Wide Angle

History : When Rock bands visited Morocco to get inspired

Starting from the 60s, Rock stars and well known bands have stayed in Morocco to get inspired. Rockers like Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and Cat Stevens flew to the kingdom in several extraordinary trips to live the Moroccan dream. Flashback.

Mick Jagger, lead singer of teh Rolling Stones, during his visit to Morocco./Ph. DR
Estimated read time: 4'

The charming landscape, trance music and the 60s and 70s fever have dragged a number of Rock bands and stars to Morocco. Some of them came to get inspired, write lyrics for their future albums and just take a break from their everyday life. Magazines and books have left a record of these artists who had Morocco on the top of their travel checklist.

Today we will recall the trips of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa and Janis Joplin who had stories to make in the North African kingdom.

The Rolling Stones' roller coaster trip 

During the early 60s, members of the Rolling Stones, an English rock band formed in London in 1962, had one of the most controversial trips ever made to Morocco. As harsh as it might sound, the Londoners who came to the country to forget about the problems they got themselves into back home had to face bigger ones.

According to A Continuous lean, an American online magazine, in February 1967, the band decided to leave London for Morocco as they were in «the wake of a widely publicized raid at Richard’s Redlands estate which left both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards facing serious drug charges that jeopardized their future».

However, the trip was nothing like what they expected. In fact «Brian Jones, the group’s original front man and founder, had been to Morocco before and was already familiar with the country’s famous assortment of markets, music, and most importantly drugs, but before the trip really even began he grew ill», said the same source.

Members of the British band had planned to join Mick Jagger, the lead singer, and his girlfriend at the time crossing through France and Spain but that never happened, at least not that way. «Pallenberg and Richards forged ahead though, and with Jones temporarily out of the picture the two fell right into each others arms, starting a relationship that would last for the next twelve years», recalls the magazine.

The situation sparked tension among the Rolling Stones members and made their trip to Morocco less enjoyable. Based on the same account «the trip to Morocco had been organized as a last ditch effort to save the young band, and while it clearly succeeded at that, the Stones’ lived on at the expense of Jones». The latter was replaced by Mick Taylor, and with «June of ’69 wounds of Marrakesh still wide open», he drowned to death a month later in his place in Sussex, England.

Although their trip to Morocco had more of dramatic vibe to it, the Rolling Stones did not miss the opportunity to embrace the beauty of the North African country they were visiting for the first time. Taking straws in Tangier and Marrakech, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones took beautiful pictures that are accessible on the internet.

According to the book «The Rolling Stones : A Musical Biography» (2010) by Murry R. Nelson, before leaving Morocco Brian Jones had to record music in the kingdom. One of the Rolling Stones songs «was accompanied by the Master musicians of Jajouka, Morocco, the same pipe musicians with whom Brian had recorded in 1969».

«The recording had been done in Tangier, Morocco after which the Stones had flown back to London».

That was not the last time that one of the Londoner rockers visits Morocco. Years later, Mick Jagger packed his luggage and headed to the Kingdom with Jerry Hall, an American model and actress. In the same book Nelson indicates that the singer was seduced by the charm of the country that he canceled his musical tour plans. «He sent a Telex to the Stones’ offices saying that there would be no 1980 tour», reported the same source.

Led Zeppelin's adventurous ride to the Sahara

Contrary to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, an English rock band formed in London in 1968, had an amazing, adventurous and inspiring voyage to Morocco. Robert Plant, the leading singer of the English band and Jimmy Page, guitarist and founder of the band went on a trip to Morocco in June 1975.

Page and Plant’s tour to the kingdom was indeed a special one. Based on the account provided by the book «Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin : Interviews and Incounters» (Hank Bordowitz, 2014) by Jeff Burger, the two rockers traveled through Morocco and Spain taking a month off to relax.

«Plant and Page’s journeys took them on pretty dangerous routes, especially in view of the growing tension between Spain and Morocco», wrote Burger.

In an interview, the two rockers indicated that «one day we had lunch with a local police chief and received his blessing before traveling on, and we showed him on an old map where we wanted to go».

«We tried to get down as far as the Spanish Sahara at the time when the war was just breaking out (…) We wanted to get down to a place called Tafia which is not very far from the border of the Spanish Sahara. We got as far as we could but eventually the road got so bad we had to turn back».

Plant and Page returned later to Morocco and this time in 1994. «Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were held in Marrakech in 1994 to record an album MTV Unplugged.L’album N 'o Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded' appears in October 1994. It contains tracks recorded with Gnaoua musicians: 'Yallah', 'City Do not Cry', 'Wah wah'»,  explains From Morocco with Love, a website on the history and culture of the kingdom.

Hendrix, Stevens and Zappa were here 

Not very far from Marrakech, Jimi Hendrix, an American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter known in the international scene as the star of the famous Woodstock festival visited the city of Essaouira. According to Forbes Magazine, Jimi has been to the city whose resident «stick happily to the story that Hendrix's 'Castles Made of Sand' was inspired by the ruins of the Borj El-Berod watchtower, a crumbling former fortress on the water's edge to the south».  

The American magazine is referring to a village called Diabat. In Daniel Jacobs and Mark Ellingham’s book «The Rough Guide to Morocco» (2001) , it is mentioned that «the small Berber village was once a legendary hippy hangout, and local mythology has it that both Cat Stevens (a singer and song writer known today as Yusuf Islam) and Jimi Hendrix spent time in the colony».

Other accounts, have confirmed the story indicating that Janis Joplin, an American rock singer and songwriter, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens and even Frank Zappa, an American musician, composer, activist and filmmaker all hang out in the coastal city of Essaouira during the last part of the 20th century.

Whether now or then, international artists and musicians as well as Hollywood actors and actresses have always been attracted to the authenticity of Morocco. The culture, heritage and food are the major factors that made these celebrities see the kingdom as their sanctuary.

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