Ron Wood: Rolling Stones Are Born, Not Made - Rolling Stone
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Ron Wood: Rolling Stones Are Born, Not Made

The newest Stone is the life of a nonstop party and the last of a rock & roll breed

Ron Wood Rolling Stone

Ron Wood on the cover of Rolling Stone

Annie Leibovitz

He looks like he was drawn by the cartoonist Walter Lantz. The topknot isn’t red; it’s black. But he moves with a swagger, a cocky strut, and he has an appropriately manic giggle. What I mean is, no matter what his name, he’d still be known as Woody.

The name is Ron Wood, and he is a Rolling Stone. Not just “in the Rolling Stones,” as Mick Taylor was and a host of other guitarists almost were. Ron Wood is the last of a breed. It isn’t his guitar playing that marks him so much as his attitude, the definitive expression of the British rock-star tradition. He fits in because he tempers the pop aristocrat’s hauteur with just the right spirit of low-life bufoonery. So he is, rara avis, a Rolling Stone. Born, not made.

This is not only metaphor. Around eighteen years ago, when Wood was twelve, his older brother Art used to take him to the shows he played with a band led by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. Their drummer was Charlie Watts.

The Rolling Stones, 1963-1969: Behind-the-Scenes Snapshots

And then there is the matter of constitution. “Every time I’m in L.A., Ronnie and Chrissie [his wife] invite me to their house in Malibu,” a friend said. “They say, ‘C’mon out to the beach. It’ll be so relaxing.’ And when I get there there’s a crowd around, night and day, jamming till all hours, hanging out. Two days later, without having had a wink of sleep, I leave, more exhausted than when I arrived.” Relaxation is, shall we say, highly comparative.

Wood’s lifestyle meshes perfectly with the Rolling Stones’, an organization whose very essence is nocturnal. During the Stones’ 1975 tour of America, when Wood joined the group, there were those who thought his downfall would be attempting to keep the pace set by Keith Richard, a man who seldom sleeps, to put it mildly. Little did they know.

Woody and I first met to do this story in New York late last spring when the Stones were mixing the album that became Love You Live at Atlantic’s Midtown studio. We had been discussing the story since the ’75 tour, but the plan was to wait until Ronnie began recording his third solo album. (The second, Now Look, had been released during the tour.) It was three o’clock on a midweek afternoon in the Stones’ new offices in the Warner Communications skyscraper. Not surprisingly, three became four and then some before Wood showed.

What was surprising, though, was the arrival of Keith Richard as well. In fact, over the next couple of months, until Wood left New York, Richard and Wood were almost inseparable.

They’re a study in contrasts. Wood is nearly six feet tall, and in a world of rail-thin rockers surprisingly bulky. Richard claims to be 5’10,” though 5’8″ seems more likely. Like all the other original Stones, who set the model for rock celebrities, Keith is slender and wiry.

Keith is so swarthy that even when he’s freshly shaven and dressed, as he was that afternoon, there remains a grainy shadow of beard which reveals not age so much as experience. After a couple of days without sleep, which also means a day without showering, the ultimate Rolling Stone acquires a mossy look. (When asked about biting Keith’s toe for the Love You Live LP cover, Woody said, “He’s the only dirty man I know who doesn’t smell.”) But his extraordinary vitality inevitably cuts through that surface. Keith Richard is a lot like the best Rolling Stones music: even at his seediest, he’s one of the world’s most alive experiences.

Keith Richards Photos

Wood’s complexion is classically English, as ruddy as John Bull himself, so that he always seems fresh-scrubbed and unblemished. At 30, he is younger than Richard (who is 33), or any of the other Stones. He seems to have worn a devilish expression all his life, like a child perpetually up past bedtime. More than anything else, even their floating worldwide jam session, this aura is what Wood shares with Richard. More than once they’ve been described as rock’s outlaw mates, epitomizing the music’s Barbary pirate spirit. But when you’re with them, it’s always more like an R-rated version of Peter Pan.

At the office, we chatted awhile. Richard was voluble about the Toronto situation (he was arrested by Canadian officials and charged with possession of one ounce of heroin) which he said was blown out of proportion as much by botched PR as anything. He spoke of the tremendous amount of material that had to be sifted through to come up with the right takes for the album, and the ongoing mix sessions. “Atlantic’s a good studio,” he said, “once you get past the idea that what you hear on the monitors isn’t the sound you’re actually getting.” As Keith talked Wood roamed around the room, walking on the furniture, performing mild practical jokes, teasing, blustering, the life of the continuous party he and Richard have made of life. His newest trick was exhibiting his son, Jesse James, nearly a year old, which he did with paternal pride so typical it seemed odd.

A half-hour later, Marshall Chess (former head of the Stones’ record label) walked in unexpectedly. He and Keith made for an empty office to have a chat. Woody and I wandered down the hall to a spacious conference room.

Dressed in a multicolored silk shirt (the top few buttons undone for chest exposure) and tight black pants, with a set of leather bags slung around his neck, this rock & roll vagabond was the world’s least likely proud pop. But Jesse was our opening topic. He spoke of how a newborn child changes every day, how much he misses the baby and Chrissie when his gypsy lifestyle takes him away, how the arrival of the baby has brought their marriage closer together. And with real feeling he acknowledged why Jesse was so important to him. “I think every rock & roller needs that extra bit of responsibility,” he said. “I know that Mick and Keith say they’ve both felt it.”

Rock & Roll Dads

Soon, it was time for additional supplies of rum and Coke, the drink of the day. Wood likes to tell stories in bursts, punctuated by confidential giggles and grins, mugging, wry asides and broadly comic irony. When the talk turned to old friends, I asked if he had seen much of his Faces and Jeff Beck crony, Rod Stewart, while both were living around Los Angeles.

“I was there not long ago,” he said. “We had quite a nice time – it was a bit like the old days. Rod and I know each other so well, it was easy for us to be natural with one another…at least, after he told Britt [Ekland] to get out of the room.” This last, delivered with a sly grin, was only half a joke. For even more than Wood joining the Stones, it was the friction brought on by Ekland’s arrival and Stewart’s consequent estrangement from the other Faces that really broke up that band.

“I’m sort of a guinea pig for Rod, you know,” Woody said with a conspiratorial wink. “He watched me get married and that seemed to work out. So now there’s Britt. [This was before the couple’s split-up.] Now I’ve got a kid, and we’ll see what effect that has on him.

“It’s amazing, you know. People are always mistaking me for Rod, even though we don’t really look that much alike. The other day, Mick and I were walking down the street and we got stopped.” He drops into an impression of an awe-struck passer-by.”‘Are you…ROD STEWART?‘ The great thing about it, of course, was that no one even recognized Mick. He loved that.” More giggles and time for more drinks.

Rod Stewart Through the Years

There are special problems involved in interviewing a person whose attention span is limited, particularly in an environment where distractions are ready-made and ubiquitous. Sometimes, talking to Ron Wood, that seems to be any environment which contains guitars, women, music, drink, telephones, food, radios, televisions or anything else that can be consumed or performed. On this occasion the intervening forces were human. People kept entering the room – a couple of the folks Ron and Keith arrived with sat and listened for a few moments; someone else who wanted to know if we needed more drinks (of course); Chess popped in to say goodbye, Richard to make sure all was going well.

Then a really odd character walked in – thirtyish, wearing a business suit and a look of mild but potentially eternal distress. It became apparent that he was a lawyer or an accountant, charged with helping extricate Woody from his Warner Bros. solo contract.

By mutual agreement, I did not use a tape recorder, and the business type obviously wasn’t aware that I was a journalist. That amused Woody enough to let the tableau play itself out for a bit before filling the businessman in.

He blushed. “Well, maybe we’d better talk . . . alone.”

“Right.” False confidentiality is one of Woody’s favorite targets. “You’ll excuse me for a moment, won’t you, Dave?” Cracking up, he headed off down the hall.

Ron Wood grew up with rock & roll. Maybe it was the influence of his older brothers, who were both musicians, maybe just his nature, but he was banging away at whatever made noise from childhood. By the time he was twelve, Art was taking him to the Railway Hotel, where the Korner-Davies band he played with included not only the young Charlie Watts but also Nicky Hopkins (with whom Wood played a few years later in the Jeff Beck Group). “My brothers used to know people like Graham Bond, Jack Bruce, Charlie. Mick and Keith never had any direct contact with them, but most of the rock & roll veterans do remember my brothers.”

In the genesis of British rock & roll, and particularly the creation of the Rolling Stones, Davies and Korner played a special role. They were the first to break away from the Dixieland (trad.) jazz of the purists and attempt American blues. It was in their bands that Jagger, Richard and Brian Jones first met Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. Art Wood was the lead singer in Korner’s Blues Incorporated; Ron’s eldest brother, Ted, stayed with trad, playing until recent years in the Temperance Seven. Later, Art left and formed his own blues-oriented group, the Artwoods. By then, Ronnie was gigging on his own.

Photos: Rare and Intimate Pictures of the Rolling Stones

The band was called the Birds, and though Wood was only 16, they performed steadily on the same circuit with the London rock heavies who were three, four and five years their senior, probably because they played the same brand of pilled-up R&B.

“England’s a funny place. It’s small, it’s a very small focus point. In those days, ten, fifteen years ago, you could probably meet everyone you wanted to meet in Wardour Street,” Woody said. “And people you thought were doing amazingly well, they were going out for maybe $300 a night – I mean, bands like the Stones!

“My first group used to gauge our earnings on how much the Stones were getting.” He dropped into his tone of mock amazement: “‘You realize the Stones are gettin’ $300 a night now!’ ‘Viv Prince earns sixty pounds a week!‘ The Birds used to work for about seventy-five pounds on the weekend, and forty pounds midweek. But we used to work every day, as well, all the tiny city halls all over England, and the ballrooms. The Birds and the Who used to be neck and neck around Shepherd’s Bush, Acton, Ealing, the whole Mod scene.

“I got my first break playing harmonica at the Crawdaddy club with the Yardbirds. Keith Relf was ill, and my friends all pushed me forward. “Aw c’mon! Play!’ Eric [Clapton] took me back afterward. We knew each other, kind of ‘Ronnie, isn’t it?’ ‘Right. Eric, isn’t it?‘ I think he used to say, ‘He’s the guy with that big black shower of hair’ – that’s how he knew me, that guy with all the black hair. But he was good to me. He said, ‘You really play harmonica well.’ I said, ‘Thank you very much. I also play guitar, you know.’ After that we used to swap ideas and things.”

Woody doesn’t like to see it that way, but here again, he was in the younger brother role. Clapton, like Townshend and Richard, was by then already in art school; at sixteen, a couple of years can be a gulf. But rather than catching the top of the second wave of London musicians, Woody caught the tail of the first, which gave him a kind of social mobility in London’s tight-knit pop community that others his age lacked. As much as anything else, it explains why he fits into the Stones so well. (It is not entirely coincidental that Mick Taylor also had a Birds-like band in those days, the Gods. If Woody fits better, it’s mostly because he provides a kind of personality – outgoing and engaged – that suits the Stones better than Taylor’s.)

The Birds probably could have been one of those classic Sixties influences like the Pretty Things; instead of making an LP, though, they got only as far as a single. The music they were playing was typical Mod-era stuff, Motown and other American R&B. In the end, though, it was another Yardbirds guitarist, Jeff Beck, who took Woody’s career to its next level.

Beck originally asked Woody to join his solo group as second guitarist; when the guy scheduled to play bass didn’t make the first rehearsal, Ronnie switched to bass, an instrument he’d never played professionally. He remained throughout that band’s stormy and successful tenure one of the few constants in a lineup that included, at one time or another, singer Rod Stewart, drummer Mick Waller and pianist Nicky Hopkins. Being a bassist, Woody has always maintained, taught him a lot about playing guitar.

Beck’s group folded in mid-1969; earlier that year, Steve Marriott had decided to leave the Small Faces. The other three members of that Mod institution decided to keep going on their own, and invited Woody to join as the guitarist. Ronnie brought Stewart along.

The Rolling Stones on the Cover of Rolling Stone

The Faces were another band that never quite reached their potential. They were enormously popular onstage, where their drunken sloppiness gave them an unbeatable rock & roll feel, but they could never quite match that spirit in the recording studio. But it was with them that Woody finally developed a musical identity of his own, playing stinging slide guitar lines off the band’s R&B rhythms, and accompanying Stewart in diverse fashion on material from his solo albums, on which Wood also played a prominent role. Onstage, he was a master of clowning cool, a Marlboro permanently jammed in his jaw, falling against the amps, duckwalking around the stage, mugging with Stewart and bassist Ronnie Lane at the harmony mike. It was pure fun, the opposite of the determined reserve of British guitar heroes like Clapton and Beck – Chuck Berry on nitrous oxide. Not surprisingly, the Faces became the favorite band of lots of musicians, including the Stones and the Who.

By 1972, Woody had had enough success to buy an 18th-century, five-story brick house, “as near London as you can get to being a mansion.” It was the house in which the actor John Mills had raised his family, including his daughter Hayley, a mid-Sixties starlet. “The Wick,” as it is called, overlooks the Thames (Pete Townshend’s place is two miles downriver), and it is so much the pop-star dreamhouse that it played a crucial role in Ron Wood’s rise to the Rolling Stones.

In late 1972, Eric Clapton hadn’t performed in nearly two years, while suffering from a heroin habit. At the request of Lord Harlech, the father of Clapton’s girlfriend, Pete Townshend began planning a Clapton comeback concert. One of the first people he called on to help was Ron Wood.

“Pete Townshend initiated the whole thing. I said, ‘Well we can do the whole thing at my house if you want.’ The studio wasn’t finished, but we could use the dining room downstairs. And he loved the idea because he loved the house. And before we knew it, all the gear was coming in, and then the Crickets – Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis – came over with Rick Grech. The Crickets left, Rick stayed.” In January 1973, when the Clapton concert went off at the Rainbow in London, Wood was onstage, playing slide guitar as well as bass. In the long run, it may have done as much for Ronnie’s career as Clapton’s – playing on the same stage with two of the acknowledged masters of rock guitar lent him not only increased visibility but instant public credibility.

The next March, his eight-track studio completed, he started work on his first solo album. He brought together drummer Andy Newmark and bassist Willie Weeks, along with Faces keyboard man Ian McLagan, then called a few friends. Stewart, George Harrison, Mick Taylor, Jagger and Paul McCartney all sat in.

So did Keith Richard, much to his own amazement. “I heard that he was starting work on his first album. And he was playing with Andy Newmark and Willie Weeks, so it sounded interesting. Then I got an invitation to come down and check it out, and if I wanted, to play on one track. I got there late that night . . . and I didn’t get out of the house for three months.” Richard took over the Wick’s guest house, formerly occupied by Lane.

Although it took a while to sink in, what Richard had found was a perfectly sympathetic guitar companion; Richard and Mick Taylor played in counterpoint, but with Wood, it’s almost always in tandem. When Taylor announced at the end of ’74 that he was leaving the group, Ronnie was the inevitable replacement. The Stones auditioned a number of others, spoke to a few better-known names (Eric Clapton, for one) but in the end, it came down to a simple proposition. “Either you’re joining,” Mick Jagger told Wood, “or we aren’t doing the tour.”

When Wood emerged from his meeting with the accountants, we decided to meet again later that night at Atlantic Studios, where the mix sessions were in progress. They’d be there after midnight, he said. I figured that meant 1:30, but when I arrived at two Keith and Ronnie still weren’t there. Dave Jordan, the young engineer who’s worked with the group since Keith Harwood’s death, was already at work, listening to playbacks of the “If You Can’t Rock Me”/”Get Off of My Cloud” medley at maximum volume. Over and over again, fragment by fragment, the songs pounded through the walls. “It’s 3 a.m., there’s too much noise, don’t you people ever want to go to bed?”

At three, Keith and Ron burst in with a small entourage: a bodyguard, a couple of waitresses from Trax, some unidentifiable others. Keith’s wife, Anita Pallenberg, who’d gone to the Garden to see Led Zeppelin, came in a few moments later; she was hysterical about the concert, laughing madly as she described it. Keith and Ron said hello to one and all, had a word with Jordan in the control room, and headed for the studio.

The Rolling Stones Live, 1964-2007

There was equipment already set up – it belonged to Bruce Springsteen‘s band whose crew was not entirely ecstatic about having it tinkered with. Keith and Ron had guitars, of course, and Richard simply sat down on a small Fender amp, tapped his foot and picked out chords, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Woody bounced about, crashed a few beats on the drums, played a bit of choppy reggae piano against Keith’s choppy guitar lines. When Ron shifted to guitar, the serious jamming began. A few chords, some desultory conversation, some rearrangement, a little more playing. Not songs, but sketches, ideas for riffs that might become songs. They’d run through a song like “Don’t Lie to Me,” first in the Chuck Berry version (as in the outtake included on the Metamorphosis album), later with a bit of a Caribbean accent, finally attempting to figure out Clifton Chenier’s Zydeco interpretation.

It could have been a galvanizing scene, and from instant to instant, it was. But more than anything it was numbing, at least as observed by a nonmusician. The jamming went on and on for hours. As I would discover it went like that night after night. It is one of the reasons the Rolling Stones take so long to make albums. For Richard and Wood, at least, playing together is sufficient unto itself. (Though Ronnie would later explain that part of what they were doing was testing ideas for songs for the group’s next studio LP.) It would have been easy to call it a waste of time, but it depended on a state of mind: together, in a recording studio in the dead of night, playing guitars, Keith Richard and Ron Wood come as close as any humans to a state of pure being. Music isn’t what they do. It’s what they are.

Around 6:30, Jordan called into the studio. “I think I’ve got a mix.” Richard and Wood straggled into the control room. Keith huddled over the board; with only one light in the room, he was a vision of the professional. Talking in undertones, moving this dial and that ever so slightly. Getting it right. Focusing on subtleties only he could hear. Once more, a playback. Then, back to the studio to jam some more. Things finally broke up at noon.

For the next few nights in the studio, not much changed. John Phillips showed up to talk with Keith about the album Jagger and Richard were producing with him. Stephen Stills showed up after a CSN date. It just added more to the jams. Still, the songs lacked that focused, direct drive one associates, before anything else, with the Stones’ music. “I wish Charlie hadn’t left,” Keith said mournfully at one point.

Later, Woody explained: “Charlie never says anything. He just stands there with his arms folded, holding his cup of coffee. If you ask him what he thinks of something, he’ll just say, ‘I dunno.’ But he listens. And When the time comes, he’s right there. Having a drummer like that, who can play rock & roll and make it swing and so many other things – he plays reggae great, which not many non-Jamaicans can – that’s all the difference.”

Still, it wasn’t musical excitement or its lack that seemed odd about the mix sessions. It was their interminableness, the way they dragged on without regard to the outside world. Spend the deep heart of the night in a studio a few times – enter around midnight, leave past midday – and you’ll know why studios don’t have windows. With Richard and Wood, it was stranger than usual because neither of them paid much attention to Jordan in the control room.

All of that changed when Mick Jagger arrived. He did his share of preliminary fooling around, but within a few minutes of his arrival, he was in the control room. Things began to move along. Mixing is an arduous process, so he wasn’t exactly whipping through the songs, but he got through four or five, adjusting this level and tinkering with that element. At last, progress was perceptible.

Still, things just don’t run as smoothly at 4 a.m. as in the middle of the afternoon. One night around 4:30, Mick needed a piece of equipment but couldn’t get at it. The workshop had been locked when the day shift left, and the night manager didn’t have a key. Mick inquired, then returned to the control room.

A moment later Stephen Stills returned, a pocket telephone book in his hand. “Can I use the phone?” he asked, beginning to dial. “Hello, Ahmet? This is Stephen Stills – you know, of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Listen I hate to bother you so late….Well, Mick Jagger and I are down here at your studio. Now, we both sell an awful lot of records for you and Mick is trying to mix the Stones LP, and he needs a part which these people can’t seem to get for him….I don’t know, they don’t have a key or something….Sure man, I’ll put him on.” He handed the phone to the night manager.

The workshop was opened in a moment. Now, you could say this incident was revealing of Stephen Stills (his tone was pure adolesence) or of Ahmet Ertegun (he put up with it). But it also has a lot to do with Mick Jagger. “He’d never have made that call,” someone who also overheard it pointed out. “It would have been offensive to him to do that. But if Stephen wanted to call . . . well, it got the job done.”

So there’s a scene of illumination for you. But it is also a distortion because it’s so atypical of what goes on. Observing the Rolling Stones in the recording studio is a job better suited to the time-lapse photographer. (Remember Godard’s One Plus One?) Looking on, there’s no way to avoid the feeling that it’s pointless, counterproductive, and an almost embarrassing waste of cash. (Figure out thirty ten-hour nights at a minimum of $100 an hour…and that’s just for the final mix-and-master process.) “I wonder what it would be like if they gave you a bill at the end of every session, rather than all at once at the end,” Ron Wood wondered early one morning.

They don’t, though, and partially as a result bands use recording studios as rehearsal halls, after-hours social clubs, hide-outs, all-purpose vestibules of neurosis. Which has its own corollary effect: young bands also spend dozens of hours in the studio, on the same theory that motivates weekend hackers to spend long minutes lining up short putts they’ll miss anyway – it’s what they’ll see Jack Nicklaus doing if they manage to get back home before dark. Maybe, the worst thing about seeing the Rolling Stones in a situation like this is realizing how much like everybody else’s bone-dull, all-night recording sessions it is.

That’s also not entirely fair. Mixing is the most boring part of the recording process – the creation is virtually done, no matter what the auteurs of the control board will tell you – and having journalists around doesn’t exactly encourage heightened spontaneity. (There was a room or two I never entered, because I didn’t want to find out about certain probabilities.) All things being equal, you’ll find that Ron Wood’s life is a hell of a lot less dull than yours or mine, even if we keep the same hours.

But I’ve got to admit, the couple of times we’ve spoken since then were more invigorating. The first was at Keith Richard’s room in the Mayflower Hotel, jammed with reggae singles, ashtrays overflowing, drinking Singapore Slings in the late June heat. Keith was at his mossiest but up for going out to Long Island later in the evening to see the Heptones. Later, I spent a couple of days trying to track Wood down by phone. No one – not even his mother, with whom he was suppose’d to be staying – seemed to know where he was, a predictable consequence of his galivanting lifestyle.

He finally turned up at home, or in the guest cottage of the Wick; he had bumped into Eric Clapton soon after arriving. “Eric just called in fact,” he explained. “He’s in Ibiza, with Ronnie Lane. They’re supposed to do a show down there, together, but he says they won’t unless I come.” He doubted that he would (he didn’t), but seemed to find the demand almost as enticing as it was amusing.

He had returned to England to put the house in shape for renting; the Stones are slated to begin recording a studio LP this fall in Paris and then, for tax reasons, it seems likely Wood will be spending most of his time in the States, either in New York or California, probably the latter.

As for his musical plans, “Well, Mick and I have been working on some songs,” he began, “for the studio album.” I expressed some surprise at this, since neither Bill Wyman nor Mick Taylor, both of whom have composing ambitions, were ever able to make major contributions to the Stones as writers. “I certainly expect to contribute,” he said, with his own measure of surprise that I’d question it. “I’ve written a bit with Mick, a lot with Keith wherever we’ve been, New York, Paris, Munich – we’ve just collected all the ideas, like the stuff we were trying out in the studio. I’ve gotta make sure I do contribute.” Here, he took off into one of his bits of drollery. “After all, I’d hate to become the dormant member of the Rolling Stones.”

He and Keith are also talking about trying out “some different situations – Jamaica, Philly, a few other places. Not necessarily for an album, but just to see what it’s like to play together with those musicians.”

Wood’s third solo album remains a mystery. When we spoke on the phone from London, he could say nothing at all; the Warners’ contract was still being dissolved. A couple of weeks later, he could afford to be more forthcoming: “I had the feeling they didn’t want another one of the Faces to be in an independently powerful position, particularly as they’d just secured Rod from Mercury. So they really didn’t work on those LPs – that’s putting it lightly. The bottom line is that I’m out of my contract.”

It was mid-September by that time. Woody was staying in New York at the Plaza. “We’re gradually getting back into more and more hotels,” he said. “People are gradually letting me back in and forgetting I ever used to be with the Faces. Like the proprietor of the Beverly Hills Hotel, for instance.”

Woody’s room at the Plaza was small and incredibly crowded, with cassettes overflowing the dressers and a dinner tray, nearly blocking access to the room. So we adjourned to the always fashionable Oyster Bar. The bartenders were not exactly sure what to make of a rooster-haired young man with a blue silk print shirt wide open, exposing a white T-shirt with a picture of a Jamaican child, blue trousers and platform boots. The tourist clientele was even less certain, but we picked a corner to talk anyway.

A solo recording deal with CBS was set though not yet signed, Ronnie said. Why not record for the Stones’ label? “It seems the obvious thing to do, I guess, but we decided that in the long run it’s not good for either the Stones or myself. It’s potentially confusing. Also, being with CBS gives us, through me, another company working for us.”

Well, then, what about the third solo album? “Well, it means I’ll probably do one after all,” he laughed. “I’ ve got loads of ideas, and I’m gonna pick a good producer. This time I’m giving up the old back-room sound. I still want to treat it as an enjoyable side trip, but this time it should be more lucrative. You might as well make it… Besides, I gotta look after Jesse, you know. I’ll be making solo albums to pay for Jesse’s school fees.”

The Stones were in town, all together for the first time since their last live date to make an appearance at a party the next day at Trax, in honor of the release of Love You Live. It was another step toward complete integration into the band for Woody: on the ’75 tour, he often sounded tentative, a bit unsure of himself, though when he and Keith clicked together, they were thoroughly impressive. Black and Blue featured Ronnie’s picture prominently on the covet, but not much of him inside – he appeared mostly as a bassist or backing vocalist. Love You Live begins to arrive at the Wood-Richard version of the Rolling Stones sound: less distanced than the Taylor-Richard era, more rock & roll than late Brian Jones-Keith Richard music and more funk-oriented, rather than blues, than either. The differences are subtle, but they count for something. The sound is updated.

Still, listening to Ron Wood talk I don’t think about sounds, modern or otherwise. He tells a few stories, mentions some recent experiences. Going to a Crickets benefit performance sponsored by Paul McCartney in London the weekend before, “with Mick and Eric.” Making a videotape congratulating Linda McCartney on the birth of her son: “‘Congratulations on James,’ I said. ‘This is the serious part of the video.’ Then Mick came on: ‘Linda, I’ll be at the Navarro [Hotel] in Room 1235.’ Imagine her in her hospital bed, gettin’ this you know?” Speaking with Eric Clapton by telephone the night before, and remarking how much he liked the new Clapton album. And how much he liked the re-formed Small Faces, particularly since they’d added Jimmy McCulloch on guitar. “Mac [Ian McLagan] and Steve [Marriott] rang me up a couple of hours before I left home. Marriott said, ‘Wood, either you be over here in thirty minutes or I’ll be over there in thirty-five.'”

Which was not name-dropping, but simply news from the community in which Ron Wood lives. To say that Ron Wood is not one of the new breed, but the last of the old may be underestimating it. What he really is, the evidence seems to say, is a transitional figure in pop stardom. Functioning smoothly in a high-pressure group like the Rolling Stones, hanging out, remaining unaffected by it all – there’s no one who knows him who would say he is different as a Rolling Stone than when he was scuffling with the Faces. He’s a reassurance, I think. That talent does not necessarily imply self-imposed isolation and studied arrogance. That rock is still made, even at the highest levels, within a context of friends and neighbors who mean something special to one another. That the boredom and the tabloid headlines are all worth it, not because the money’s great but because given the choice, it’s what almost anyone of our generation would do with his time.

“It has something to do with luck,” he said, explaining how he wound up drinking in the Oyster Bar as a Rolling Stone rather than managing a pub in Cheswick like his brother Ted. “Yeah, and after a while, you have to realize it has something to do with talent, too. I mean, I have to realize that. I suppose I tried for years and years and it finally paid off. I think the best thing is starting, not wanting anything particularly but hoping one day that you’d make it.”

And what did making it mean?

“At that point, I suppose making it meant being in the Stones, or a band that could make $300 a night. Being in such demand, you know.” And he laughed once again.

This story is from the November 3rd, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.


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