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Ron Wood: Rolling Stones Are Born, Not Made

Page 6 of 7

Still, things just don't run as smoothly at 4 a.m. as in the middle of the afternoon. One night around 4:30, Mick needed a piece of equipment but couldn't get at it. The workshop had been locked when the day shift left, and the night manager didn't have a key. Mick inquired, then returned to the control room.

A moment later Stephen Stills returned, a pocket telephone book in his hand. "Can I use the phone?" he asked, beginning to dial. "Hello, Ahmet? This is Stephen Stills – you know, of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Listen I hate to bother you so late....Well, Mick Jagger and I are down here at your studio. Now, we both sell an awful lot of records for you and Mick is trying to mix the Stones LP, and he needs a part which these people can't seem to get for him....I don't know, they don't have a key or something....Sure man, I'll put him on." He handed the phone to the night manager.

The workshop was opened in a moment. Now, you could say this incident was revealing of Stephen Stills (his tone was pure adolesence) or of Ahmet Ertegun (he put up with it). But it also has a lot to do with Mick Jagger. "He'd never have made that call," someone who also overheard it pointed out. "It would have been offensive to him to do that. But if Stephen wanted to call . . . well, it got the job done."

So there's a scene of illumination for you. But it is also a distortion because it's so atypical of what goes on. Observing the Rolling Stones in the recording studio is a job better suited to the time-lapse photographer. (Remember Godard's One Plus One?) Looking on, there's no way to avoid the feeling that it's pointless, counterproductive, and an almost embarrassing waste of cash. (Figure out thirty ten-hour nights at a minimum of $100 an hour...and that's just for the final mix-and-master process.) "I wonder what it would be like if they gave you a bill at the end of every session, rather than all at once at the end," Ron Wood wondered early one morning.

They don't, though, and partially as a result bands use recording studios as rehearsal halls, after-hours social clubs, hide-outs, all-purpose vestibules of neurosis. Which has its own corollary effect: young bands also spend dozens of hours in the studio, on the same theory that motivates weekend hackers to spend long minutes lining up short putts they'll miss anyway – it's what they'll see Jack Nicklaus doing if they manage to get back home before dark. Maybe, the worst thing about seeing the Rolling Stones in a situation like this is realizing how much like everybody else's bone-dull, all-night recording sessions it is.

That's also not entirely fair. Mixing is the most boring part of the recording process – the creation is virtually done, no matter what the auteurs of the control board will tell you – and having journalists around doesn't exactly encourage heightened spontaneity. (There was a room or two I never entered, because I didn't want to find out about certain probabilities.) All things being equal, you'll find that Ron Wood's life is a hell of a lot less dull than yours or mine, even if we keep the same hours.

But I've got to admit, the couple of times we've spoken since then were more invigorating. The first was at Keith Richard's room in the Mayflower Hotel, jammed with reggae singles, ashtrays overflowing, drinking Singapore Slings in the late June heat. Keith was at his mossiest but up for going out to Long Island later in the evening to see the Heptones. Later, I spent a couple of days trying to track Wood down by phone. No one – not even his mother, with whom he was suppose'd to be staying – seemed to know where he was, a predictable consequence of his galivanting lifestyle.

He finally turned up at home, or in the guest cottage of the Wick; he had bumped into Eric Clapton soon after arriving. "Eric just called in fact," he explained. "He's in Ibiza, with Ronnie Lane. They're supposed to do a show down there, together, but he says they won't unless I come." He doubted that he would (he didn't), but seemed to find the demand almost as enticing as it was amusing.

He had returned to England to put the house in shape for renting; the Stones are slated to begin recording a studio LP this fall in Paris and then, for tax reasons, it seems likely Wood will be spending most of his time in the States, either in New York or California, probably the latter.

As for his musical plans, "Well, Mick and I have been working on some songs," he began, "for the studio album." I expressed some surprise at this, since neither Bill Wyman nor Mick Taylor, both of whom have composing ambitions, were ever able to make major contributions to the Stones as writers. "I certainly expect to contribute," he said, with his own measure of surprise that I'd question it. "I've written a bit with Mick, a lot with Keith wherever we've been, New York, Paris, Munich – we've just collected all the ideas, like the stuff we were trying out in the studio. I've gotta make sure I do contribute." Here, he took off into one of his bits of drollery. "After all, I'd hate to become the dormant member of the Rolling Stones."

He and Keith are also talking about trying out "some different situations – Jamaica, Philly, a few other places. Not necessarily for an album, but just to see what it's like to play together with those musicians."

Wood's third solo album remains a mystery. When we spoke on the phone from London, he could say nothing at all; the Warners' contract was still being dissolved. A couple of weeks later, he could afford to be more forthcoming: "I had the feeling they didn't want another one of the Faces to be in an independently powerful position, particularly as they'd just secured Rod from Mercury. So they really didn't work on those LPs – that's putting it lightly. The bottom line is that I'm out of my contract."

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