NEW YORK — Bill Wyman seems to be on a campaign to destroy his image as the silent Stone. On last year’s Rolling Stones tour, Wyman emerged during a two-week stay here as the most available and articulate member of the group. He spent almost all his waking hours talking with the press about his new record, Stone Alone, and his relationship with the Stones, or listening to mixes. Often he did both at the same time.
The secrecy and security which usually surround the Stones were nowhere in evidence. The rest of the band were here putting final touches on their new LP, Black and Blue, which Wyman described as “different. Most of the tracks are quite long and there are some nice, funky things with, for want of a better word, ‘discotheque’ sort of rhythms.”
Wyman hardly saw the others, except for Ron Wood, who is apparently a full-fledged member now although no announcement has been made. He was less concerned with the Stones album, which he felt Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were fully competent to handle, than with his own.
Stone Alone is a clear step forward from Wyman’s first solo album, Monkey Grip (1974). “On the first album I just went out to make a nice fun album, get a few frustrations out musically. And I ran into a big problem when the record was being promoted. There wasn’t a single. I hadn’t even thought of cutting a single. So I got into this very difficult situation of trying to pull a single which wasn’t on the album to promote the album.” Though the single, “Monkey Grip Glue,” didn’t do very well, Monkey Grip sold respectably – about 250,000 copies.
In Stone Alone, Wyman did go for the hit and the difference is apparent in both approach – hardly anything is longer than three-and-a-half minutes – and musical styles. Most of the tracks have an R&B – and often a New Orleans – flavor. Included are reworkings of Gary U.S. Bonds’s “Quarter to Three” and Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy (For the Rest of Your Life),” nine Wyman originals and a song by session guitarist. Danny Kortchmar. Among the sidemen are Van Morrison (who takes a sax break on “Quarter to Three”), Ruth and Bonnie Pointer, Dallas Taylor, Al Kooper, Mark Naftalin, Joe Walsh, Joe Vitale and the Tower of Power horns. And, of course, the ubiquitous Ron Wood.
The biggest difference between Wyman’s two solo albums is in the vocals. And that’s where Morrison and Ruth and Bonnie Pointer were particularly important. “The first album, before I got to singing, I would have everybody out of the studio except the engineers,” Wyman said. “And I’d have all the lights turned down and my back to the control room. Very embarrassed.
“But this time, it was a totally different trip. Getting together with Van Morrison, for instance. We had a little rap that lasted about half an hour, how to sing from the diaphragm, the stomach, rather than the throat.
“Then Ruth and Bonnie Pointer came in to do some backup vocals and we got on very well. I went out there and stood between them with a hand mike while they were on the regular mike and they really got me singing. They really gave me a lotta confidence and I sang totally different, a lot stronger. I came away rather elated. I do notice a lot of difference between this album and the last – within my limitations.”
In addition to the R&B-flavored tracks, the album includes a Louis Armstrong jazz number, a country song, a blues piece, some rock & roll and a reggae number. “After I cut my reggae, I received a telegram from Jimmy Cliff,” Wyman said. “I don’t know him well, but apparently he heard the track. He said, ‘Dear Billy: Will you stop trying to play reggae music. Love, Jimmy Cliff.”‘
Still, one wonders why Wyman finds it necessary to make non-Stones albums. “The days are gone when I can mess with anything but bass on a Stones album,” Wyman explained. “Back in the Sixties, Brian and I would always be running around the studio trying to find xylophones and harps – I mean the big harp – or Brian’d get his autoharp out or I’d play autoharp or we’d get a string bass in. Even Chuck Berry‘s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ – I did a little thing with a drumstick overdub. And I kinda miss that with the Stones.
“I know what’s gonna happen with the Stones. I know what they expect of me, what kind of bass, generally, they’d like on a certain number, what style of playing. And very occasionally, on rare occasions, the thing I see on a track doesn’t agree with what they think the bass should be doing. So on those occasions I’ll say, ‘Why don’t you try it, Keith, if you really know what you want.’ Like ‘Fingerprint File,’ Mick Taylor had been messing with that with Mick Jagger some weeks before in the basement of his house and they kinda had the song together. So I just said, ‘Why don’t you do the bass, and I’ll do something else.’ And on that occasion, it was good because I played synthesizer.
“I think all guitarists like to play bass, really. Keith does, Woody does, Mick Taylor did. Which is a bit of a drag for me because I don’t play guitar. So if they pick up the bass, I’m not a good enough guitar player to go pick up the guitar. I usually veer toward some keyboard instrument.”
Still, no matter what the frustrations, Wyman says he would never organize his own group: “I’m not a strong enough personality to front a group.” And, although he would like a hit off Stone Alone, he wouldn’t expect to perform it on the next Stones tour (rumored for late summer in the U.S.).
Instead, Wyman is turning his non-Stones thoughts toward production. “I’ve had some very lucrative offers for production that only a person who was crazy would turn down. But I’ve had to say that I’m too busy right now.” He finds this very amusing.
This story is from the March 25th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.