gym to see how many people were in line to buy tickets. I was stunned to see a line of what looked to be more than 1,000 advanced ticket purchasers leading down the sidewalk toward the tennis courts. A second line of those waiting to buy tickets wound up the sidewalk past Cone Hall and disappeared behind Sanford Hall. I quickly guessed that there were more than 1,000 that could be seen and no telling how many were out of sight. Both lines continued to grow by the minute.

The gym doors opened on time as those with advanced tickets rushed to get inside for the best seats.

The ticket sales booth was overwhelmed.  To keep the line moving along as quickly as possible, buyers handed their money to the ticket sellers without receiving a ticket. Members of the fraternity kept watch to see that only those who had paid admission got inside the gym.

Dollar bills soon filled the collection boxes inside the booth and Porky Haynes, who was working inside, told of the floor being so covered in money that it was up to his ankles.

All attempts in trying to determine how many attended the concert was lost, but by the time the concert began there were no seats remaining inside the gym. However, there still was a line of people wanting to buy tickets, even though it was standing room only.

With the “curtain” up, the Apollos set up their amps, keyboard, and drums. It took longer than I had thought it would but at 7 p.m. the curtain crew dropped the parachute as the band was introduced. They began to play and at 7:30, they didn’t want to stop. I had to ask for the parachute to be pulled up at the end of what was to be their final song.

According to Jimmy Brown, the Rolling Stones arrived on campus around 7:20 p.m. He noted the line to purchase admission still was up to Sanford Hall.

The only accommodations we had for the bands were the gym’s men’s locker room. The Rolling Stones went inside and joined members of other bands.

As soon as the Apollos removed their equipment the Bushmen began setting up their equipment. It was around 7:50 p.m. before the band began playing. We were already 20 minutes behind schedule.

I have to say that the Bushmen had a remarkable set. The audience loved them and continued cheering at the end of what was supposed to be their final number. Responding to the audience, they broke out in another rock song despite me begging them to clear the stage. We continued to get behind schedule.

Some of the equipment was left in place. I have been told that there was an agreement between the Rolling Stones manager and members of the Bushmen and Roemans to allow the Stones to use some of the front band’s amplifiers and drums. The equipment situation was never clear to me but apparently the Stones planned to use the guitar amplifiers of their front bands, which explains why they did not bring any with them.

The Roemans began setting up. It was almost time for the Stones to come on stage and the Roemans had not even begun their set.

The “curtain” dropped as the band began playing one of their signature tunes. The audience responded with wild cheers since the Roemans had played several times in concert and at dances prior to the Stones concert. It was clear that as the clock moved past 9 p.m. that it would be necessary for us to ask the Roemans to cut it short, but the audience didn’t want them to leave.

Earlier, I had walked into the men’s locker room where the Stones were waiting to take the stage. I found their road manager and got a signed receipt for $1,500 in cash, the amount we owed to fulfill our contract.

The Stones were openly hostile at having to wait so long to take the stage. Guitarist Brian Jones had nearly finished off a bottle of something alcoholic and was ready to walk out but the manager said they would play. I walked out of the room as bassist Bill Wyman gave me a most hated look.

rollingstones-boro

The concert

It only took five minutes for the Stones to set up. The only change Charlie Watts made to the drums was to reposition the snare drum more to his likes. A couple of attempts were made to tune guitars.

The parachute dropped and the Rolling Stones began to play the first song. Immediately there was an issue with the PA system when a blown fuse cut out Mick Jagger’s voice. It stopped the show for a couple of minutes and further aggravated the Stones.

However, once the sound was restored they continued with a set of 10 songs, which did include their most recent hit, “The Last Time.” The audience broke out with its loudest shouts and cheers when they played that song.

The performance covered a span of about 30 minutes, not the hour I had expected, but nothing could be done about it.

It was clear to the audience that the Stones were not happy to be on stage and they made no effort to do any more than play one song after another as quickly as possible.  The audience did not respond well to the performance and at the end of their final selection the group simply unplugged their instruments and walked off stage.

An encore was not even considered.

Nearly everyone was stunned at the abrupt ending of the long awaited concert. No one was happy — not the audience, not the Stones, not the fraternity, and especially not me.

The concert ended up being a near disaster and it was my fault. I should have never added the third front band.

The same fraternity brothers, who had driven the Stones to Georgia Southern, loaded up their cars and headed back to Savannah where the group was dropped off at the Town and Country Motor Lodge.

Brother Carey Trice said bassist Bill Wyman left his bass guitar at the gym and Albert Green took care of returning it to him the following day.

We began breaking down the stage, taking down the parachute, and removing the chairs while the audience was still clearing out of the gym. A couple of students yelled at me that they wanted their money back. I ignored them, walked to the dressing room and said my goodbyes to the front bands. Of course, their managers were waiting to be paid. I had already written their checks and needed only to sign them.

Everyone kept asking, “What happened?”

I knew what had caused the disaster but kept it to myself. Some said that the front bands were so good that the Stones were angry at being stood up. Others said they had to wait too long and were upset. I just acknowledged that there had been a problem but dropped the subject as quickly as possible.

The abbreviated performance by the Stones did give cause for some immediate disappointment but in the end it only mattered that the world famous band had appeared on stage at Georgia Southern and that Sigma Epsilon Chi had pulled off what might be considered the most unlikely big time entertainment event on a college campus anywhere.

Today

The Rolling Stones, with Ron Wood replacing Brian Jones, just announced a 15-city summer tour of the United States, starting May 24 in San Diego. Mick and the boys will be in Atlanta on June 9, playing Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Stacy George

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