Ron Wood — the only Stone I had never interviewed — released his first solo album in nine years, I Feel Like Playing, in September 2010. It’s a great record, but didn’t sell anything of course. Maybe if the songs had been shorter … Half of the tracks clocked in at more than five minutes each.
I had 20 minutes on the phone and hundreds of questions to ask, so didn’t get a chance to go too deep. And I spent a precious one or two minutes buttering him at the outset by revealing that I had three of his early lithographs, a nice little investment there. I’m a tad leery of his later stuff, arguably churned out to fund his second divorce.
HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING ON AND OFF SINCE (2001’s) NOT FOR BEGINNERS, OR DO THESE SONGS STEM FROM A CONCENTRATED BURST IN THE PAST YEAR OR SO?
Yeah, well what I loved about it was the spontaneity of it. I kicked off when my friend Steve Bing said, “Hey Ronnie, I wanna hear you play. I’ve got the House of Blues (a studio in Encino, Calif.) booked for you, and I’ve got (drummer) Jim Keltner up there, and can you get (Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist) your friend Flea?” And I said, Yeah. And he said, “I’ve got (keyboardist) Ivan Neville.” So I rang up Flea, and he said, “Yeah, I’ll be up there, man.” And so I went up there and before we knew it we cut “Spoonful.” I had (Stones backing singer) Bernard Fowler with me anyway. And we just took it from there.
I said, I’ve got this other riff “Why Do You Want to Go and Do A Thing Like That For?” And various sayings that I had on my lips like (sings) “Well, I don’t think so.” And Bernard was saying, “Sweetness my weakness.” And I said, Oh, that’s a song! So lots of it came together like that. There was a few songs like “Tell Me Something” that I’d been sitting on for a few years. The song “Forever” I’d had forever. I wrote that tune in 1974. I was going to put that on my very first solo album (I’ve Got My Own Album To Do) but I didn’t have time at the time. So that came around. And I had that song “100%.” I had that knocking around, and I just thought, Give ’em a new coat of paint and revitalize them, and put it all together …
It came together really quite painlessly, actually, and pleasurably, with friends like Slash and Billy Gibbons joining me every now and again. And (drummer) Steve Ferrone and Darryl Jones and (guitarist) Waddy Wachtel. People wandering in and out of the studio and said, “Oh man, can I play on this song?” I said, Yeah! Everything fitted naturally into place.
HOW DID EDDIE VEDDER COME TO BE INVOLVED AS A SONGWRITER ON “LUCKY MAN”
When I was in Hawaii he came and stayed over with me, and I said, Hey Eddie let’s do some songs together. ‘Cos he said, “Oh man, I wanna write with you so bad.” We only had a day and a half together, and during that time there was the song “Lucky Man,” and I said, Could you help me? And he was going, “Oh yeah, give me an hour or so.” And he came back and he said (sings) “Can you feel me calling, can you feel me at all?” Words like that and various passages and middle eights in the song he wrote. He also helped me (uncredited) on “Catch You,” a little bit on that. But we never actually got a chance to go in the studio together. He said. “Just for now, let me help you with the words. I’ll be like Kris Kristofferson did, I contributed some words.”
DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HOOK UP AGAIN WITH EDDIE IN THE STUDIO AT SOME STAGE?
Yeah. He’s always open. But both of us having schedules it’s just a matter of tying in when we’re both available, y’know?
AND “I DON’T THINK SO” SOUNDS LIKE THE BEST SONG THAT KEITH NEVER WROTE.
I WAS THINKING MAYBE THAT WAS THE INFLUENCE OF WADDY WACHTEL, WHO ALSO PLAYED WITH KEITH?
Maybe, maybe. The combination of my raw guitar, because there’s some bonus tracks that are going on the Japanese market that when I first cut some of the tracks raw, like “Spoonful” and “I Don’t Think So” and “A Thing Like That.” There’s a certain rawness in the instrumental side of it. It’s kinda Motown-y flavored, really.
I PICK UP A STAX VIBE ON “FANCY PANTS.” IT REMINDED ME OF “TRAMP”
Yeah. That was another Bernard. He was saying, “Why don’t you write a song about being an Englishman and you wearing fancy pants.” I was like, That’s a really stupid idea! Let’s go for it! That more or less came together in one take. It’s a good old-school jam. Yeah, it is very kind Stax-y.
IN THE CONTINUUM OF YOUR SOLO CATALOG, WHICH IS ACTUALLY PRETTY SUBSTANTIAL, HOW WOULD LIKEN THIS TO YOUR PREVIOUS EFFORTS?
I think this one, being my latest, is the best. I think it’s the wisdom over the years and the experience of being in the studio and letting time go by — it’s been a while since I last made a solo album. And I think I’ve matured with my attitude toward going in the studio to make a solo album. Before it was all for the record company: I’ve gotta come up with another song, and demands that weren’t necessarily the way I felt. With this album, it was the way I was feeling at the time, and my life was going through some heavy changes, and it was a good thing to have this vehicle called music that I could express the way I was feeling.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM WOULD BE, AS YOU SUGGESTED, YOUR EXPLOITS IN THE LAST FEW YEAR. DID ANY OF THESE PERSONAL ISSUES INFORM THE SONGWRITING OR THE WAY THAT YOU PLAYED?
Yeah. It kind of influenced the mood of me reestablishing my newfound freedom, really. I had something to say. I didn’t quite know what it was I wanted to say, but I knew that I had to not weaken under the strain of leaving home and starting a new life, really, at such a late age!
YOU DO FEEL LIBERATED?
I think freedom is the operational word there. I’d been so much under the cosh for so many years that I wasn’t really doing my own thinking. I was having all my thinking done for me.
IF I LOOK AT “A THING LIKE THAT,” WHICH HAS A SAD, MOURNFUL FEEL AND THE LINE “WHY D’YOU WANNA GO AND DO A THING LIKE THAT FOR?” — IS THAT YOU ADDRESSING YOURSELF?
Yeah. It’s about the circumstance I was in: Wow! In the cold light of day, look what you’ve done. You’ve walked away from home. And then there’s a humorous side of it. It’s meant to be said with a southern drawl — (with yokel accent) Why’d you wanna go and do a thing like that for? I think it should be entered into the country and western market, that song. I think it would make a great country song, don’t you?
FOR SURE. YOU COULD ADD SOME PEDAL STEEL. WERE ANY OF THESE SONGS OFFERED TO MICK AND KEITH DURING ANY SESSIONS OVER THE YEARS?
No, they came about too quickly, the bulk of them did. They came about on the spot and during my travels, and various things triggered the making of them. They haven’t been around for long enough. I hadn’t seen Mick and Keith for a couple of years, musically, and these all came together in that time off the road and I just thought, Yeah I’ll make my solo statement, like we all do during times off with the band.
DOES THIS GIVE YOU A NEWFOUND CONFIDENCE?
It does, actually. It gives me a new confidence to play even better next time I get together with the Stones, and also I’m gonna take this album to a small theater in London (on Oct. 19). I’m just gonna play all the songs live and see how they take shape. I’ve got the cast of Stomp! joining me, you know the percussion group? Yeah! They’re gonna join me on songs like “Spoonful” and that. It’s gonna be really good. I’ve got Bernard Fowler and Beverley Knight and Mica Paris to help me with the background vocals and stuff. I’ve got Andy Newmark, my old favorite drummer from my first album, I’ve re-recruited him. And I’ve got my son Jesse on bass. It’s gonna be really good fun to take these songs for a walk.
WILL YOU DO OTHER SHOWS AS WELL, LOS ANGELES? NEW YORK?
Hopefully, I will, If it goes well. I’ll just put my toe in the water and if it goes well live while the Stones aren’t working, I’ll take it out.
NOT TO BLOW SMOKE UP YOUR ASS, BUT ONE OF MY FAVORITE STONES RECORDS IS DIRTY WORK, AND THAT’S WHERE YOU CO-WROTE 4 SONGS, WHICH CAN’T BE A COINCIDENCE.
Yeah, wow! Good observation there!
BUT SINCE THEN OF COURSE YOU’VE BEEN PRETTY MUCH MISSING IN ACTION ON THE SONGWRITING FRONT. DO YOU THINK WHEN THE NEXT STONES RECORD COMES OUT YOU’LL BE MORE AGGRESSIVE ABOUT PITCHING SONGS?
Yeah, well I’ll certainly put my two penny worth in. I’ll certainly come forward with some ideas. Whereas in the past I’ve always been a bit shy or left it all to Mick and Keith, which is the way they love it. Jagger/Richards, you can’t argue with their powerful songwriting. But if there is a little need for some new blood on the songs, I’m always there. Even more now.
WHY DO YOU THINK YOU MISSING IN ACTION FOR THE LAST FEW ALBUMS?
Yeah, I s’pose it was all going through the throes of trying to come to terms with the alcohol and the drugs and everything. Like I am now, that’s all ended, and I’m very happy that I’m in the space I’m in now. But before, I think I was a bit worried, and a bit over-worried or concerned about, “Ooh, I better not do this. I feel a bit shy, or not confident.” I’ve got my confidence now, I think, as the record shows.
IT’S A TOUGH CROWD. I’VE SEEN INTERVIEWS WHERE KEITH IS YELLING AT YOU, AND I’VE SEEN YOU GUYS ON STAGE 199 TIMES — YOU DON’T WANT TO FUCK WITH THOSE GUYS!
Yeah, that’s right. The more we drank and the more out of proportion it got, by the end of the (2007) tour it was like, Wow! I don’t think I can go through one more night like this. It got to a real burning point. But now I think we all have adjusted our own persons, and I’m looking forward to such time as maybe getting together again. But nothing is settled … We’ll have the summit meeting I think towards the end of the year, I’ll know a lot more then.
WHAT’S YOUR PREFERENCE?
My preference is to keep on working. I love rockin! Keep rockin!
CAN YOU TOUR WITHOUT A RECORD?
Good point. I think our back catalog is enough to feed off of. But I think the way that Mick likes to do it is he likes to have a new product. So you never know. That will come up at the summit!
IF YOU’RE GOING TO MINE THE BACK CATALOG, AT LEAST DIG UP SOME MORE RARITIES?
Yeah, it’s fantastic. There’s a whole realm of stuff that’s untapped-
IT WOULD BE NICE IF THEY TIPPED THEIR HAT TO YOU AND SAID, LET’S PLAY STUFF FROM THE RONNIE ERA AS OPPOSED TO STUFF FROM THE ’60s.
Yeah, you’re right … I think with the new me that’s emerged, the new comfortable sober me, I think they’ll readdress things and go, “Hey! We got Ronnie back. Let’s see what he can do. Again.”
WAS IT FAIR TO SAY THAT KEITH WAS CARRYING YOU ON STAGE A BIT?
Like you said he was more bossing me rather than carrying me. I was carrying him, but he was bossing me. So it was not working! … It all came to a head when he kicked me during a solo on the b-stage. Aargh! My bum still hurts! He said, “You walked into my foot.” That kind of summed it up. Ouch, man, that was not playful.
WHAT SHOW WAS THAT? DO YOU REMEMBER?
I don’t remember, no. Oh, I tell you what. The next night (sic) we were in Atlantic City (which means it was either Austin, which preceded the postponed AC show, or Boise). I was held up, I was with the doctors and I had to have huge needles in my leg because the muscle bled from the inside. I couldn’t move. Luckily we had a few days off for me to recover.
I FLEW OUT FOR THE ATLANTIC CITY SHOW BUT IT WAS CANCELED SO I HAD TO FLY BACK TO L.A.
I think that was Mick’s voice. But luckily that happened when my leg was done in. Anyway, I better move, babe!
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING