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Ron Wood: Rolling Stones Are Born, Not Made

The newest Stone is the life of a nonstop party and the last of a rock & roll breed

November 3, 1977
Ron Wood Rolling Stone
Ron Wood on the cover of Rolling Stone
Annie Leibovitz

He looks like he was drawn by the cartoonist Walter Lantz. The topknot isn't red; it's black. But he moves with a swagger, a cocky strut, and he has an appropriately manic giggle. What I mean is, no matter what his name, he'd still be known as Woody.

The name is Ron Wood, and he is a Rolling Stone. Not just "in the Rolling Stones," as Mick Taylor was and a host of other guitarists almost were. Ron Wood is the last of a breed. It isn't his guitar playing that marks him so much as his attitude, the definitive expression of the British rock-star tradition. He fits in because he tempers the pop aristocrat's hauteur with just the right spirit of low-life bufoonery. So he is, rara avis, a Rolling Stone. Born, not made.

This is not only metaphor. Around eighteen years ago, when Wood was twelve, his older brother Art used to take him to the shows he played with a band led by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. Their drummer was Charlie Watts.

The Rolling Stones, 1963-1969: Behind-the-Scenes Snapshots

And then there is the matter of constitution. "Every time I'm in L.A., Ronnie and Chrissie [his wife] invite me to their house in Malibu," a friend said. "They say, 'C'mon out to the beach. It'll be so relaxing.' And when I get there there's a crowd around, night and day, jamming till all hours, hanging out. Two days later, without having had a wink of sleep, I leave, more exhausted than when I arrived." Relaxation is, shall we say, highly comparative.

Wood's lifestyle meshes perfectly with the Rolling Stones', an organization whose very essence is nocturnal. During the Stones' 1975 tour of America, when Wood joined the group, there were those who thought his downfall would be attempting to keep the pace set by Keith Richard, a man who seldom sleeps, to put it mildly. Little did they know.

Woody and I first met to do this story in New York late last spring when the Stones were mixing the album that became Love You Live at Atlantic's Midtown studio. We had been discussing the story since the '75 tour, but the plan was to wait until Ronnie began recording his third solo album. (The second, Now Look, had been released during the tour.) It was three o'clock on a midweek afternoon in the Stones' new offices in the Warner Communications skyscraper. Not surprisingly, three became four and then some before Wood showed.

What was surprising, though, was the arrival of Keith Richard as well. In fact, over the next couple of months, until Wood left New York, Richard and Wood were almost inseparable.

They're a study in contrasts. Wood is nearly six feet tall, and in a world of rail-thin rockers surprisingly bulky. Richard claims to be 5'10," though 5'8" seems more likely. Like all the other original Stones, who set the model for rock celebrities, Keith is slender and wiry.

Keith is so swarthy that even when he's freshly shaven and dressed, as he was that afternoon, there remains a grainy shadow of beard which reveals not age so much as experience. After a couple of days without sleep, which also means a day without showering, the ultimate Rolling Stone acquires a mossy look. (When asked about biting Keith's toe for the Love You Live LP cover, Woody said, "He's the only dirty man I know who doesn't smell.") But his extraordinary vitality inevitably cuts through that surface. Keith Richard is a lot like the best Rolling Stones music: even at his seediest, he's one of the world's most alive experiences.

Keith Richards Photos

Wood's complexion is classically English, as ruddy as John Bull himself, so that he always seems fresh-scrubbed and unblemished. At 30, he is younger than Richard (who is 33), or any of the other Stones. He seems to have worn a devilish expression all his life, like a child perpetually up past bedtime. More than anything else, even their floating worldwide jam session, this aura is what Wood shares with Richard. More than once they've been described as rock's outlaw mates, epitomizing the music's Barbary pirate spirit. But when you're with them, it's always more like an R-rated version of Peter Pan.

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