Wyman Keeps Rolling Along
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 2001; Page WE07
HOW ODD that the first original Rolling Stone to quit that august group should be the one to most vividly live up to the aphorism about -- sorry, we have to invoke it -- gathering no moss.
Bassist Bill Wyman quit in 1992 after 31 years co-anchoring the rock-solid Rolling Stones rhythm section with drummer Charlie Watts.
"People think I'm a crazy idiot," Wyman laughs. "And I swear, it's been the happiest time in my life since I left."
Wyman's calling from his summer estate in the south of France on a rare off day from his first international tour since 1992. The other Stones remain unturned -- Wyman's on the road with the Rhythm Kings, an aggregation of British music vets that includes singer-keyboardists Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) and Georgie Fame (the Blue Flames) and guitarists Albert Lee and Martin Taylor.
"I've never regretted my decision for one minute," insists Wyman of his departure from the Stones. "I didn't have any more objectives to aim for in the band, thought it was just going to be repetitive, which it had already been for a few years. I knew that if I stayed for another 10 years, I'd still be doing 'Street Fighting Man,' 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and 'Honky Tonk Woman' on stage to the same kind of audiences. There wasn't much more to aim for there. I thought it was the right time to go, when we were at the top, to move on and do other things and try to achieve something personally."
Which Wyman has done in spades.
The first Rolling Stone to record a solo album (1974's "Monkey Grip"), Wyman was also the first to pen an autobiography (1994's "Stone Alone"), which seems to have set off a writing jag. There was 1998's "Wyman Shoots Chagall," a beautiful limited-edition book from Genesis Publications detailing Wyman's decade-long friendship with the fabled Russian painter, who was also his neighbor in St.-Paul-de-Vence, France. October brings "Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey," a meticulously researched, profusely illustrated coffee-table book that is Wyman's personal tribute to the music and people who inspired him to become a musician. And Wyman's finished a second volume of "Stone Alone," which left off with the Stones barely surviving Altamont.
Right now, however, Wyman's focused on the Rhythm Kings, with whom he started recording in 1996 and who are making their U.S. debut this month, including Tuesday's show at the Birchmere, his first appearance here since 1989's "Steel Wheels" tour. Until now, the 64-year-old Wyman has chosen to focus on his new family, which includes his third wife, American fashion designer Suzanne Accosta, and three daughters under the age of 7 -- Katherine, Jessica and Matilda Mae.
One relationship in the Rhythm Kings actually predates the Rolling Stones: In the late '50s, Wyman and Brooker used to battle in their respective bands, the Cliftons and the Paramounts. In fact, the Rhythm Kings' paychecks may feel harrowingly familiar.
"They're doing it for no money," Wyman says. "They're doing it for the same reason I am, the same reason we all began playing music in the late '50s and early '60s -- you just did it for the love of it. You didn't do it to be rich and famous and make records, be on television and travel the world. That was pie in the sky, so improbable you didn't even consider it.
"The fortunate ones did become rich and famous, but a lot of them didn't," he says. "All the people in this band went through that and we're back together now, doing music just because we love to play together. That's the be-all and end-all of it, really."
The Rhythm Kings, who favor R&B, blues and swing, have been what the Rolling Stones never were -- prolific. "Double Bill," a new double album, is their fourth album in four years.
"When I cut this one, we did 22 songs in eight days, and it wasn't just whacked-off cheap and nasty," Wyman boasts. By contrast, with the Stones, "you'd have to leave home for six months to record 10 songs in Toronto or Paris, and most of the time you'd be sitting around doing nothing . . . it became a total wastage of time to me."
And additionally unfulfilling because Wyman never could break into the Mick Jagger-Keith Richards songwriting oligarchy. "There was no room for me, which was one of the frustrations, and also why Mick Taylor left in 1974," he points out. Ironically, in England at least, Wyman managed the highest-charting single of any solo Stone with 1982's lighthearted "(Si Si) Je Suis un Rock Star."
These and other frustrations informed "Stone Alone," a day-by-day accounting of the Stones' early years made possible by the fact that Wyman not only started keeping a diary before the band came together, but became its chief archivist.
"Well, I'm the only one that ever bothered, it's as simple as that, really," he chortles. "It wasn't a job I took on with the advice of the other guys! Or was helped by anybody. It was something that I did on my own. When I would collect a poster from a show, or a ticket or backstage pass, they used to think it was quite amusing and eccentric. But now I've amassed such a collection over the years that I'm the envy of a lot of people." Some of it is on view at the three Sticky Fingers restaurants Wyman operates in London (where he was awarded the "Best Hamburger of 1999" award).
Wyman's pretty much finished Volume 2 of "Stone Alone," which will cover 1969 to 1981, but has had trouble finding a suitable ghostwriter (British music writer Ray Coleman, who shaped the first book, died in 1996). Wyman suggests there might be one or two more books, covering the '80s through his departure from the band, as well as a post-Wyman history.
"But I might turn that into a history of the Rolling Stones, much the way I've done 'Blues Odyssey,' " says Wyman of the project that occupied him for almost two years. "It's not an ultimate history of blues music, it's my voyage through blues," Wyman says, but as personal as that voyage may be, the 400-page book is meticulously researched and impressively expansive in its coverage of musicians, recordings, songs and the varied roots and branches of the blues.
Digging among roots and branches must be instinctive to Wyman, who first developed a passion for reading about ancient cultures during the Stones' endless world tours. That passion has inspired yet another book, combining archaeology and medieval English history and centered on his Tudor home in Suffolk.
"The oldest part dates to 1480, and it has a moat around it," Wyman says, adding that an earlier version of the house shows up in the land survey William of Normandy conducted in 1066. "So I started to check out who else lived there, and with the help of researchers found every single person who has been there since 1150."
And when he started doing amateur archaeology in his garden and fields, Wyman uncovered 300 Roman coins and brooches, "pieces of rings and necklaces, and lots of pottery. And at a second site a mile away, I found Bronze Age axe blades and fragments. Obviously, this book won't sell any. It just adds to the common knowledge, which I think is very important."
Speaking of artifacts from the Stones Age, how are the rest of the lads?
"Charlie came to see us in London a few weeks ago, and we went and saw his jazz band at Ronnie Scott's jazz club," Wyman reports. "I'm very close to Charlie, I see him all the time. I'm very proud of having been in that band for 31 years and all that we achieved, and I'm still great friends with the majority of them."
And, Wyman adds, he's been able to explore so many new paths since he abandoned the Stones.
"So much time and money and effort was wasted because they're hardly into anything else," he explains. "Mick's a bit involved in movies -- well, he always tried to be -- and Charlie's got his jazz band and cricket. Ron [Wood] does his art and Keith kind of plays with other people from time to time, but that's basically it, apart from their families. They haven't got any other real interests that absorb them. I've got tons."
RHYTHM KINGS -- Appearing Sunday at the Birchmere. • To hear a free Sound Bite from Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8109. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
||Bill has just gotta come back for the next tour.
||Bill Wyman AND Mick Taylor, both, have just gotta come back for the next tour as they alone can't hardly fill a small venue, Mick Taylor had a terrible turnout yesterday and Bill Wyman changed the venue for today's show because of the poor response.
||Make no mistake, I'd love to hear Charlie and Bill playing together again -- the last thing I needed was someone taking down my rhythm section -- but Bill is happy! He's doing exactly what the Stones are doing -- playing the music he wants to play to the people he wants to play it to. Whether that's 80,000 people or 2,000 people doesn't matter -- what does matter is that the people who do come want to be there, and the musicians want to be there, playing. That's where the magic comes from. Bill brought so much to us while he was with the Stones, why wouldn't we want him to do what he wants to do? Because it's meeting his needs and not ours?
I'm very sorry to read about the poor turnout for Mick Taylor -- he never got the audience he deserves. But coming back to the Stones is a step backward for him. Even though it was one hell of a place to be, for him, it is, been there, done that. If he is making the music he wants to make, and I have no reason to believe that a musician like Mick Taylor would do anything else, then he's doing the right thing. He just has to keep plugging away until he reaches his total audience -- like so many musicians are doing.
||Does anyone seriously think either of them would be ASKED back again? I dont think so - the Stones dont strike me as the sort of band that are just content to live in the past - this isnt The Eagles after all....good luck to them both in their respective ventures but no way should they be asked back - they've moved on and so have the Stones. Reunions are a step backwards from an artistic point of view and only show a lack of fresh ideas. The Stones are still a creative band.
Both of them left of their own free will - neither has expressed any interest in rejoining the Stones again and they seem content enough artistically doing what theyre doing...
A lot of people seem to be under the illusion that if Mick Taylor rejoined the Stones all of a sudden they'd be back to their creative peak of the early 70's. There's no logic behind that,even though he might bring something to the band in concert.