Before Ronnie Wood joined the Rolling Stones in 1975, he made his name as an ace guitarist with the Faces and the Jeff Beck Group – and before that, as a teenager in West London, he played in a bluesy group called the Birds. Wood, 68, recently discovered his personal road notes from a 1965 tour with that band. "It's the diary of a 17-year-old rock & roller," he says. "It was leather-bound, with gold edging to the pages, and I used to keep it quite diligently. I'd forgotten all the details!" Wood fleshed out the diary – which features cameos from Eric Clapton, the Who, and more – with new reminiscences and illustrations for a book, How Can It Be? (available now in a signed, limited edition of 1,965 copies, with a wider release due this fall).
Wood called during a day off on the Stones' new stadium tour to talk about his rock & roll youth, getting sober, hanging with Harry Styles and more.
How would you describe yourself at 17? What kind of a teenager were you?
Much like I am now, I think. I was very pretentious, and very aware of the audiences, whether they accepted us or gave us a hard time.
What were the crowds like at those shows in '65?
Heavy emphasis on the girls. A lot of it was to impress them – you gauged how well you were doing if they screamed. It took us ages to warm them up sometimes. You had to convert these unbelievers to let their hair down a bit. Then, in certain areas, like in the west of England down at Salisbury, they wanted a piece of you – a piece of your hair, a piece of your clothing. They were really quite savage. And we had no security! We got through that by the skin of our teeth.
Was there a lot of drinking on the road?
Yeah, those were the days of experimenting with scotch and Coke and brandy and things, and perhaps not knowing the limits. There are some entries where it says, "Great night last night. Sick twice." But in those days it used to bounce off us – that and all the travel we did in the van. We'd grin and bear it. If I had to do it now, I probably wouldn't last a week.
A few of the entries mention partying with Keith Moon. What was that like?
[Laughs] He was a hell-raiser, but a hell of a gentleman at the same time. It was hard to think that the same guy that was really polite to your mother in his smoking jacket was also the guy that was drilling through the hotel room to get in bed with [John] Entwistle because he didn't want to be lonely. The Who were very encouraging to us. One night they came out to this tiny little dive outside London where we were up onstage, and they were shouting up from the crowd, "We're Number One!" We were going, "You bastards!" It was a friendly rivalry.
Did you run into the Stones much in those days?
I didn't really know them. I knew them from afar, across the room. We tried to keep up with the Stones. If they were going out for 75 pounds a night, we were getting 50 pounds. When they were getting 250 a night, we were getting 100. All we lacked was a hit record!
When did you end up getting closer to them?
It all came together in the late Sixties, around the inauguration of Mick Taylor at Hyde Park, after Brian Jones died. I met Mick and Charlie on the periphery of Hyde Park, and they came up to me and said, "We've got this gig today, a free concert, and we're breaking in our new guitar player. Well, we've got to go to the stage. See you soon." I said, "Yeah, sooner than you think!" [Laughs]
It's been 40 years since you began playing with the Stones. What do you make of that milestone?
It's as though no time at all has passed. Once you're over 30, time just flies, anyway. I still feel like that kid in '65.
The fans have said that you've been playing better than ever on the last couple of Stones tours. Do you agree with that?
Yeah. I'm five years clean and serene this year, so that's made a big difference. I have a completely different focus. It's great for me to revisit albums I wasn't even on – I can see Sticky Fingers in a completely different light, and clearer.
Do you find it hard to stay away from alcohol on the road?
Well, now I find it easy, thank God. I think it does get easier. The first white-knuckle months when I first cleaned up, it was a bit of a challenge, and I thought, "Oh God, how am I ever going to get through this?" But now I can go through most situations and not get triggered.
A few months ago, you performed with One Direction on X Factor. What was that like?
That was a culture shock. It was really fun. I think I got 500,000 new Twitter followers overnight! They're lovely boys.
They just lost a member. Do you have any advice for them on how to handle a bandmate quitting?
Well, I saw Harry the other day. He's a big supporter of the Stones, and he seems to be rocking on. I think they thought, "OK, we'll just adjust and carry on." I think they're handling it OK.