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The Night The Rolling Stones Were Booed Off Stage in Favor of Trained Monkeys

Rolling Stones
Keystone, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In time, the Rolling Stones would grow to become the “world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band,” but on June 6, 1964, they weren’t even good enough to outperform a troupe of trained monkeys — at least not according to the crowd in attendance at their show in San Antonio.

Jack Hutton of the U.K.’s Daily Mirror covered the carnage that ensued onstage during the band’s first trip to the city, noting that the Stones’ appearance — part of a state fair whose lineup included Bobby Vee and country singer George Jones — found them decidedly out of their element.

“Local singers were cheered wildly,” wrote Hutton. “A tumbling act and a trained monkey were recalled to the stage for encores. But the long-haired Rolling Stones — Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman — were booed. After the show, at the Teen Fair of Texas, one 17-year-old girl said: ‘All they’ve got that our own school groups haven’t is hair.'”

Wyman recalled things differently in his memoir, Stone Alone, arguing that the band was far from alone in receiving the cold shoulder from the crowd — but he did remember the monkeys. “The concert was in the open air and everyone got a poor reception from a mixed crowd of cowboys and kids,” he wrote. “We had to go on after some performing monkeys. What the hell were we doing here? People didn’t know whether to take us seriously or as a joke. What had we let ourselves in for? Crowds were great to us at airports and hotels, but these two shows set us back years!”

Unsurprisingly, given the region and the times, culture shock was part of the problem. Hutton’s report observed that the band were “treated like freaks” in Texas, shouted at to get haircuts, and even mistaken for women. Wrote Hutton, “One man was heard to say, ‘Shucks, I thought they were girls wearing one-piece bathing suits.'”

Wyman wrote about a similar incident in Stone Alone, ruefully recalling that the day after their disastrous San Antonio appearance, “while we were sunbathing around the hotel pool in a temperature of 95 degrees, a young waiter who was serving us drinks said that a guest had complained to the hotel that girls were at the pool, swimming and sunbathing topless — that was us!”

Monkeys and catcalls aside, the Stones’ trip to Texas was still worth the trouble, given that it introduced Richards to his longtime friend — and frequent Stones associate — Bobby Keys. As Wyman wrote, “Keys was born in Lubbock, Texas (the same town as Buddy Holly) on the same day as Keith, which practically made them blood brothers.” And as bad as things got in that coliseum, they could have been worse: One local review noted that “only 3,000 of 20,000 available seats were filled” when the band took the stage.

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