Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features bassist Darryl Jones.
Darryl Jones has been playing bass in the Rolling Stones since 1993, logging almost exactly as many years in the band as original bassist Bill Wyman did. But that doesn’t mean he’s a full-fledged member of the group. “I’m not in the Rolling Stones,” he says over Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “I play with the Rolling Stones is how I choose to characterize it. Also, my accountant assures me that I’m definitely not in the Rolling Stones.”
Regardless of what his accountant says, Jones says that his role in the band is the culmination of a dream that goes all the way back to his childhood. “A lot of kids wanted to be Michael Jackson when I was younger,” he says. “But I didn’t really want to be Michael Jackson. I wanted to play with Michael Jackson. I’ve always wanted to play with the best bands and the best artists.”
Hardcore Rolling Stones fans are aware of Jones’ signifiant contributions to the Stones, both onstage and in the recording studio, but the general public knows little about him or his work with other legendary acts like Miles Davis, Madonna, Sting, and Peter Gabriel. That’s changing right now thanks to the release of the documentary Darryl Jones: In The Blood. Directed by Eric Hamburg, it traces Jones’ entire life story and contains interviews with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and even the late Charlie Watts.
“It is pretty exciting,” says Jones. “It’s kind of a quirky thing, because looking at myself and hearing myself talk is not my usual thing. I’ve obviously got enough narcissism in my personality to become a musician in the first place, but not so much that I’m in love with the sound of my voice.”
Jones grew up in Chicago, and became infatuated by music at a very young age thanks to his mother’s love of James Brown. They went to see his live show at venues all over town in the Sixties. “My body was moved by the music, but my eyes were moved by him dancing,” says Jones. “We used to take our shoes off on the on the wood floor with our socks so we could slide around like James Brown.”
His father bought him a little practice pad when he was six so he could learn how to play the drums, but he switched to bass a few years later when he saw one of his musical instructors play one in a school talent show. His biggest influence was Motown great James Jamerson; he grew to admire Stanley Clarke, Anthony Jackson, Alphonso Johnson, and Jaco Pastorius once he enrolled at Chicago Vocational High School on the city’s south side.
“They had an incredible music program,” he says. “Other high schools may have had one or two music periods a day. We’d have six or eight. We were playing Beethoven and Rimsky-Korsakov, but we were also playing Duke Ellington. I remember playing ‘The Sidewinder’ by Lee Morgan and then ‘Back In Love Again’ by LTD and ‘Lovin’ You’ by Minnie Riperton.”
He briefly thought about a career in basketball until he walked onto the court early in high school and noticed that most of the guys were about a foot taller than he was. By that point, he was already playing gigs all across Chicago. He briefly attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale to sharpen his musical skills further, but he dropped out when his career started taking off in the early Eighties. A big part of that was a connection to Miles Davis that forever changed his life, putting him on a path that eventually took him to sharing some of the biggest stages in the world with the Rolling Stones.
How did you get to know Miles Davis?
When I was playing around town, his nephew [Vince Wilburn Jr.] was a drummer playing around Chicago as well. We met through a mutual friend when I was about 14 years old and starting playing together. We used to sit around and talk about how great it would be to play with his uncle. It’s funny how dreams do come true. Miles asked him a number of years later, “Hey man, I’m looking for a new bass player. Is there anyone in Chicago?” I was one of the names that came up. I think I was the first one that answered the phone.
Tell me about your first face-to-face meeting with Miles.
Well, I spoke to him on the phone that day. Vince called me and said, “Miles wants to hear you play over the phone.” I didn’t end up playing for him on the phone. I flew to New York the next day, and I auditioned for him. Before I played, he said, “Listen, if this doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean you can’t play. It just means I’m looking for something else.”
He asked me to play slow B-flat blues. I started and he stopped me and said, “Slower.” And he stopped again and said, “Slower.” So I played the slow B-flat blues for a few choruses. Then he asked me to play along with a board tape from one of his recent gigs. I did that for a while. Then Vince comes out of the bedroom and says, “You got the gig.” I was like, “I want him to tell me!”
I cannot imagine the stress of that audition. You’re a relatively unknown kid, and you’re playing for one of the greatest musicians to ever live.
It’s interesting. The guys who I grew up playing with loved Bitches Brew and all those records with funky jams where they’re just improvising stuff, so I grew up playing with guys who love to play that way. In a way, I was kind of prepared for that spot.
The other thing was, before I played a note, he was already taking care of me. He didn’t seem to be this otherworldly figure. He just was a really charming guy. He was joking around with me. I remember when they got out this limousine and came to meet me in the lobby of this apartment building. Vince comes over to me and says, “Miles, Darryl. Darryl, Miles.”
Miles looks at me, and looks at Vince, and looks at me, and looks at Vince. He goes, [husky Miles Davis impression] “Vince, it’s a weird-looking dude.” I said to him, “You know who Jaco Pastorius is, right?” He goes, “Yeah.” I go, “Well, I met Jaco Pastorius, and he said I look like you.” He went, “You do around the eyes.”
That’s where it started with us, just joking. We got in the elevator and I’m chewing some gum. He said, “Let me have a stick of gum.” I said, “That was my last piece.” He said, “You mean you came all the way to New York and you only brought one piece of gum?” He was joking around immediately.
Did you start playing shows first or did you start working on his record Decoy?
We played shows first. I played quite a number of shows. I met him on May 31, , and my first gig was June 7. We rehearsed for a day, just one time, at the beginning of June. We didn’t start recording Decoy until November. That whole summer and part of the early fall, I was playing gigs with him.
What did it feel like the first time you walked onstage with him?
In the period between when I first met him and when we rehearsed, I went back to Chicago. He gave me the records to learn that we were playing music from. I remember sitting in my parents’ basement and going, “OK, can you really do this?” I put the record on, and I started playing along. After a few minutes, I thought to myself, “I can do this.”
The night that I played with him, right before the gig, his assistant comes and says, “Hey, Miles wants to talk to you.” I go into the dressing room and and he’s like, “Do you have any questions?” And I say, “No.” And he laughed like, “Well, OK.”
We went out and started the gig. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I hope I find one of those really cool bass lines that just works in the situation, it fits, and everybody gets inspired by it.” I remember it came up and I was like, “That’s it!”
After the show, my hotel room phone rang at, like, 4:00 a.m. It was Miles. He was joking and said, “Man, if you don’t play that bass line you played on ‘Hopscotch’ tomorrow night, it’s curtains for your ass.”
I guess there was also a certain amount of youthful naïveté about how big it was. I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just thinking to myself, “Man, play the way you play, play the best you can, play with feeling, and hopefully it’ll work out.”
The natural inclination of mine might have been to try to play like Marcus Miller or Tom Barney, who had both been in the band before me. But I just thought to myself, “Man, play the way you play, because that’s what you’ll be able to do the best. You don’t want to get caught trying to play like somebody else. Then you’ll have to keep doing that.”
Was each show totally different? Did you have a lot of space to improv?
Yeah. At that time there were more unscripted songs. Probably half the show was unscripted. There were lines that they played over the jams and they told you when it was time to move to this section or that section. But there was a lot of room to really improvise.
Tell me about making Decoy. I’m sure that was a very different experience than being onstage.
Yeah. That was reading music, and trying to play it with feeling as if you’re not reading music. It was daunting. But you’re just trying to find your way through. He did one of those those things that he is famous for — he asked me to play a song a totally different way right before we recorded. It forced me to rise to the occasion.
That’s an interesting album. It’s Miles working with Eighties production sounds. That’s something he hadn’t really done before.
Yeah. I was excited to play a lot of that music onstage. And we did a little bit, but by the time we got back on tour the following summer, he had heard it so much that he was already ready to move on.
There’s Miles the myth and Miles the man. The myth was that he was volatile and slightly unhinged. It sounds like your experiences with him were very different.
Absolutely. He had a great sense of humor, which people don’t imagine. When I started playing with Miles, I was in New York a lot, and I would hang out with him every day. The phone rang and I’d hear, “Darryl, I’ve got this chicken over here.” And so I’d go and hang out with him. He’d cook, and he’d be drawing. We’d talk about music, and he’d sit down at the piano and play stuff. It was like a dream come true. Even my father said, “In a way, he sort of became your musical father.”
I love the cover of “Human Nature” on You’re Under Arrest. Was making that album a positive experience?
That was interesting because, again, he’s starting to move into this area, and I didn’t know how I felt about “Human Nature” and “Time After Time” until we got on the road. That’s when I started realizing he’d been doing that for many, many years. He was playing “My Funny Valentine,” which was a pop hit of the day. He was playing “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” which was a show tune. He was choosing these vehicles where he was sensitive enough and astute enough to know that they were good vehicles for the way that he played.
With “Time After Time,” there were some nights on stage where I’d walk off and go, “Who wrote ‘Time After Time?'” When he first told me to learn that song, I was like, “Oh, God. Now he wants to play pop tunes.” But he knew what was right for him.
How did you meet Sting?
I met Sting through Branford Marsalis. And I met Branford the first night I played with Miles. We played a number of gigs with V.S.O.P. with Ron [Carter] and Tony Williams and Wynton and Branford [Marsalis] on saxophone and trumpet. Those guys had been in the press running down guys that played electric bass. I thought I’d be the enemy to them. But they were both very warm and very, very supportive on that first night I played with Miles Davis, which I’ve never forgotten. It meant a lot to me that they embraced me.
Anyway, Branford calls me one night and goes, “Hey, man. Sting is putting together a band, and he’s not going to play bass. I told him about you.” So Sting called and had me come and audition.
That’s a tough job. Sting is an incredible bass player himself. He obviously played all his own bass parts in the Police, so he never really had a bassist before you.
Yeah. It’s true. And not only is he a great bass player, he writes great bass lines. Sometimes I’d be playing the bass line that he wrote for a song and he’d be like, “Darryl, it isn’t written in stone. You don’t have to play that.” I was like, “Man, if it’s not broke, I’m not trying to fix it.” There were many times where the bass lines that he wrote, I played. They were great bass lines.
Do you recall making “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free?”
Yeah. In fact, I played that song that first day during that audition. But it’s weird because I think he was kind of saying to me, “You’re not really auditioning. You’re helping me to audition the other musicians.” But, you know, you’re always auditioning.
That first day I went in, it was that band you see with me and Branford and [keyboardist] Kenny Kirkland and [drummer] Omar Hakim. We auditioned together. The first time we played that music, it was pretty apparent. We played that music pretty well from the beginning.
What was the tour like?
The tour was a blast. I had toured with Miles and gone all over Europe and Japan. But this was a rock tour. It was a lot more people, and it was such a great band. We’d come out of the gate with everything we had. We were all young and trying to prove ourselves. We had a lot of energy.
It was a great, great time. There was the marquee value of the stuff that he’d done with the Police, but we were playing music that was exciting. I mean, I love the Police. I’m a huge fan of the Police. I think that music is some of greatest greatest rock & roll, pop, ska, whatever. He can do it all. But it was great to be playing this slightly more intricate music in front of these audiences that were not really quite used to that.
In 1988, you went on the Amnesty tour with Peter Gabriel. How did that happen?
I’m not sure exactly. But I had met Peter through a musician that I met in Paris when I was on break with Miles. It was a guy named George Acogny who’s still out here in Los Angeles and is a music coordinator for film and television and stuff. I saw his name at the end of Madam Secretary the other night. George is everywhere.
He introduced me to Peter. At some point, I went to Bath, [England], and saw Peter’s studio facility Real World. I think [Gabriel’s usual bassist] Tony Levin either had a previous engagement or he didn’t want to do the Amnesty International tour. I don’t know exactly what was behind it. But that’s when Peter called.
That was an amazing band you were in, with keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Manu Katche.
David Sancious, man, is an incredible keyboard player and guitar player. There were also all of the guys from Youssou [N’Dour]’s band I really enjoyed getting to know. Speaking of Manu, I’m going to record with him in France next month.
I’ve heard great stories about that Amnesty tour since you all traveled together on one big airplane. Did you get to know Bruce Springsteen at all?
A little bit, yeah. I later auditioned for him because of the way I saw him perform on that tour. He was giving it up, man. I really admire him. He gives all you can give to an audience. I got bewitched by him and thought to myself, “Man, I’d like to play with him.” And I auditioned for his band [in 1992].
What’s funny is the Stones were doing a gig once at the Meadowlands. We were walking down a hall and we met. He said to me, “Darryl, you sound so great with the band.” I was thinking to myself, “Should I remind him that I auditioned for his band?” And I decided to. I said, “I don’t know if you remember, Bruce, but I auditioned for your band.” He looked at me and said, “Oh yeah! I fucked up!” I told him, “No, no, no, Bruce. It all worked out!”
How did you wind up on the Blond Ambition tour with Madonna?
I think Madonna might have seen the Peter Gabriel thing when we played somewhere in the States. And it’s my understanding that it was [Madonna’s longtime backup singer] Niki Haris, who had seen me in the Sting movie [Bring on the Night]. She told Madonna, “You should get this guy.” That was another situation where I was asked to come out and help her audition other people, but it was really an audition for me too.
It’s a very different kind of show for you. The way you play “Vogue” one night won’t be any different than the way you play it the next night. That show is locked in tight.
Exactly. And there was a lot of times where I was copying what was originally played on synth bass. I was like, “What is this gig? The gig is to play these things you play every night with feeling, and to infuse them with as much passion as you can, while still playing the same thing, and playing something you have to copy and get perfect.”
Also, it was just watching her put that show together, along with her brother [Christopher Ciccone]. She was so adept at putting that whole Blond Ambition show together. Now when I go and see footage of any of these younger women — Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears — I can look at their show and go, “When she was young, she saw Madonna’s Blond Ambition.” I can see their show and know that they learned from her.
Does the Truth or Dare movie capture what it was like on that tour?
It does. It might be a little bit more theatrical. But there’s a lot of fun in that movie, too, and we did have a lot of fun. Those dancers had never done that kind of thing before. It was exciting to be on the road with people who had never been on the road before.
Then there’s guys like Jonathan Moffett. He’s one of the best show drummers on the planet. Everyone was great. [Keyboardists] Kevin Kendrick and Jai Winding did a great job putting all that stuff together. [Percussionist] Luis Conte was there too. He’s a great, great friend. We’ve been friends ever since then. He’s an incredible musician.
Were you a big Rolling Stones fan as a kid?
Not so much. “Satisfaction” was a song that kind of crossed over into Black radio, which is what I would have been listening to at four or five with my parents. But “Angie” was the song that made me more aware of the Stones. By that time, I was a little bit older. I was in elementary school when that song got to be a really, really big hit.
The Stones got on my radar when I was going out with a woman in Italy. She was just fawning all over this Steel Wheels record, playing it constantly while I was visiting her. She was like, “It’s so great! It’s so great!” I was like, “It’s OK.” But the more I listened to it, I was like, “You know, the way I play, I could work with them.” And this was a long time before Bill Wyman left the band. This was 1989.
What was unique about Bill’s bass playing on their old records?
He didn’t play like the guys I grew up listening to — I’m talking about guys like James Jamerson. The choices that he makes are really not born of the background that I came up with. There’s a certain quirkiness there. Even if you listen to “Miss You,” his integration of the disco thing is brilliant. The way he did the down and up on that song is incredible.
How did you hear they had an opening for a new bass player?
There’s this guy that had a jingle company in Chicago, Sandy Torano. He’s a really great friend of mine. He was in Miami and hanging out and playing with the guys that became Average White Band. He was on that scene. He was in a band called Niteflyte. They had a few hits. By this time, he’s in Chicago. He’s doing jingles, and I’m playing on lots of them.
By this time I had met Mick. We met during the making of Bring on the Night. I had met Keith through Charley Drayton and Steve Jordan, who I was friends with when I moved to New York and started playing with Miles. They introduced me to Keith around the time they were starting to rehearse for Talk Is Cheap.
Charley and Steve switched off from bass and drums. Sometimes Ivan Neville even played bass. At some point, Charley left the band and I was hoping to get in and play with Keith. That would have been 1989 or 1990. I really wanted to play that music. When I heard Talk Is Cheap, I thought, “If that’s rock & roll, I want to play rock & roll with those guys.”
That didn’t happen because another friend of ours, Jerome [Smith], got the gig with Keith. And then a couple of years pass, and Sandy calls: “Hey man, Bill Wyman is leaving the Stones.” I remember just hanging on the phone. He goes, “Should I get Mick’s manager’s number? You want to call him?” I said, “Yeah, do that.”
I called up and spoke to someone in Mick’s office. I said, “I hear you guys might be auditioning bass players. If there’s a list, I’d like to get on it.” I later found out that because I had met Mick with Sting, I might have already been on that list. Our stage manager told me not long ago, “You were already on the list.”
What do you recall about the audition? What songs did you play?
The first thing that happened was that I was just trying to get a bass sound. I started playing the bass line from “Licking Stick” by James Brown. I didn’t expect them to start playing it with me, but then Charlie [Watts] started playing it. That was the first song I ever played with them. After that, we played through “Brown Sugar,” “Miss You,” “Honky Tonk Women,” and probably eight or 10 of the most popular Stones songs.
This happened in New York. I was living in L.A. and living with Kenny Kirkland. I got called to New York for this audition. They flew me out. I did the audition. I remember thinking at the audition, “Man, that felt really good to me. If it felt as good to them as it did to me, then I’ll hear back from them.”
A few months later, they reached out to me. They had been in the islands writing music for Voodoo Lounge. They said, “We want you to come over to Ronnie’s place in Ireland and play through some of this stuff with us.” So I did that. It was then that they told me, “We want you to come back to Ireland in a few weeks and record Voodoo Lounge with us.”
Every bass player on the planet wanted that job, including Doug Wimbish and so many others.
There were lot of guys that could have gotten the call. Hutch Hutchinson auditioned. He easily could have gotten the gig. Daryl Johnson from the Neville Brothers could have very easily gotten the gig. There was Johnny Spampinato from NRBQ. There were a lot of guys. I was thinking, “Any of them could have gotten the gig.”
Did you realize the job was yours during the making of Voodoo Lounge or did it still feel tentative?
I knew that I was recording with them, and I was trying to make a space for myself so that they would want to take me on the road. We recorded that between Nov. 4 and the second week of December . And then in January, they came to L.A. to do additional recording, and they called me up just to hang out.
I ran into Keith in the studio. He goes, “Hey, man. Did you see Charlie?” I said, “No.” He says, “You must have just missed him. He was asking me if we were going to hire you to do the tour. I was like, ‘Of course we’re going to hire him.'” Charlie said to him, “Don’t you think we should tell him?” And so Keith says, “OK, I’m telling you. We want you to go on the road with us.” That’s basically how I found out I was going on the road.
That must have been overwhelming. They hadn’t played a show with a bassist other than Bill since 1962.
Exactly. But this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the bass player with all the great bands. When I got the Stones gig, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, man. This is Miles, it’s Sting, It’s Peter Gabriel, Madonna, Herbie Hancock, and a lot of others. I guess I did what what I dreamt of doing.”
Your first show with them was in Toronto at a little club.
What was it like to walk onstage that first night and start playing those songs?
It was great. It was loud. I’d never played with guys who played that loud, and in a club too. But we had rehearsed so long, about nine weeks, since none of them had played that music since Steel Wheels. We’re talking about four years.
The next show was RFK Stadium. That must have been intense.
I’d played with Sting and Madonna, so I’d done big gigs like that, but what was memorable was the fans. I’ve played in front of a lot of great fans, but there seemed to be even more fervor with Stones fans. I still feel that way today. There’s a lot of bands with great fans, but people are real serious about the Stones. It seems different.
You’re suddenly in this world of five-star hotels and private jets and police escorts.
There had been a little bit of that with Sting and Madonna. But I remember one of the things that really struck me when I was rehearsing with the Stones. I asked my tech for some water, and he hands me a cup. Right at that moment, they called a tune to rehearse. I remember thinking to myself, “Where am I going to put my water?”
I set the water down. I turned around and we went on playing for another 30 minutes or half an hour. The next time I turned around, the tour carpenter had made a rack that hooked onto my bass rig where I could put four drinks. He had made it and painted it black so that it would match my rig. I was like, “Oooh.” That’s the level of huge team they have working together towards putting on this show. For some reason, I was like, “This is a slightly different league. They have a guy that makes you a drink holder in 20 minutes.”
I’m sure so many people you met wanted tickets, wanted to meet Mick, wanted to get backstage. There are so many people just trying to pull themselves as close as they can to the Stones.
I bought a lot of tickets on those tours for friends of mine who probably otherwise wouldn’t have been able to come. I’d be hanging out with high school buddies and Mick would call and be like, “We’re going to do dinner at such and such time.” I’d say, “I’m hanging out with my high school buddies.” He’d say, “Just bring them.”
So I show up at dinner with the guy who was a French horn player in the high-school orchestra. And he’s sitting down and talking to Mick. Literally the next time we were in town, Charlie and Mick were like, “Are we going to see Gavin again?” They treated all my friends so well. It was such a cool thing.
But they made it clear on day one that even though you’re the bass player, you’re not a full-fledged Stone?
They never talk about that kind of stuff. It’s the organization. I’m not getting picked up in front of a hotel in a limo. I’m getting picked up in a big van. You’re part of the touring band. As I said to Keith one night, “When I’m onstage with you, I play like I’m in the Stones. I don’t know how to play any other way.”
I think Bridges to Babylon is an underrated record. Did you like making that one?
That was really great. That was the last of the “good, old bad days.” [Laughs.] There was a certain amount of partying going on during the breaking of that record, and it teetered off a little bit after that.
I love “Out of Control” and “Saint of Me.”
It’s Meshell Ndegeocello [playing bass] on “Saint of Me.” I’m on out “Out of Control.” I like “Saint of Me” a lot. I’m glad she got to play on it, but I really wanted to do it.
I spoke to Bernard Fowler a few months back. He said there’s this weird paradox of being in the Stones touring band — your phone stops ringing after you join, since everyone thinks they can’t afford you. Did you experience that?
Yes. Everyone thinks you’re priced out of whatever they’re doing. Also, the Stones didn’t tour from 2007 to 2012. I remember going to a session in 2009. Someone said to me, “Hey man, when did you get off the road?” I was like, “I’ve been off the road two years!”
But people think if they’re not hearing about the Stones touring in the United States, that they must be on the other side of the planet playing. So there was that. People thought, “He’s busy.” So you don’t get calls.
It’s been called “golden handcuffs.” It’s a very high-profile gig, but it can pull you away. You get used to it, and you start doing less of other things. I’ve learned how to have a little more balance. When I get home, I don’t just sit around. I continue to work in some other areas, take some classes. I tried to get back into acting. I try to do other things since it’s such rarified air.
It must be easier now since the days of the 18-month tours are done. They do 14 shows a year now.
Yeah, but I’d really like another one of those long tours. We once played 22 out of 24 months.
Let’s talk about Charlie Watts. You must have developed a real bond musically and friendship-wise after playing together all those years.
Absolutely. It was both. When I first started playing with Charlie, I would hear him do things and I’d think, “Oh, he’s going to play that fill. It’s not going to end up in the right place. It’s rushed a bit. I’m going to fix that.” I’d try to fix it, and I’d end up being in the wrong place when we came back to one. I realized, “Don’t be trying to fix stuff.”
There’s a certain amount of irreverence in rock & roll that I’ve had to learn a little bit about. With that band in particular, there’s a little bit of chaos thrown in there. You don’t realize it until you go and hear a bunch of great musicians at a wedding.
Say a musician friend gets married. And of course, the musicians playing at a wedding for a musician are great. They’ll be playing a Stones song and I’ll be thinking to myself, “Why doesn’t that sound right?” It’s because there needs to be a little bit of chaos. There needs to be a little bit of a square peg trying to go into a round hole. There’s a little bit of that mixed in with these guys that have been playing these songs for so many years.
It never winds up being rote. It’s like what Bernard says. “We can be rehearsing stuff one way, but we get onstage and that stuff is out the window. We’re just playing.” That’s part of the Stones sound. Keith Richards never plays the same song the same way twice.
You’ve played so many big gigs over the years, but I’m sure a night like Cuba in 2016 was extra special.
Yeah. I remember standing on stage that night and and feeling a swelling of gratitude that I was here playing this music with these guys in front of this audience. It was very, very special. It was one of those moments where I realized, “This isn’t bad for a poor guy from the ghetto.”
They brought up Bill Wyman as a special guest in 2012.
Yeah. We played in London and he came out for a couple of songs.
What was it like to talk to him and spend time with him?
It was fun. He’s a great guy, just like they are. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten to know him better over the years. But he’s a good guy, and he’s been nothing but kind with me.
Bernard and Steve spoke to me about being in rehearsals while Charlie was sick, and then learning he was gone. I can’t imagine how awful that was.
I think the only thing worse than the way that went down would have been if we hadn’t been touring, if we hadn’t had something to keep us going. Music is such sanctuary for musicians. If the worst thing in the world is happening all around, you still have a chance to go onstage where you can’t really think about that. You turn around and you realize “Charlie’s not here” and you’re crushed by that, but then you turn around and there’s music to be played. You have to come back to it.
My sorrow about losing him has come in odd places. I was in Madrid this year. This was the second tour we’d done after he passed, and it was his birthday. I sat down and started writing. I didn’t know whether I was going to post it, but I started writing about him and I got upset. I was weeping in my room. I wasn’t sure I was going to post. I let Keith’s assistant, Tony Russell, read it. I said, “Do you think Charlie would mind if I posted this?” He said, “Darryl, there’s nothing here that Charlie wouldn’t love.”
I ended up posting it. He said, “By the way, when we were in Madrid, you were in the room that Charlie would have been in.” It made me feel like, “Oh, that’s where all the emotion came from. There was a visitation.”
You’ve known Steve Jordan for decades, so I imagine that you guys locked in pretty quickly together.
Absolutely. And it’s just getting better and better. I mean, Steve works at it. He’s listening. He listens a lot more than I do. He comes back and goes, “Check out such and such and let me know what you think about us doing this.” We’re tinkering. I don’t read reviews. I like people telling me things like, “The reviews were great in London.” I’m like, “Great. I don’t have to hear any more.” But from what I’ve heard of people talking, I don’t think the critics expected the 60th anniversary of the Rolling Stones to sound like it’s sounding.
I watch Mick from the crowd and think to myself, “How is this humanly possible that he’s doing this? How is a man even close to this age sounding this good and dancing across a stage for two hours?”
He really is amazing. He told me something once when I was asking him about fitness. He goes, “My dad was a physical education instructor. When I came home from school, he never asked me about my school work. But he always asked, ‘Did you run today? Did you go hiking?'”
Many people move away from their parents’ teaching for a while. But if we’re wise, we generally do go back to it. That’s what he’s done. He takes good care of himself. That said, he enjoys a good party as much as anybody, but he does take care of himself.
Are you hoping there will be more dates next year?
Yeah. I’m hoping so, man. And it seems like the audiences… When we’re hanging out after the show, or walking through the hotel, there’s the die-hard Stones fans, and they seem not to be ready to give it up. I think things will continue.
Tell me about your new group, the Darryl Jones Project.
When Eric [Hamburg] came to me and said, “I think we should do a documentary about you,” I was like, “I don’t think I’ve done enough yet.” He said, “I think your story is one that should be told.” And over the past 20 years, I’ve been writing music. I even had a couple of bands and gigs that I’ve done. I was co-leader in a few circumstances. But it really comes out of wanting to do more. I feel like I have achieved the dreams I had as a child. I want to make new dreams, and reach out and make them real.
You’re also the person calling the shots for once.
Yeah. I’m learning about that, man. It is different. I have high standards, but I also don’t want to make the musicians around me feel like I don’t trust them. There’s a diplomacy that it takes, when to push and when not to push. It’s also about me developing as a songwriter and a singer. I feel a little bit of imposter syndrome when I even call myself a singer because I’ve worked with so many incredible ones. But what I’m hoping to do is write lyrics that mean enough to me that I can deliver the story to people, and I can sing well enough to deliver the story.
I recently wrote a song about a tough time in my life. When I finished the song, and sat back and played it to myself, I didn’t feel as bad about the difficulty anymore. I realized, “If it kind of heals me, then maybe it’ll do that for other people too.”
Are you planning on booking headline dates in the future?
I want to start small. To be honest, I’d much rather have 250 people who really see my vision and dig what I’m doing rather than being a flash in a pan with 100,000 people that are only going to come see me once. I want to just find my people, and try to build on that. I want to make something people want to come back to, and watch as things unfold and I get better.
If I can write music that reaches people and describes the situation societally that we find ourselves in, that’ll be good. I got a lot of people I’m inspired by, people like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley and Sly and the Family Stone, and the Stones and Sting and Miles and James Brown. It’s all of the people that I have been heavily influenced by, whether I’ve played with them or they were the music of my childhood.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?
Well, I look at guys like Tom Waits and get inspired. I’ve done the scores for a couple of films. I love helping a director tell a story. I would love to do a little more of that. I studied acting with some great instructors in New York and Los Angeles. I’d love to do a little more of that too, and I would love to go on tour with my own band for a couple months a year.
When I look at Mick and Keith, I see no reason why they can’t keep playing shows into their eighties.
That’s what blues guys do. They play until it’s not feasible for them to play anymore. I don’t see any reason why these guys would stop.
And you’ll be by their side until the very end, I’d imagine.
Yes. I’d like to see it through.