||In London with Ronnie Wood
By Christian Diemoz
JAM! (italian monthly musical magazine) – January 2002
Translated by Christian Diemoz.
Photo by Steamhammer.
“Being a Gemini, i always had a polyedric character…”. The first reaction is astonishment. It’s sure: you didn’t hear well. Then you review the moment you just lived, with all the attention you are able of, and you’re sure that Ronnie Wood’s mouth really spoke these words. But it’s not the fact you’ve heard them that sent you k.o.. The matter, most of all, is in the fact they’ve been pronounced by a Rolling Stone. How is possible that the guitarist of the most long lasting band in the world confess so quietly to believe in the horoscope? The point is that such a statement destroys the icon of rock’n’roll bad boys carried by Jagger and his mates since Sympathy For The Devil and Altamont. An icon which has been highlighted by the recent publishing of pics taken by Dominique Tarlé, witnessing the hell’s atmosphere of the Villa Nellcôte in the Exile On Main Street era.
But then, you read again those words in a quiet moment and you realize that they’re not so obvious. The two nights you spent with Ronnie in the rich atmosphere of London’s south-west showed that this guy with fifty-four springs on his shoulders really has a face for every occasion. Between a meeting in the rich atmosphere of the Harrington House (the club that Ronnie opened in the city some two years ago), the concert at the Shepherd’s Bush (already theatre of a Rolling Stones surprise gig in 1999) and an aftershow party poor in VIPs (apart Eddie Jordan in dandy style), the english guitarist showed himself almost under six different identities. Here we go…
Associating Woody (nickname historically used by friends and fans) only with the Stones is the biggest mistake ever possible. If you check the pages of a british rock encyclopedia, you’ll notice his name every three pages at least. Jeff Beck Group, The Faces, The Birds: he was in the line-up of each one of these groups. Time after time, the unquiet guitarist turned into the rock’n’roll hero needed by Jagger and Richards to fill the gap left by Mick Taylor in that giant circus called Rolling Stones.
A quality horse, perhaps, will never have enough of staying in the bunch. The first “solo run” takes place in 1974 and with the release, last november, of Not For Beginners, he just got waved the flag of the seventh album. A title, the one of his last work, to be taken as a warning? “I’m not a beginner anymore – he states, holding a glass of Bordeaux in his hands – and the people without the taste to listen to the album, will neither begin doing it”. If you underline a difference in the sound of his Fender in this work, than in Gimme Some Neck or Slide On This, Ronnie answers: “it’s curious how melodic sounds this record. Only a few moments are in uptempo. But i have aside some songs that i didn’t used. It’s a lot of hard rock’n’roll. This time, those tracks were fine this way, but my next album will sure be different”.
Behind those forty-four minutes of rock-blues intimity, there is a serie of little, curious accidents, that were quite showing up in the title (Woody was thinking, at the beginning, about Fantastic Accidents). One of the most noticeable ones is the presence of two covers of bands with a similar (at least, in the pronounce) name: The Birds (Leavin’ Here), in which Woody played, and the american Byrds (Rock’N’Roll Star). “Think about the fact our manager at that time, when we reached the success with Tambourine Man and they were on top with Rock’N’Roll Star, got sued for having stolen the name of the band. Today, those two souls are alive and togheter on my album. Isn’t the world a little place?”.
At the end, it’s impossible to avoid that Not For Beginners is made of old pals grouping and enjoying their playing. Between the names of relatives and friends who contributed to the record, you can’t pass under silence Bob Dylan, whom guitar challenges Ronnie one in King Of Kings and Interfere. “He was writing an album – explains Ronnie – and we were in my home studio in Kildare, rehearsing some songs. At a certain point, he tells me he has a text for Kings Of Kings, but he didn’t wanted to tell it to me. Then i had him playing the instrumental part and at the end he said ‘Woody, if you want this song is yours’. It’s fantastic having Bob’s guitar on my records. A lot of people identifies him for his voice or his armonica, but it’s wonderful listening to him play”.
THE ROLLING STONE
In the middle of a Glimmer Twins argument and a Charlie Watts’ statement about the fact “next tour will be the last one”, the members of the band will breathe, this year, on a cake with forty candles. In the Net, on web boards, fans’ forecast are running fast (an outtakes box, a new album, a tour without any discographic support), but Ronnie throws a lot of water on the heat of the celebrations: “In this moment, there is no concrete plan”.
About the band, the question of the day is the way how the others members live that “Jagger/Richards” below each song. “To leave the Stones, you need to have some frustration. Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman had a lot. I’m patient, probably because i’m younger and i’ll always be. Between Jagger and Richards, the tie is very strong. I needed years to get in it and, that way, my name appears near their ones on some twelve songs. On my side, perhaps, i’m not frustrated at all: solo albums are the way to do something you wouldn’t be able to do with the Stones”.
What about their reactions after the releasing of Not For Beginners? “I’m sure they’ll like it. Before ending the records, i made a couple of tests. I had Mick hear something and he appreciated it. Also, thanks to the roadie who worked in his last gigs in Us and Japan, i sent it to Charlie Watts and got positive reactions. Nothing more, because he doesen’t listen to rock. He only has jazz in his world. I think, anyways, he likes the record”.
The question about his ideas on Goddess In The Doorway, Jagger’s last solo work, falls on the ground. Maybe, a little bit as Watts, Wood doesen’t live for pop, caring only about rock?
Any time the inspiration knocks at his door, Ronnie unleash his guitar and picks up a brush. He paints since the childhood, going after his brothers. The studies at Ealing’s Art School made his lines even more sure and, also in this domain, his name is not properly the last on the list. The most frequent subjects of Wood paintings are rock’n’roll fathers and some wild animals (at the center of a campaign for their protection). Lately, the events took his creativity on Lower Manatthan side. “A painting of mine reproducing some firemen and policemen at Ground Zero on the day of the attacks, is gone on auction at Lloyd’s for 21 thousand pounds. I’ve been freaked by the value it has reached. I think it can help”.
The group of Woody’s fans recently grow up, with the new entry of Mohammed Ali. “It’s a person with a big sense of humour. He doesen’t plan much his days. He’s fantastic. The portrait of him, when he still was Classius Clay, is the first of a serie i’ll paint for him”. The top position, in the list of celebrities he’d portrait goes to Tiger Woods. It’s intriguating this Ronnie face and it can’t be so different. In everyone’s head, rock is a popular art and paiting is an “high art”. “Anyone who went to an Art College, never made any difference between a musician, a poet, a painter, a writer or something else… If you’re able to do most than one of those things at a time, you’re a very lucky person. It’s fantastic to be known as the member of the greatest rock’n’roll band ever and being also popular as an artist”.
What makes curiosity, is the fact that the questions about his painting adventures get faster answers than the musical related ones. And if we mess-up the two things? Which colours would you choose to paint your way of playing? “Hot red and blue”. There are no explainations about the reasons of this choice and, probably, it’s nice that there aren’t. Painting and music, like everything relating to instincts, doesen’t need reasons.
To answer questions about Not For Beginners, Ronnie calls for help. Son Jesse and daughter Leah are, perhaps, part of his today’s musical experience. More than being on the record (her as singer on This Little Heart and him as guitarist on six tracks), they got onstage with him for the concerts at Vicar Street in Dublin and at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and CC Club in London. “It’s like a dream coming true”, confess Jesse, “i play with my father and my sister”. Don’t you feel a gap between you and him? “No”, he answers. The family gets frenzy after the question, for the two young Wood, about the best advice their father ever gave ‘em. Leah: “Follow your heart, follow your dreams…”. Have you ever felt the need to rebel against your parents? “Well, i think i’m a good girl”. Ronnie laughs: “Most of all, i told her to rebel against bands that doesen’t perform live”. Then Jesse breaks in: “Have fun, enjoy your music and… rebel against bands that doesen’t perform live”.
The Wood trademark, to be honest, is not only in the thirteen tracks of Not For Beginners. “Our other two sons, Jaime and Tyrone, are involved in production. We’re everywhere, onstage and backstage. It’s a family affair…”. Never heard about the “Do it yourself” attitude…
You can’t tell about the performance of this curious rock band – made of a 54 years old, entoured by six under 30 and including, as special guests, Slash from Guns’n’Roses and Andrea from Corrs – without giving an appropriate reading key. Ronnie is a Rolling Stone, but you haven’t to keep in mind this when he perform alone. So, all the people criticizing him for launching himself in a rough version of Paradise City or for having forgotten the words of Miss You, are brutally out of sight. Woody’s strenght it’s in his versatility. You see him launching the hand on the string of the guitar, with the same energy of an housewife dedicated to every morning cleanings, but what you hear from the guitar is so clear that let everyone with open mouths.
The set-list starts with Not For Beginners tracks (Rock’n’Roll Star, This Little Heart, What Do You Think) and grows with the tributes to George Harrison (Far East Man, co-written by Woody in 1974 with Beatles’ guitarist) and to John Lennon (Jealous Guy, to remember the 21st anniversary of his death). Then, a lot of wonderful pages from the Faces (Flyin’), Birds (Leavin’ Here) and Stones (Miss You, Little Red Rooster, Hey Negrita and It’s Only Rock’n’Roll). To find a peak, both high or low, would be difficult. You would end up by throwing a lot of goodness on the encore (a party night’s Stay With Me), but it’d be like isolating a frame from a Wenders’ movie: a difficult try, with a useless result. Ronnie’s fingers (especially when they run on the slide guitar) are like keys opening the doors guarding the best secrets of lots of musical genders.
Who doesen’t like Slash or Corrs, might better think about the fact that the last ones were the support group for Rolling Stones’ No Security 1999 tour and that Axel Rose and Izzly Stradlin gathered on the Steel Wheels stage with the band for a deluxe version of Salt of The Earth. You see, history teaches something to everyone…
It could also be classic of the artists having some problem to rise with the sun (even if it’s not so usual to have a press conference scheduled for 8 o’ clock pm), but the most human, playful and sincere face is showed by Ronnie during the night. Seating at a table of the Harrington club, his record providing musical background, he isn’t able to stay quiet for a second. At a certain moment, he notices a copy of Jam’s december issue. He opens it, reckons himself in an advertising and, with the magazine close to his head, he start imitating the face in the pic. “Is there a review too?” he ask in a curious mood. After finding the right page, he notices the final note for his record (7 out of 10) and proudly shows the paper to his son Jesse.
Perhaps, in an era made of hit singles being studied in order to fill the gap between two radio commercials, making a record with four instrumental tracks had to be underlined someway. This bravery was to be awarded. “Well, it’s the only way to make ‘em get some music”, jokes him. The remaining of the conversation is about the future (2002 should bring a Faces reunion, sewed by the song You’ll Strum and I’ll Sing, written with close friend Rod Stewart, but not included in Not For Beginners) and about some seventies’ tapes. It’s incredible the way how, having access to a really wide range of memories, this man recalls exactely every detail of those sessions. Wonderful Ronnie. He stays there for a while more, the time of a cigarette and a little more Guinness. Then he stand up and, with Jo and his sons on the side, leaves the room, greets his guests and leaves in the fog of London’s december night. Their destination? Another club, others friends, others stories to tell, some more music, being ready to show many more faces…
[Edited by VoodooChileInWOnderl]