Ron Wood Sticks His Neck Out

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That same year, Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones, and Jagger and Richards began auditioning guitarists to join them in Munich for their next album, Black and Blue. "Just prior to that," recounts Wood, "I was sitting in the back seat of a car with Mick and Marshall Chess [at that time, president of Rolling Stones Records], and Mick said to me, 'I don't want to split up the Faces — I really dig them — but if you ever want to move on, would you come with us?' I said, 'There's nothing more I'd like, but I am committed in every way to the Faces, so if you could find someone else, that would be better. If you get real desperate, though, ring me up.'

Photos From 'The Faces 1969 to 1975'

"A year later Mick tracked me down in L.A. and said. 'Woody, I'm desperate.' I said, 'Does that mean you want me? Things are a little rough with the Faces and I was planning on dropping by Munich to see how you're getting on.' After Black and Blue and that first tour, I was willing to play with both bands — which I did for a while in 1975 — but then Rod threw in his cards and that made my choice easier. I thought, 'These are my marching orders to work with the Stones full time.'"

Ron pauses, squinting wearily at the fading embers in his fireplace. "I think in his heart Rod wanted me to carry on with him," he says. "But he knew the Stones were much hotter on my list. I knew I'd have no problems with them. Keith, though, had some reservations: he thought we played too similarly. But at this point, the rapport in our styles is perfect; without saying anything, each of us knows when the other is going to cut back to rhythm from a lead, or vice versa. We never even talk about it."

In spite of the spotty Black and Blue (Wood joined during the album's final stages), the Stones seem to be enjoying a creative resurgence since drafting Wood. They have been writing, touring and recording incessantly, and last year they produced one of the decades definitive albums, Some Girls. Several of the band's critics and friends think Woody's chummy restlessness and gritty guitar obsessions have helped fire that rejuvenation, but Wood, typically, discounts his own influence. "I think what I do is give them just a little breathing room, since they know they don't have to accommodate my writing to their playing. With me, it's all just water off a duck's back.

"I'll tell you where my influence really paid off, though, on Some Girls; giving Mick guitar lessons. I encouraged him to play things like 'Respectable,' 'Lies,' 'When the Whip Comes Down' — all that upbeat, punky stuff. Mick felt very punky at the time."

I ask why none of his songs has appeared yet on a Stones album, and Wood draws his face into a bashful shrug. "Because there simply isn't the room," he says. "Whenever I get together with Mick, we play for each other what we've just written, even if it's only a couple of chords toward a song. They're welcome to any of my songs they want; I'm not hoarding them. But coming into the group late, I already had a solo career going, and I thoughtas the rest of the boys did — why sacrifice it? I do have a lot of songs that don't fit the Stones, so why not keep that outlet going? At the moment, it's all very cool — I have a fair opportunity with the Stones."

Theoretically, I point out, Keith Richards is still in jeopardy: Canada's federal crown prosecutor has appealed Keith's sentence to the Supreme Court of Ontario as being "too lenient," seeking six months' imprisonment instead. If Keith had been sentenced to a jail term the first time — or is yet sentenced — where would that leave the Rolling Stones — and Woody?

He peers at the hardwood floor, then answers: There was a time when Keith wasn't showing up much for rehearsals and we had to get used to doing without him. But he spent a lot of time alone in Toronto after that arrest, and faced up to the whole thing. He came out of it with a very confident, clearheaded view of himself, and without a substitute dependency on anything other than his music and his band. I doubt if the group's ever been more solid than it is now. It's a secure feeling knowing the Stones aren't going to be swayed from rock & roll. It's a feeling I need.

"We'll stay onstage for a long time — that's where we feel alive the most. I never want just to make records. That's like being a movie or TV actor — you're never doing it in front of a real audience. I couldn't stand that. You could be seen by millions of people every day and still be the loneliest person in the world."

This is a story from the May 31, 1979 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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