A Q&A with Keith Call
Of The Glimmer Twins
By Geoff Gehman
Keith Call was 10 when he first heard “Brown Sugar,” the first song he couldn’t forget by the Rolling Stones, the first band he couldn’t forget. The elementary schooler was hooked line and sinker by the crunching opening riff; the switch-blading, swashbuckling guitars of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor; the tumbling, dicing grooves that made him want to dance. He was especially entranced by Mick Jagger’s bubbling wailing about a dark-skinned lover who tastes “so good.”
Call still sprinkles “Brown Sugar” over his life. He performs the tune while playing Jagger in the Glimmer Twins, a band he founded seven years ago to play numbers stamped or minted by the Stones. He and Bernie Bollendorf, a lookalike/soundalike Richards, lead six other musicians who specialize in gloriously raw, robust versions of songs the Stones introduced in concert—“Sympathy for the Devil,” “Wild Horses,” “Sweet Virginia”–in the late 1960s to early ’70s, their glory stretch.
Call has been praised from Long Island to Lake Tahoe for his uncanny channeling of the canny Jagger. He nails Mick’s flailing, strutting, spastic dancing and blistering singing. He’s even got the Stones front man’s shaggy hair, reedy body, hooded eyes, ripe lips, androgynous poses, and cranky, cocky speaking voice.
On Nov. 20 the Glimmer Twins will perform their fourth gig at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, one of their favorite venues. Below, in a conversation from his home in Wilmington, Del., Call discusses the band’s reliance on bootlegs of vintage Stones shows, playing an annual love fest in an upstate New York ski town, and trying to keep his Jagger impersonation authentically antic without being comical.
Q: When and how did you realize that playing Mick Jagger had to be your destiny?
A: I didn’t think of it as my destiny. I’ve been hearing “You look so much like Jagger” all my life. But I didn’t think about actually playing Jagger until I was asked to play the part. At the time I didn’t think it was that much of a big deal. I was such a huge Stones fan, I thought it would be pretty easy. That’s why I said: “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.” I don’t want to say it was easy. I just knew the part so well, it made playing the part that much easier.
Q: What was the trickiest part about getting Mick right?
A: Mick is such a unique character onstage. He’s so uniquely androgynous, his dance moves are all over the place, and no one sounds quite like him. The hardest thing was to figure out the way to emulate him but not go over the top so it looks ridiculous. I try to do him justice but not make him a caricature.
Q: Can you think of a revelation about Mick’s singing and/or acting that made you entirely comfortable in his skin–and yours?
A: I didn’t have any trouble at all getting the singing voice. As a longtime Stones fan I pretty much understood his phrasing. Although I have to tell you that I wasn’t much of a singer before I began playing Mick. I was more of an actor, so I had to work pretty had to get to the level of singing that I needed to be. Not that I couldn’t sing but I wasn’t doing it on a regular basis; I hadn’t sung in all kinds of bands. Even in the role right now I consider myself more of an actor than a singer. That’s another tricky thing about playing Mick, making sure I don’t overdo his unique enunciation. If you overdo it, it becomes comical.
Q: Has playing Mick significantly changed the clothes you wear offstage, or the way you act on the street? Do you fancy longer scarfs? Do you find yourself strutting without thinking?
A: Naah, naah [laughs]. Once we’re offstage, we’re just Keith and Bernie and [guitarist] Mike [Rubino] and everyone else having a good time. Behind the scenes Bernie and I like to make fun of each other. I’m an easier target because of the androgynous clothes I wear, especially the women’s blouses.
One of the biggest compliments we get after a show is: “We saw the Stones back in 1972 and you guys brought us back there.” Our job, our mission, is to give the audience a glimpse, a glimmer, of how the Stones sounded, looked and acted back in their heyday. One of the ways we do that is to model our performances after bootlegs of the Stones’ live performances. We model “Tumblin’ Dice” after a version from the 1972 tour and “Satisfaction” after the version from the 1969 tour, complete with a breakdown part right after the final verse. Playing songs authentically, and differently, from different eras–that’s what makes it fun.
Q: The Jagger-Richards relationship is one of rock ’n’ roll’s most famous roller-coaster rides. How has your relationship with Bernie rolled and coasted over seven-plus years together?
A: We’re fine onstage and offstage. We have our moments, but we fight more like brothers. We’re mad for about a half hour, then we forget what we’re mad about. One thing we do onstage is we have fun talking like Mick and Keith talked, or would have talked; we try to give the audience a glimpse of what it was like being in their dressing rooms. I’ll say something like “We’re back here at the Mauch Chunk Opera House. I can’t believe they’d want us back after all the things Keith did the last time we were here.”
Q: Keith mocks Mick’s maniacal micromanaging by calling him “Brenda” or “Your Majesty.” Do you and Bernie have code names for one another?
A: Naah. Unless we’re mad and then it’s “asshole” or something like that.
Q: What do you understand or appreciate about Jagger that you didn’t before you began playing him?
A: I think I underestimated his energy onstage. I don’t think I had as good an appreciation of what kind of physical shape you need to be in in order to sing and move and just hold the audience for as long as he does, especially at his age . I think he’s the greatest front man in the world. God, I hope I can do what he does when I’m 70 something.
What makes his energy even more remarkable is that he’s pretty much the leader of the band. He and Richards are the songwriters but Mick is pretty much the business man. I have all the respect in the world for the man.
Q: Can you put a finger on a truly memorable gig for the Glimmer Twins, one that was really surprising, one you still wonder about with wonder?
A: I’ll give you a negative example first. We had a gig on a Friday night in Rhode Island–let’s just say it was somewhere near Providence—and then a gig the next night down in Daytona Beach, Fla. This was during Bike Week in Daytona; we were told it was mind blowing how many bars were set up and that the previous year there were 10,000 people. Well, it was 30-some degrees that night and people in Florida don’t do well with 30-some degrees. So nobody came to the gig.
Now here’s a positive example. There’s a little town called Ellicottville, a ski resort up in New York. Every year after the ski season is over they throw a year-end party. Every year since 2008 we’ve been the year-end act, playing this little place called the [Ellicottville] Depot, which probably fits 150 people. We perform two completely different sets on Friday and Saturday night, and we sell out every year; this little place attracts a lot of diehard Stones fans. We play 60 songs and we don’t repeat a single one. We play songs people expect to hear–“Brown Sugar,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”—as well as deep cuts like “Loving Cup” from “Exile on Main Street,” “100 Years Ago” from “Goat’s Head Soup” and “She Was Hot” from “Undercover.” We do a lot of stuff from [the live album] “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” and even “Route 66” from “Love You Live.” We really stretch out our repertoire of 100-odd songs. It becomes a Stones place. It’s amazing.
Q: If you were granted an audience with Jagger, what question would you ask him? What mystery would you like him to unravel?
A: I ‘d want to ask him what really happened to Brian Jones [the Stones multi-instrumentalist, arranger, leader and fashion plate who drowned in a swimming pool in 1969 after being evicted from the band he helped start]. Everyone says Brian was murdered; that’s why something like eight books have been written about him. Mick probably doesn’t know what happened to Brian, but I’d still like to hear what he thinks.
Keith Call: The Scoop
He and Bernie Bollendorf named their band the Glimmer Twins after nicknames that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards picked for themselves after a couple in a Brazilian bar pestered the Stones leaders for a “glimmer” of their allegedly famous identities. “In retrospect we probably should have chosen a name that was more Stones recognizable,” says Call. “A lot of good names were already taken. Anyway, we’re stuck with it now.”
He’s seen over 30 Stones concerts. He missed the last Stones gig in Philadelphia for the best possible reason: that night the Glimmer Twins performed for a pre-show party at XFINITY Live!, which is near the Stones’ venue, the Wells Fargo Center. “We got to open for the Stones,” says Call, “so to speak.”
The No. 1 item on his Bucket List is spending more time traveling around.
The No. 1 item on his Fuck It List is spending less time around nastiness. “Why do some people think they’re better and have to rub it in your face? That kind of nonsense pisses me off. I have no time for assholes.”
His favorite Mauch Chunk moment came in the Glimmer Twins’ first concert in Jim Thorpe, when spectators left their seats to crowd the aisles. “They wanted to hear and watch us up close. That was a new experience for us; it was a gift that really gave us a great lift.”
Geoff Gehman reviewed two Rolling Stones shows as an arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. His favorite Stones tracks include “Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “2000 Light Years from Home,” “She’s a Rainbow,” “Out of Time,” “Wild Horses.” “Waiting on a Friend,” “Sweet Virginia” and “Far Away Eyes.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.