Although the Rolling Stones have been on hiatus for the past three years, Ron Wood has been in the headlines — but not for his guitar-playing. "I was being followed everywhere by the press," he says of the paparazzi. "I still am." In the summer of 2008, he left his wife of two decades and shacked up with a young Russian girl, but after a dramatic breakup last December, Wood refocused his energy on music, painting and staying clean. "After I left home, around Christmas, I found myself in L.A., and my friend Steve Bing said, 'People want to hear you play, man.'" So before long, Wood was in a studio with Slash, Flea, Ivan Neville and Jim Keltner, cutting a funked-up cover of the Willie Dixon classic "Spoonful." "That was the icebreaker," says Wood, who just released a solo album, I Feel Like Playing. "In a way," says Wood, 63, "this album has marked the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one."
For a while, things looked bleak in your life: divorce, rumors that you were broke and drinking heavily.
I'm a nomadic Gemini. All my life I've been used to being broke one minute and rolling in millions the next. I've never really paid much attention to my wealth or lack of it, but I always knew I'd get through it. I'm more responsible for my life now, more focused.
Through your ups and downs, you've always been productive.
I think that's what has saved me. When I'm not on the bottle, I have a natural energy. I'm absolutely uncontrollable and on the go. I used to get high, and it was great, but I didn't need those drugs, or the false affirmation I got from alcohol. It was slowing me down, and I was starting to get bitter and twisted, saying things that weren't me.
You've got lots of great people on this record: Flea, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Eddie Vedder . . .
Slash was recording down the road from me in L.A., and he offered to stop by anytime — my connection with him is unwritten, like I have with Keith. We speak to each other through our guitars. With Eddie, I just bumped into him in Hawaii, and he said, "Let's do some writing." He's a really good wordsmith.
You have a killer solo on "I Don't Think So."
That was my Fender with a whammy bar. Doing guitar takes in the studio is like foreplay, with the eventual orgasm. When you know you've hit it, you look up at the engineer and go, "Did you get that?" And when he says, "Yes!" that's a great feeling.
There must be that split second of doubt before the engineer says, "I got it."
Oh, yeah! I've had engineers in the past say, "No. Didn't tape that one, you weren't quite cutting it." That's the worst feeling in the world. The best is when the engineer is in tears — that's the crown topper.
You've jammed with so many greats over the years — any gigs stand out?
When John Lee Hooker came out and played with us in 1989, we never had any clue what key he'd be playing in. He'd look at us and say, "'What key'?" He had no idea. Finally, before one song on the second night, he said, "E," and I shouted to the band, "Boys, he gave us a clue! It's in E!"
The Stones usually tour every three years, like clockwork. Well, it's been three years.
Yeah, we're due for our summit meeting, where we all sit around a table and bullshit. It's really just good fun to get all the boys together. Everyone's got itchy feet. We'll know something by December.
How is the Faces reunion going?
Great. Mick Hucknall is singing just like Rod used to in the Seventies. The songs came together like no time had gone by. We may do something in January. So while the Stones are on the back burner, I shall keep my chops together. I've got to keep my fingers hard.
Does a Stones tour shred your fingertips?
Oh, yeah. You usually shred them during rehearsals and spend the tour healing up. Soaking your fingers in vinegar helps.
I thought Krazy Glue was best.
Krazy Glue is the woman's way out [laughs]. Pure alcohol is the best toughener, and malt vinegar is a close second. If I used alcohol, I'd end up drinking the fucking saucer I put it in.
This story is from the October 14th, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.