Stone Free

Former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman tells how it feels to be out on his own

It's been seven years since Bill Wyman made his quiet exit from the world's biggest -- and longest running -- rock band. Since then, the sixty-three-year-old bassist has happily retired to his Suffolk manor house and busied himself with such varied pursuits as archaeology, restaurant ownership (his chain of Stones-related family restaurants, Sticky Fingers, is doing very well, thank you) and even a bit of music now and then. But rather than bridges to Babylon, Wyman is building bridges to the past. With Any Way the Wind Blows, the just released second installment in a trilogy, Wyman leads his raggle-taggle band the Rhythm Kings (a loose assemblage whose honorary members include Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton and Wyman's fellow former Stone mate Mick Taylor) on an exploration of the jazzier roots or rock & roll. Not quite the kind of stuff that fuels gold albums and record-breaking sell-out tours, you say? Bingo, grins Wyman. How else is a man gonna find time to dig for artifacts in his backyard?

A trilogy of albums covering blues, jazz, country and rock from the Thirties through the Fifties: you're not shooting for platinum, are you?

It's just fun to do anything you want for a change instead of trying to write songs and aim for the charts. None of this kind of stuff gets played on the radio or anything, so I don't have to worry about that -- I don't have to worry about videos or singles. All those pressures are not there anymore, and you can just go in there and just do anything you fancy. You could do a bloody reggae song if you wanted to, you could do a rap song, or you could do something out of vaudeville.

But would you do a rap song?

No. Absolutely not. But I might do a vaudeville song or a ragtime thing. You know, anything's possible, and if it's played well and it works with other tracks that you've already done, then you can include it on an album.

Alongside the covers are quite a few original songs of your own. Did you consciously try to fit them into the nostalgic theme, or did they just happen to fit?

I [normally] find it terribly hard to do lyrics, but I'll do lyrics on this stuff and it just flows. Because I sit down and I think, "I'm gonna write a song that's a Thirties jazzy bluesy thing." So I listen to the way they structured the chords in those days, the way they vocalized, the way they did their vocal lines and the slang they used in the lyrics and stuff like that, and I write it in that way. And then when I use the musicians who've just done an original Thirties song ten minutes before in the studio, they'll do mine and it'll sound like a Thirties song. After the first album, I got great compliments in the way of people saying, "Who did the original 'Motorvatin' Mama'? I'm sure I've heard it before." No you haven't. You've just heard that style before: Cab Calloway, Louie Jordan. But it's an original, so that's a great compliment 'cause you know you've achieved what you've aimed to do.

Were you writing all those years that you were in the Stones?

You always do because you're always creating. A great frustration in the band was always not being able to be part of the writing, because Mick and Keith do a very adequate job and there's not room for any more writers in the Stones. So I went out and started producing small bands, and then in the Seventies I went out and did solo albums, and in the early Eigthties I started to do movie music, and I got that frustration and creativity out in a different way than sitting and letting it eat in to me and getting all discontent. The problem was, in those days that you couldn't focus in and do a project 100 percent beginning to end and then release it. You had to do it in bits and pieces all over the bloody place. You'd get interrupted by tours and photos sessions and bloody flying off somewhere to do a video shoot for five days and then going back quick to London for a week of business meetings. So by the time it came out it was two and half years old and some of the tracks and you didn't like 'em anymore, but it was two years late and you'd used up your budget and you had to release it and you regretted it.

Your 1990 tell-all diary of the band, Stone Alone, ends with the death of Bryan Jones and the Hyde Park concert in 1969. When will you unveil a Seventies sequel?

Well as soon as it's ready, really. At the moment I'm just waiting for the right ghostwriter, because Ray Coleman who did the last one with me died. I do all the research and everything and I just say, "Put that into some sort of readable form and don't lose my humor," because that's what I can't do. I found someone in the summer and did this with them and they gave me back something that read like National Enquirer, and I said, "Forget it, no thank you, bye-bye." But I found another guy just before Christmas and he's got the stuff now and I'm waiting for his first draft to see whether he's the right kind of guy for it. It's quite hard to find the right person.

You've gone on record that you never had any regrets about leaving the Stones, but you did see a Voodoo Lounge show at Wembley in '95. For at least a second, was there a sense of,

"Yikes! I'm late and better get up there!"?

Like running out on stage starkers?

No, not that. In hotels trying to find your guitar picks -- those silly things. I do have those dreams at certain times a year, but that's normal because I always did.

I understand you've been pursing an interest in archaeology. Where do you dig?

My garden. I live in a house from 1480, but there was a house on that site since the 900s, so I can go out in the back of my garden and I can dig and I'll find walls under the ground and all kinds of stuff -- pottery, coins, really beautiful buckles, one or two Viking things. I can do it at home, which is incredibly wonderful because if I feel like it, I can say, "Oh I fancy a bit of archaeology -- I'm going to go out and dig a wall up." You never know what you're gonna find. I call it land fishing.