||We posted the interview in Italian some weeks ago, now Chris sent us the translation! Thanks Chris
Bill Wyman unveils the Blues
by Christian Diemoz
Italian monthly magazine “JAM” - March 2002 issue
If you’re looking for one of the best hamburgers that London town can offer to a foreigner, you can still walk along Kensington High Street and get in the “Sticky Fingers Café”. The nourrishment business, perhaps, is not dominant anymore in Bill Wyman’s interests. After having lived-up relationships with his old pals and achieved the retirement age, Rolling Stones former bassist discovered again the subitile pleasure that music can give. The Rhythm Kings (the allstar band that he leads) not only are in the studio for the recording of their fifth album, but they’ll also travel across Europe next june, with six dates scheduled in Italy. More than all that, the “Silent Stone” is as active as ever on the litterary front. The project “Blues Odyssey” - a research work composed by a book, a two cd set and a documentary - has just seen the day, but he’s already working on a volume about the forty years of the band which became famous by shouting his sympathy for the Devil. Six chapters out of twenty-one have already been sent to the publisher. This book is due out for october.
If you ask him which is the “secret flavor” to handle succesfully everything, he answers that he just spend some nights writing instead of sleeping. Difficult to believe it’s enough. Especially if you consider that, having to deal with all those activities, he also finds the time to chat about what represents for him the same as oxygen does for us: the Blues.
I know it could sound obvious, but it’s a while that I want to ask you how and when the idea of a book about Blues popped up in your mind...
It happened in a completely different way. My first idea (i suddently got it) was... why don’t i do a 13 parts serie of half an hour shows for the radio? Half an hour of my favourite artists. So, i did a pilot on Howlin’ Wolf. It was an hour actually. Then i went and they say “this is fantastic”. We love the idea and all that... And I said “oh, how much you’re gonna pay me for it?”. We’ve a low pay budget and we can’t pay you more than one hundred pounds for each show. Well, i said, it’ll cost about ten times just to make it. That was impossible. So, i left that and sat around. Then people heard it and said: you know, it should be for television, not for radio. It should be visual, with clips and all that. So, then, i did a pilot for television. An eight minutes pilot... And they loved it and said: you know, it should be a book! (laugh). I did a circle, but in the wrong way. I started to do the documentary, for television, and at the same time i started to work on the book idea. So, we finished with the both of them.
Always under the title Blues Odyssey, you’ve realized a compilation on cd, full of significative recordings covering from the twenties to the fifties. So, you worked on putting togheter audio tracks and on developping video material. Can i ask you what you preferred?
Well, i loved doing the book, but it was four years work. You know, it was a year and a half of just me doing all the research. And then passing the information to my friend the writer, Richard Hayvers. You know, i passed twenty pages about the life of Howlin’ Wolf and said “Richard, cut them into three quarters of a page”... Here’s Bessie Smith, 16 pages... get it down to half a page. I did all the work and he just wrote it for me and then we got involved in the visual thing. Then we decided to do maps of the railroads, of the highways, of where the people were born and where they recorded. Just to give a different angle, which has never been done in blues book. And then we’ve choosen classic songs, blues songs, and did a little timeline at the bottom. You know, when the people recorded that song Baby Please Don’t Go or Stagger Lee or something... Frank and Johnnie. You know, it gives people a different approach to it.
I’m ready to bet that, engaged in the research work, you discovered things you were unaware of. Can you tell me some of the most curious ones, maybe?
Let me think. Well, there is a guy i absolutely love, not known by many people. One of his tracks is on the double cd. His name is Papa Charlie Jackson. He wrote “All I Want Is a Spoonful”, in 1926. He was the first blues man who recorded, in 1923. 1920 was Mamie Smith, but he was the first man. And i found out through my research that he played banjo, but tuned like a guitar. And he played with all the great singers and James P. Johnson, the great straight piano player. He played with all these people and i found in my research that he taught Big Bill Broozny to play the guitar... (laugh)... and he was a banjo player.
Not bad at all...
You see, i found out that Big Bill Broozny went under two or three different names. You see, John Lee Hooker went under ten or twelve.
It was quite popular to change your identity then...
Yes, you did the same record with three different companies and got a bottle of whisky and twenty dollars for each one.
So, you got three times the money.
Yes, no royalties... And, i found out one of the names of Big Bill Broozny was Sammy Sampson. And then i remembered a song i had by George Jones, the country singer, on the b-side of one of his records, when he started off playing rock’n’roll, rockabilly stuff, before he went into country. And he sings this song: “i meet Sammy Sampson down in New Orleans, he had a lot of money and a big limousine, he took me honky-tonkin’ on Saturday night”... and i’m thinking: did George Jones meet Big Bill Broozny and go out honky tonkin’ with him? Because, he says Sammy Sampson. I mean, that name don’t comes from anywhere.
When you started your artistical experience, were you already a blues addicted, or it grew up gradually in you. I mean, did it started when you were in Germany, enrolled in RAF, or after?
No, there was no blues in Germany. I had a R&B band and we played all the black music: Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. Also some white people, but mostly black artists, Larry Williams, Sam Cooke... You know, all these R&B black artists, but i never heard blues music, because it was never played on the radio, nobody played it live and you couldn’t buy any blues record in England. There weren’t blues records in England in the shops. The only ones who had blues record were people who have been in America or in the USA and they swapped... That way, someone length Brian Jones an EP and somebody else went with a reel to reel of Jimmy Reed. So, when i joined the Stones, december 1962, that’s the first time i heard blues music.
Do you still remember the track?
Jimmy Reed. And... it was a completely different music. When we started to play it, the audience had never heard it. So, it was a new music to them.
Infact, my other big curiosity was if you didn’t felt it a little bit like a bet. At the end, why english teen-agers should have shared ideas expressed by black adults?
Oh, there you go... (laugh).
Eh, i’m going far...
Why kids loved Chuck Berry?
Yeah, for example...
(Laugh). Because he was influenced by Louis Jordan and they never heard him. He was influenced by all the people doing the “Jump Music” in the forties and Nat King Cole he was crazy about... It was just a revelation, because it was so completely new. When Elvis first came out, nobody has ever heard a white kid singing rockabilly stuff, like he did. So, it was like a shock and the same applied to blues. I had that shock when i first heard it and when we played it to the kids, they heard it for the first time, and they’ve got that shock. And they invented dances to do it. You know, when we were in clubs at the beginning, they didn’t know what to do. It was a thrilling time, because it was all completely new. It’s not like today. Everybody is the same now, nothing fresh coming in music.
In the past, you declared to our magazine: “it’s years i’m waiting for a new Elvis to come”. I guess you’re still waiting and why, in your opinion, this new Elvis doesen’t come?
Because record companies doesen’t look for something new and different. That’s the trouble. I think that, any young person who’s got a great new idea, like a new Prince... You know Prince when he came out, he was different, like Elvis, like all those people. In those days you could get a record deal. They were looking for different styles of music, so you’ve got people appearing like Joe Cocker and Elton John and David Bowie. This age, let’s talk about England, if you’re not playing the same style of music that’s selling and is in the charts this week, you get not signed by a record company. So, you end up with two or three styles of music, instead of tweny, like when we were growing up. You know, if you looked the charts, gosh... you had the Beach Boys doing one style of music, the Beatles, the Stones, Sonny and Cher, all the Motown stuff. If you look at the charts of 64/65/66, you’ll see an extreme variety and they’re all classic songs. In those days, to get in the top five, in England, you had to sell in the region of half a million singles. Today, 30.000 copies will get you there.
Really bad habits, which annhilate youth knowledge of music...
I met a kid of 22 outside one of our shows and he said “What kind of music you play?”. We said “Well, we do Ray Charles and....”. He asked “Who is Ray Charles?”. And i said: “God almighty, Ray Charles is probably one of the top five artists of the 20th century”. And this kid of 22 never heard of him! When i was growing up, i knew about Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and all those people. It wasn’t at all music i was collecting, but only listening to, but i knew about it, because i heard it. But you don’t hear those things anymore. The radio will not play these songs anymore.
Who’s the bluesman who influenced you the most?
Well, when i joined the Stones i got really into blues and collect and buy records. I suddently realized John Lee Hooker. The Stones never did a John Lee Hooker song, but i loved him.
Are you sure? Wasn’t him a guest of your Atlantic City 1989 show, with Boogie Chillen?
No, that was live onstage, it was different. They never did a John Lee Hooker or a Lightnin’ Hopkins song. I’ve got twenty John Lee Hooker albums, I’ve got fifteen Lightnin’ Hopkins albums. I liked this stuff, even if the Stones weren’t doing it. But, I would say, of every blues artist i’ve heard, my favourite has to be Howlin’ Wolf. I think it’s because i had to know him personally, i had dinner with him at his house, with his family. Before i met him briefly at a tv show. After that i recorded with him.
Are you referring to The Howlin’ Wolf London sessions?
Yes... With Eric (Clapton, nda), Stevie Winwood, Charlie (Watts, nda). So, i got to know Wolf a bit. But i mean, i got to know Muddy very well. I played with Muddy live two or three times and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells too... Anyways, Howlin’ Wolf is the boy that influenced me the most. I never get fed up to listen to his records.
What was so charming in him?
He was a giant. You know, he was humble. He was a farmer, who did music on the side. His first record was made when he was 46 years old. He wasn’t a child. A lot of people started young, but Wolf didn’t. He was farming... He had an attachment to the nature and it’s important.
If you look at today’s blues scene, what do you see... and, most of all, what do you think about it?
Well, there is some really good stuff, but there is also a lot of shit. There is a lot of people, and young bands, that thinks blues is purely what they’ve heard from the 60’s and 70’s. I go to pub sometimes. I know there is a blues band and, you know, i say let’s go there half an hour and have a listen. That ain’t blues to me. Anyone playing as hard as they can, with the guitar showing how many notes he can play at the same time. They’re not as a unit. They’re not playing for the love of the music. If you’re in a blues band, you’ve got to play for the music and for the band, not for your ego.
That goes for the lot of shit. What about the good stuff?
There is a guy called John Mooney, who is on Blind Pig Records. They’ve got some good artists on that label. He’s fantastic. And then a guy called Bob Brozman, who is the most stunning guitarist i’ve heard playing Robert Johnson stuff. And i’ve got those two on my visual thing. And i’ve got clips of another guy, Colin Hodgkins, who sometimes opens the show for us in England. He’s a bass player and he plays a Fender, but he plays chords and he’s absolutely incredible!
We’re about to end the interview. Listening to you is a real pleasure, Bill. Your voice is really full of the love you feel for this world. Can you tell me a last annecdote?
Yeah and it’s related to the London Sessions again. We were sitting in the studio and we were cutting the tracks and trying to do Little Red Rooster. Howlin’ Wolf comes and... “No, you’re doing it wrong”. It was slightly a different ryhthm. Just a small thing, but when you did it right, you realized the difference. It justs slips into a sort of pattern and it’s perfect. We didn’t do that with the Stones. So, when Eric tried to do, he was thinking about the Stones version, obviously. All we were. Wolf said “No, it’s wrong” and then Eric said “would you do it?”, so Wolf started to do it and showed us exactly the way it was the timing. And Eric said “that’s great, why you don’t you play it... you know it better than all of us”. And Wolf answered “No man, you gotta do it, ‘cause when i’m gone, you gotta carry on...”. Education and learning from a master and carrying forward like an apprentice, that’s Blues!
[Edited by VoodooChileInWOnderl]
||Bill Wyman is the shit!
He's doing it right. 5 fucking albums already. Tons of small tours in small places.
Man, if only.....