Interview by Will Hodgkinson
Friday December 7, 2001
As the years pass, it seems that each member of the Rolling
Stones is becoming of a caricature of themselves. Mick Jagger,
protected by layers of "people", is the distant star, forever
feeding off his own stratospheric fame. Keith Richards, reputed
to only ever sleep once or twice a week, has gone so far down
the road of rock'n'roll bohemia that being coherent is no longer
possible. Bill Wyman, currently archiving the history of British
blues, is beginning to look like he has been carved out of
granite, and Charlie Watts has become the dapper jazz
sophisticate he always threatened to become.
Ronnie Wood, meanwhile, being the last to join the band, still
has the unspoilt air of a regular guy who can't believe his luck.
"I'm just going to catch the last race - it's my only way of
relaxing now, betting a tenner each way," he says, a glass of
wine in one hand and the current link in a chain of American
Spirit cigarettes in the other. Stick-thin, craggy-faced and and
still wearing the ultimate rocker's coiffure, Wood seems every
inch the happy-go-lucky wastrel, until you discover that he owns
the horses he is betting on.
Rock'n'roll has been kind to Wood. He lives in a gothic mansion
overlooking Richmond Park, with its own bar, a full-sized
snooker table, a conservatory where he paints and a basement
turned into a recording studio. He shares the house with his
wife, his four children, and their assorted boyfriends and
girlfriends. Each oak-panelled room is filled with mementos of
his life as a guitarist: a huge photograph of Wood and Rod
Stewart's matching feather cuts dripping sweat onstage with the
Faces; Wood's own portraits of the Stones; guitars everywhere.
If you were walking from the bathroom to the kitchen and a song
came into your head, there would be a guitar waiting for you to
play it on.
Wood's solo album, Not for Beginners, came about in the spirit
of his easy-going attitude. "It came together more or less by
accident. I was trying out my new studio downstairs, and I said
to my friend Mark: 'Do you know how to work this equipment?'
He turned out to be pretty good at it, and he played the bass
too. So I thought, 'Well, we'll cut some tracks', and it snowballed
One of Wood's own favourite singers, Bob Dylan, was drafted in.
"I was working on his album. Every day he'd have about 10
different songs, and I'd say, 'That's great, let's cut 'em!' So we
cut a whole pile of songs, and while we were at it, we cut a few
of mine. He's a Gemini, like me, so I understand him more than
most people, who think he's this freak who says nothing. You
have to get him in a certain frame of mind, then he's a funny
Another important singer for Wood is Elvis, and he got to work
with Scotty Moore, the guitarist from Presley's original band, on
the solo album. "He was a really nice guy. He half-managed
Elvis before the Colonel ["Colonel" Tom Parker, Elvis's notorious
manager] came along. The Colonel said: 'So you manage Elvis,
huh? Well, you don't any more.' He was on a wage from then
Wood even drafted in his daughter Leah to sing on the album.
"She was very reluctant. She'd be hiding at the top of the stairs
and I'd have to coax her to come down, but she was really good.
She's around somewhere - I'll call her and get her to talk about
it." He picks up the phone to call upstairs, but Leah remains
The artist that started it all for Wood was Big Bill Broonzy, the
American blues singer and guitarist who became something of a
figurehead for the early 1960s British beatnik scene. "My
brothers introduced me to jazz people like Bix Biederbecke and
Louis Armstrong, but I picked up a guitar because of Big Bill
Broonzy. That led to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. These
days I like melodic players: Django Reinhardt is a guitar hero,
as is Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery."
But time off from touring is spent predominantly in one of the two
studios, either painting or playing music. "You wouldn't believe
how much digging we had to do," says Wood of the boys' den
that is his recording studio, complete with a statue of Dennis the
Menace and Gnasher. "It was really damp - we're on top of a
water shelf here - so we got the students from over the road
[Kingston University] to come up with this waterproof cement to
line the studio with."
Among the records is a memento from the Faces days: a
six-inch Ronnie doll, complete with crow-like nose and oversized
moptop, used on a Faces album cover. "It's always a hard one
to sort out the best time over the years, but the period between
the Faces and the Stones was pretty good - I toured America
four times in 1976." About to tour with his own band, Wood is far
more daunted playing smaller venues than the stadium gigs he
has become used to. "The smaller the venue, the edgier I get.
There's so many people at a stadium, you can't actually relate
to playing to anyone. But when you can see faces, that's when
it gets scary."