A Minnesota Music-Industry Vet Revisits 1979 Rock Culture and the New Barbarians

"New Barbarians: Outlaws, Gunslingers, and Guitars" book cover.

Voyageur Press

In 1977, Keith Richards was busted for drugs in Toronto, and the incident changed the trajectory of the Rolling Stones for the rest of the decade. What no one at the time knew is that the mess in Canada would help spawn the short-lived band the New Barbarians in 1979, a pivotal piece of rock lore that fits neatly into the 50-year history of the Rolling Stones.

New Barbarians: Outlaws, Gunslingers, and Guitars (Voyageur Press) is a sleek 200-page prose and visual narrative that captures the history of the Stones’ offshoot band, fronted by guitarists Ronnie Wood and Richards. Written by Stones enthusiast, former longtime music-industry worker, and Minneapolis native Rob Chapman, the book explores the Barbarians’ inside story in a coffee-table compilation that features stunning photography and artifacts, much of which has never been seen publicly until now.

“When I talked to all the people on the inside, they said that was a very pivotal time for [the Rolling Stones].” he said. “When he got busted—Keith—they were saying he was done, like going to go to jail. They were putting it off as long as they could. They put out Some Girls while he was awaiting trial—huge album, sells millions, they were on a tour. But on the surface they were really kind of all walking around in a fog. When they did their last show on the Some Girls tour in ’78, I think they were hugging in the end.”

Despite being one of the hottest bands on the planet, the Stones faced an uncertain future heading into 1979 given Richards’ Canadian legal troubles. However, Wood had been working on a new solo album, which evolved into the New Barbarians and an eventual tour. As if it were meant to be, the New Barbarians wound up giving Richards his out from legal doom via charity shows.

The Stones “were all kind of in shambles” at the time, said Chapman. “It gave Ronnie—the new guy—one window to go out and tour behind his solo album. He put together a kick-ass band that became the New Barbarians. He would have put the record out, maybe, but he would never have toured behind it if all these busts wouldn’t have happened. It was kind of weird how it all played out.”

Exploring the band’s rich yet brief history, which is packed with fascinating and thoroughly researched anecdotes, Chapman’s prose is fun and spirited. While he’s a longtime fan who has a personal relationship with Wood and Richards, he explains that it was important to him to be able to tell the Barbarians’ history accurately and with minimal personal bias. “The Stones have always been my favorite band since I was a kid,” Chapman said. “I always liked them. Growing up, everybody who knew me knew that was my favorite band.”

Barbarian Family Portrait taken in Chicago in 1979.

A Barbarian family portrait, taken backstage in Chicago in April 1979. Photo by Robert Matheu, courtesy of Voyageur Press

Chapman’s passion and growing relationship with the Stones are what led to him undertaking the most detailed account yet of the New Barbarians, whose lineup also consisted of Ian McLagan on keyboards, Bobby Keys on the saxophone, Stanley Clarke on bass, and Ziggy Modeliste on drums. At the time he conceived it, he was working in the sales department at Quarto Publishing Group in Minneapolis, and it started not with the book, but with the CD of New Barbarians music packaged with it.

“I was at Quarto in 2014, and I was emailing [Wood] . . . and I told him, ‘I just found this Barbarians bootleg.’ And he goes, ‘How does it sound?’ I go, ‘It’s OK—it could be punched up and could be made better, but it sounds pretty good.'”

The conversation with Wood continued, and a day later Chapman found himself being supported by the famed guitarist and his representation to compile a history of the band. “I thought, ‘I guess I’m writing a book,'” he said. “I put a marketing plan together, talked to a friend of mine at a record company—how we could put a CD with the book—and basically told everybody who the players were and how it was an important thing. I pitched it to Quarto, and they accepted it. So I was off and running and never ever thinking I was writing a book.”

Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards performing together in San Diego.

Wood (left) and Richards (right) playing with the New Barbarians in San Diego. Photo by Curt Angeledes, courtesy of Voyageur Press

With help from photographers Henry Diltz, Alan Pariser, Geoff Gans, Bruce Silberman, and others, Chapman takes readers back to spring and summer 1979, sharing the live shows, the signature bluesy-coated rock music, and all the extras Stones fans—and most rock enthusiasts in general—will adore, including handwritten lyric sheets. “I needed to know who had the pictures. There was one official photographer named Henry Diltz who shot all the shows; I have thousands of pictures from him because he was involved,” Chapman said. “Then there were two other photographers who shot rehearsals, so I got all the photographers involved. Most of these pictures I’m putting in the book were never out.”

Released January 1, 2017, New Barbarians: Outlaws, Gunslingers, and Guitars costs $40 and is worth the price of admission for the previously unreleased photography alone. It is packed with rich history, extras, and artifacts that represent a time capsule from the 1970s, and the bundled CD also captures one of the band’s live shows in quality that’s far superior to anything found in a bootleg or on YouTube.

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