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Ron Wood Sticks His Neck Out

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Ron Wood, at thirty-one the youngest Rolling Stone, has always had a knack for kicking up the right band. His first solo effort, I've Got My Own Album to Do, recorded in 1974 when the Faces were still together, featured a support group composed of, among others, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Mick Taylor, Rod Stewart, George Harrison and Paul McCartney. His second LP, Now Look, released in the middle of his maiden 1975 tour with the Stones, was reproduced by Bobby Womack (who wrote "It's All Over Now," one of Stewart and the Faces' best concert songs). Both were very much the records of a man — and rock sensibility — in transition, moving from the fading funkiness of the Faces to the intense luster of the Stones.

The new Columbia album, Gimme Some Neck, is the first on which Wood's bawdy, guileless personality clearly reigns (although Jagger, Richards, Dave Mason and Mick Fleetwood make brief appearances). It's a clamorous, crass, raw rock & roll record — something like a cross between the Faces' A Nod's as Good as a Wink and the Stones' Some Girls — and at the heart of it is one of the most massive guitar-and-drum alliances (the latter played by Charlie Watts) ever recorded. But perhaps the most striking thing about the album is Wood's vocals; with his thick-tongued, slithering inflections, Woody sounds like a stormy Bob Dylan (especially on "Seven Days," a song Dylan wrote).

"It's strange. I spend a lot of my time singing with Mick and Keith and I end up sounding like Dylan," muses Woody, seated on a paunchy sofa in the retreat-like grandeur of his Pacific Palisades home. The flare from a burning fireplace illuminates the lines of exhaustion settling into his gaunt face after a week of rehearsals. Still, Woody's an animated, avid host, giving me a modest tour of his drawings and antiques, carting out his new toy — a tenor saxophone — to demonstrate his reed facility ("Bowie's very impressed; my family's very pissed"), and proudly playing a videotape that features a sextet of Ron Wood's mugging their way through "Seven Days." As we watch it, he says, "My singing here reminds me a bit of that Mark Knopfler guy in Dire Straits. I asked Dylan about him and he said, 'Yeah, he sounds like the way I used to sound.' Wait till he hears this."

Gimme Some Neck is also Woods first effort with producer Roy Thomas Baker, who works with Queen and the Cars as well. "I guess I kind of fall somewhere in between them, don't I?" Wood titters. "Roy had heard the earlier records, and the first thing he said was, 'We don't want to make a second-rate Stones album, and we don't want your vocals to go down the way they did before.' He always seemed so unimpressed with what I was doing that I began hearing myself more critically, too. All I wanted on those first records was a one-off, back-room sound. This time, I got a back-room sound produced to the full.

"But I refuse to get too refined about making records. I like the earthy approach to rock & roll, which is why the Stones aren't real different for me. They've been saying all along what I've been trying to get at."

Looking back, Wood's ascension into the Rolling Stones seems more a product of rock's version of natural selection than an act of his own artful ambition. Ever since his mid-Sixties stint with an R&B-influenced Mod group from London called the Birds — which enabled him to form friendships with Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Mick Taylor — Wood has been acquiring a reputation as one of British rock's most eager and valuable players, as well as one of its most jovial. Woody is considered a bit of a self-styled clown, which is not to be confused with a buffoon: his comic exuberance is a welcome respite from the coolness of so many of his British colleagues.

"I don't mind blundering in on someone, and I think that's why I get along well with so many 'rock illuminaries,'" laughs Wood. "I just figure they can't be as hard as you'd think. If somebody was offish, I'd leave, but nobody has been. That's how I came to know Mick and Keith and George Harrison. Thats also how I came to join Jeff Beck. I just rang him up after he left the Yardbirds and said, 'What're you doing?'"

After things with Beck soured in 1969, and Steve Marriott left the Small Faces to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, Wood persuaded Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones to carry on as the Faces — with him as their new guitarist. After a little time, when no one wanted to be the lead singer, Wood helped encourage his brandy-voiced comrade from the Jeff Beck Group, Rod Stewart, to sit in. Soon after, the Faces became one of the most exciting and enigmatic English bands. While their endearing brand of inebriated camaraderie never translated that well on to record, Stewart and Wood flowered as unforgettable songwriters and showmen. (Once, during the group's early peak period, Mick Jagger tried to contact Wood to see if he had any interest in the Stones. Instead, he spoke to Ronnie Lane, who said, "No thanks. Ronnie's very happy with the Faces." Later, Lane was the first to leave the group.) But Stewart, whose solo career outdistanced the Faces both commercially and artistically, grew restless about music and romance, and by 1974 the Faces' future looked uncertain.

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