By Ivor Levene
The Rolling Stones are without peer in terms of both longevity and output, so it should surprise no one that they are one of the most documented bands ever. Their story has been told through many mediums: Music, video, books, magazine articles, et al. There are literally hundreds of books available to the consumer, but a new book by author Matt Lee tells their story in a way that has only really been touched on by Stones bassist Bill Wyman.
Hot Stuff, a book that documents the history of the band through memorabilia collecting is destined to become one of the most highly anticipated books on the band in decades. It's especially poignant now, since the death of Charlie Watts in late August. This is the last book on The Rolling Stones that he contributed to, and he had more than a passing interest in this book's content and Matt's collection. He (and the other band members) were emphatically impressed with Matt's collection, especially items from the band's early history. If you're a Stones fan, and you're looking for an authorized biography of them, this is probably as close as one will ever get. Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie are all contributors to the book. As Keith Richards states in the book, "It's all there."
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Matt Lee is the Guinness Book of Records title holder for having the largest collection of Stones memorabilia in the world. How comprehensive is his collection? In 2016, the band put together a traveling exhibition of their own memorabilia entitled "Exhibitionism." It showcased some of their most sought-after memorabilia, the show was rife with rare items. The entire collection however didn't belong to the band. Roughly 15% of the collection was borrowed from Matt Lee. So when a Rolling Stone wants to display a rare item, there is a good chance its part of Matt Lee's collection.
Unlike many collectors, all of these objects aren't stored away in a warehouse somewhere. The thing that makes Matt and his collection stand out, is his desire to share it all with the world, via this book, his home-turned-museum in London, and the soon-to-open Rolling Stones museum in London that will showcase this incredible collection.
How rare are the items in this collection? Lee's collection contains rarities such as their first recording contract (signed by Brian Jones), an acetate of their very first recording, a composer contract for their very first Jagger/Richards-written song, "Tell Me," a set of Mick Jagger's maracas, an accounting ledger listing their profits and losses from a 1965 tour. Much of Lee's collection is filled with one-off items that need to be seen to be believed. Charlie Watts himself said of the recording contract, "It is the most poignant piece in the collection." The book is a chronology of the band's rise to fame, and their place in pop culture and music history.
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The Guinness record states that Lee's collection numbers 2,789 items, but in reality, there are closer to one hundred thousand items in the collection. It would be nearly impossible to put a dollar value on the entire collection, although Lee estimates that he's spent well into seven figures acquiring all the items in his collection. Not only does the band endorse the book, but there are endorsements from Bill German. German is the author of Under Their Thumb, a book that's considered by both fans and band members to be one of the most accurate accounts of the band (in the 1980's) ever written. Hot Stuff is partially a passing of that torch from German, and from Chris Elborn, the previous ultra-collector of Stones memorabilia. Matt Lee was actually inspired by Elborn's collection to start acquiring all he could get his hands on, wanting "everything that was in Elborn's collection."
A glimpse into Matt Lee's Rolling Stones memorabilia
How exactly did he obtain these rare items? Essentially, he started carrying rare items around London for the band to sign, and eventually developed a friendship with guitarist Ron Wood, even acting as executive producer on one of Wood's solo albums. According to Lee, "I spent much of the year 2000 on the streets of London outside restaurants, theatres, etc... collecting autographs. They really don't like doing guitars and it took me a year to have the courage to ask Ronnie for one. Four years later when I asked him for another one, he remembered the first and wrote, 'Matt, this one's yours' on it." He obtains items from fellow collectors, industry professionals, and, of course, the band themselves. If you're hoping to obtain an outfit worn on stage by Mick Jagger, this is the closest you're going to come, and you'll never see something like that show up on eBay!
If you've ever been in the pit at a Stones show, chances are that you've run into Matt. His obsession with collecting band memorabilia is born from his absolute love of the band, and "Superfan" is a title he wears well. He's attended over 200 Rolling Stones concerts in 28 countries and has spent countless sums of money following the band from show to show, country to country. When asked if he was going to attend any of the rescheduled 2021 dates, he replied, "Hopefully all, but travel is very difficult at the moment. I haven't missed many shows for the last 10 years." Neither Covid nor wild horses can keep Matt away.
I managed to grab a few minutes of the author's time, in between trades, to ask him about the book.
Goldmine: What made you want to start collecting The Rolling Stones?
Matt Lee: I have always collected things, my first collection was pencils. When I first saw The Rolling Stones live in 1995 at Wembley I started to collect; never did I realize then it's an endeavor with no end.
GM: What's the longest a trade has ever played out?
ML: I have worked on deals or trades for over 10 years in many cases! I am still working on some...
GM: When the band needed to put "Exhibitionism" on, who reached out to you?
ML: The management team and curator and sponsor. I went to meet them at a private club in London and then they came to my home to choose the items they wanted to borrow.
GM: How were you compensated for the items you loaned to the band for "Exhibitionism"?
ML: No comment!
GM: Has there ever been a collaboration between you and a member of the band?
ML: I have done many great projects with Ronnie, from a live album to hand-painted guitars.
GM: Who else in the Rolling Stones, other than Bill Wyman, collects?
ML: Ronnie loves the stuff, For his last birthday I gave him a Bo Diddley / Ronnie Wood NYC Ritz poster from the 1988 Gunslingers tour and he loved it. He always has mementos everywhere.
GM: How long have you known Ron Wood?
ML: I first met him at the Jazz Cafe, Camden London, in February 2000 at an Ian McLagan gig. It started a chain of events where I met him around 50 times that year.
GM: When you deal with "other" Stones, do you deal directly with them?
ML: Only with Ronnie
GM: What's your most prized possession?
ML: Emotionally my first ever tour laminate but there are many more impressive or beautiful items.
GM: Is there an item out there that you know of, that you just can't obtain? If so, is it owned by a band member?
ML: Those are the trades I am working on ;-)
GM: What do you value your collection at?
ML: To me it's priceless, I enjoy the process of collecting and have had so many great times with so many interesting and passionate others around the globe that share my passion.
GM: Do you ever have band members sign things strictly for resale?
ML: Only ever the limited edition live album I did with Ronnie where he signed all 500 copies. The others are for my collection or close friends.
GM: What do you intend to eventually do with this collection?
ML: This year as well as the book I am opening my display space in central London, both projects are to help me share my passion with more people from around the globe.
The book Hot Stuff (shown above) is slated for release on October 12. You can pre-order the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Rolling-Stones-Priceless-Memorabilia-Collection/dp/1787393070/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=matt+lee&qid=1632065114&sr=8-2