It’s the stuff of legend, except that it’s true. Drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll. Throw in a British luxury car, and you have all the ingredients of Keith Richards’ notorious road trip to Morocco 50 years ago this month.
In February 1967, awaiting a British court appearance for narcotics possession, Rolling Stones guitarist Richards decided that he and his bandmates could use a getaway. He proposed a trip through France and Spain to drug-tolerant Marrakesh, Morocco, and although Mick Jagger and Brian Jones needed little convincing, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts apparently declined the invitation. According to Richards’ 2010 biography, Life, Jagger and his then-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, flew to Marrakesh, while Richards and Jones planned to drive to North Africa along with Jones’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and friend Deborah Dixon.
“Blue Lena,” Richards’ beloved 1965 Bentley S3 Continental Flying Spur Sports Saloon named after American jazz singer Lena Horne, would ferry them. According to Bonhams, which auctioned the fully restored Bentley for $1,176,924 in 2015, the Flying Spur was originally ordered with “blue external finish (to match Crewe standard Dawn Blue); beige Connolly leather upholstery with matching headlining and carpets; electric windows to all doors; Radiomobile 920T radio; Hirschmann electric aerial; parking and indicator lights on front wing sides; Dunlop whitewall tyres; and a badge bar at the front.”
Not only did Richards ruffle plenty of high-society feathers by purchasing the Bentley – one of only 68 right-hand-drive Flying Spurs built on a Continental chassis – he had a hidden compartment installed to hide the Stones’ illegal stash. In addition, the car had darkened rear windows and a rear screen to ensure privacy. “Having this car was already heading for trouble, breaking the rules of the establishment, driving a car I was definitely not born in to,’’ Richards wrote in Life. “Blue Lena carried us on many an acid-filled journey.’’
After meeting in Paris, and with Richards’ chauffer, Tom Keylock, behind the wheel, the group headed south. Trouble started almost immediately. Jones and Pallenberg were already on shaky ground, and when Jones came down with pneumonia, he was left behind in France. According to Bonhams, the remaining travelers were involved in a nightclub skirmish in Barcelona and police had to intervene so they could escape the angry crowd, which was throwing objects at the Bentley. After the group spent the night in police custody, Dixon decided she’d had enough and headed back to Paris.
That left Richards and Pallenberg to their own devices, and they had little trouble making the best of it. In fact, according to Richards’ book, their relationship became a sexual one in the Bentley’s backseat, “somewhere between Barcelona and Valencia.”
Although the trip certainly went well for Richards and Pallenberg – they were together for 23 years and had three children – the same couldn’t be said for Jones. Chauffer Keylock said later that Jones was so angry when he finally reached Marrakesh that he hit Pallenberg, and Keylock threatened to return the favor if Jones ever put his hands on her again. Predictably, Jones’ friendship with Richards was also permanently damaged. Two years later he was out of the band – replaced by Mick Taylor – and less than a month after that Jones was found drowned in his swimming pool.
Richards sold Blue Lena in 1978, and he is adamant that he left his drug-abusing lifestyle behind shortly thereafter, even if his reputation as a hard-partying rocker remains to this day.
“I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me,” Richards wrote in Life. “I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl (eyeliner). Is it half and half? I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain. People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s 30 years since I gave up the dope! Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down, you can see it.”
The same can be said for that storied trip to Morocco.