Albuquerque, New Mexico; Saturday afternoon; five o'clock. Ron Wood, Rod Stewart and Ian McLagan sit on the beds in Ron's room in the Hilton Inn, picking on guitars and singing snatches of what Ian (Mac) jokingly calls "authentic blues" – like the old Bob Dylan favorite, "Baby Let Me Follow You Down."
"Yeah, those are the real chords," Rod says. Rod is wearing a red suit and he hunches over the acoustic he holds, a beautiful black Gibson. "These are the folk chords." He strums Dylan's voicing. They do "Smokestack Lightning." Rod asks, "How did you used to do this, Mac?" He plays a thumb-buster run and marvels, "Ooh – real John Baldry lick there!" Woody's mobile face mugs outrageously, forming in rapid succession expressions of incredulity, absorption, glee. "That note is included in this chord," he tells Rod, showing how to combine two versions of "Smokestack." This does not look like a band that is on the verge of breaking up.
Mac leaves first, with a joke: "Love your hotel room – especially the decor!" Rod departs a moment later. The room is a comfortable mess, cluttered with antique Fifties Fender practice amps, equipment cases stamped Ron Wood/If You Give Him a Chance, guitars, clothes and assorted debris. The litter makes it practically habitable. Woody phones down for tea. He's dressed in a kind of tie-dyed shirt, tan leather pants, matching tan ankle-top lace-up zipper boots thin bone bracelets and discreet tooth necklaces. He admits to one night's sleep in every three, although he caught up on rest a few days ago in Hawaii. For three months he has played with the Stones, for six years he has played with the Faces, and as far as Ron Wood is concerned, he'll continue to play for both groups as long as they both want him.
"They do talk to me about it, yeah," Woody says. "Keith does. He'll say, 'Ball's in your court. Can't go on with both groups forever you know.' With Mac, it's like, 'Do what you want. But – what we gonna do when . . . ' Making me think ahead, so if I was thinking of leaving I'd be forced to say, 'Oh I won't be around then.'
"The thing is, both groups know I'm not leading'em on a merry journey. I'm just trying to fit in both categories, as long as it remains comfortable. If it ever gets uncomfortable in either one, I'll get out. The Faces know that I'm with 'em, you know? And the Stones know I'm always there when I've got that time off. The Faces part, that's sort of taken for granted. I've always thought of meself as a member of the Faces for the duration.
"I don't want to make the choice, particularly. It's just something that's brought up a lot, by people in between, especially. It's only the people who talk about it who make me think of it. Otherwise I wouldn't.
"I have to . . . defend the Faces, sort of thing, because I could very easily say, ah well, fuck that, I'll just run off with the Faces – Stones rather, I mean. Getting the groups muddled up now. But I feel a loyalty to the Faces that's very strong. Mac and Kenny. Tetsu. And now Jesse . . . "
The telephone rings, with a request for penicillin. "What's that – 'Someone sucked my knob last night'? Sounds like an Elton John song! Well, I don't know. Try the manager." The tea arrives and Woody clears a place for it on the cluttered bureau. Someone else knocks at the door with a tin of bourbon-flavored tobacco. Woody has taken to smoking a pipe in an effort to cut down on cigarettes. He has eliminated another vice as well, he says, putting a finger to his nose and snorting significantly. "Had to. You know? Can't carry on like that for long. I mean, I really tore me ass out!" After closing the door, he stretches out on one of the beds, cup in hand.
What about the rumors, then? Is the band breaking up? What about Rod's quoted remarks?
"The tour is going well. It's picking up excitement. By the end we should exceed the last one, which was the best one. We've got a new permanent member as well, in Jesse Ed Davis. Everything augurs well for the future.
"As far as what Rod said ... about enjoying so much working with the band he had on his album ... that needn't be a put down. All he meant was, he didn't realize he'd have so much fun with another bunch of musicians as he does with us. That's all that meant. And the other things.... Maybe he said them during a particularly depressed time in his life.
"I don't think this band will ever break up, not unless everyone wants it to."
Does he feel their record company is pushing Rod to be a solo artist? "We've always felt that, yeah. Even Mercury, when they had him – he was the only thing, for them. Warners is doin' the same. We just deal with it as if it isn't there. There's six guys, you know. It really is on a cooperative basis. Once we're all together.
"But Rod does allow it to go on, doesn't he?" Woody muses, as if thinking of it for the first time. "I mean, Mick could have that with the Stones, if he wanted, but he doesn't allow it. Still, they're different people, with different views."
But what of those trappings of the solo star, the things Rod allows to go on?
"Well that's all part of the . . . It's a morale boost, isn't it? If you're successful on your own, so to speak . . . If my records skyrocketed to Number One I suppose I'd feel the need to keep that up. Maintain my sales. That's purely a harmless ego thing. And, you know, an incredible amount of bread! The most of his income must come from his solo efforts."
Ron also has a solo career. Two Ron Wood albums have been released, featuring fellow Faces and Stones as well as well-known players from both continents. Critics have been enthusiastic, while sales have been less than phenomenal. How important is that part of his work to Woody?
"I'd just like it to be an outlet for me. When I get a stack of songs that I want to express in my own way, it's nice to be able to do it. And though I don't want 'em to be soaring up the charts, I also don't want 'em to skyrocket to obscurity. I gave more thought to the vocals on this last one.
"I was just a bit annoyed at first because they didn't seem to be being distributed properly. I feel like Warners is trying to clamp down on me, same as they're trying to promote Rod. Dunno why."
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