No longer under their thumb
August 17, 2001
BY JIM DEROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
The other guys tend to get
all the press, but Ive always contended that Bill Wyman is the coolest Rolling
You could make a case for
Brian Jones in the first part of the bands career. And Charlie Watts is always
gloriously and supremely Charlie Watts. But post-Some Girls, in the period of
the groups long, sad decline into bloated millionaire mediocrity, Wyman wins, hands
down. Consider his accomplishments.
In 1990, the taciturn
bassist and former RAF technician wrote the most fascinating rock autobiography ever, Stone
Alone, in which he claimed to have shared his bed with more than 700 women in a
two-year period. He scored the best Stones solo hit, Si, Si, Je Suis Un Rockstar,
in 1981; opened a restaurant in London called Sticky Fingers, and put together a band
called the Rhythm Kings just so he could jam on occasion with soul and blues legends such
as keyboardist Georgie Fame and guitarist Albert Lee.
Best of all, Wyman had the
integrity to walk away from the Stones and untold millions of dollars because he felt that
the group was betraying its fans and no longer evolving musically. Talk about principles;
thats almost enough to make you forget that he married and divorced a girl he began
courting at age 13.
I spoke with Wyman by phone
during the current tour, moments before he walked onstage in Wooster, Mass.
Q. One of the things
thats striking about your new disc Double Bill is what a broad variety
of music it includes. Was that part of your goal in making a double album?
A. Yeah. Weve been
doing that for four CDs now, and we do it live of course, on stage. Theres a lot of
talented musicians and music of various styles, and Ive got five singers, so we can
cover a whole spectrum of music. Not only from different eras, but of different
styles--from rockabilly to blues to jazz to gospel to soul. Its jump music and its
ballads. Its all possible with this band.
Q. Did you ever feel
limited in that other group you used to play with?
A. In a creative way, yeah.
In a production way and arranging and all that kind of stuff. And writing of course.
Because it was very limited--you didnt have much of a chance. There were two guys
who did it very efficiently, and you only made an album every 18 months with 10 songs on
it, so there was no opportunity to do anything like that. So rather than do what the
average band did when that thing happens--break up and rejoin other people--I just
produced other artists, wrote songs for other people, and played on other peoples
albums. I was the first one to do a solo album, and then film score music. That alleviated
that sort of frustration, if you like.
Q. Nostalgia is the
kiss of death for rock n roll. I talked with another famous wayward bassist,
John Paul Jones, when he played the same Chicago venue youre playing. He said it
just isnt worth touring anymore unless he can actually see the fans.
A. Its lovely,
because youve got the audience right up in front like you did when you first started
out, and theyre part of the show again. All the music we play was done in those sort
of venues, where people were close up. If were doing a song from the 30s, they
were usually played in small clubs or ale houses or gin palaces. So it all fits perfectly
well, and the audience loves the closeness. If youre a fan of Albert Lee or Gary
Brooker or Georgie Fame, they can be six feet away, and you cant do that in
stadiums. You lose contact with the audience.
Q. Still, it must take
an enormous amount of fortitude to walk away from a massively successful corporation like
the Rolling Stones. You could have ridden that gravy train through the arenas in
A. Yeah, and made a
fortune! But I didnt see any future; I didnt see anything new to conquer
anymore like we had over the years. There wasnt anything to break barriers or just
do something different. I was doing the same things Id been doing for 15 years--the
same songs. Id been playing Jumping Jack Flash and Honky Tonk
Woman for 20-odd years, you know? And I didnt want to play them for another
10! And I wanted to get my private life in order. I didnt want to go to Toronto for
six months to cut an album, or to Munich or something, and wait three months while it was
mixed, then do a week of videos and all that.
With the Rhythm Kings, the
new album is 24 songs, and we went into the studio for eight days at the end of November
last year and cut 22 masters, and theyre high quality. I can make a great album with
the Rhythm Kings in a month or so, with overdubs and mixing, compared to six months with
the Stones. And I feel just as satisfied. I have that extra time at home. And I enjoy
myself more--its just a fun thing now, and I love it.
Q. Stone Alone is
one of the best rock autobiographies ever thanks to the sheer level of inside detail. But
it left us hanging in 1969 after Altamont! Where the heck is part two?
A. I had that finished last
year, and two ghost writers let me down. One had it for about four or five months and came
back with a rough, and it was awful. So I fired him and paid him off, got it to another
guy, and the same thing happened. Then of course I started working with the Rhythm Kings,
so Ive had to put it off for a year or so until I found the right guy. But I think Ive
found the right guy now. Ive just done this blues book which comes out in September,
and I think Ill work with him next year. Its finished, really, it just needs
to be written properly.
Q. Bill Wymans
Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Musics Heart & Soul is essentially a fan letter
to all of the musicians you loved when you were starting out. Where did the impetus come
A. Ive got lots of
blues books--I love blues music--and a lot of them are very heavy reading. For anybody
that isnt a blues fan, they just wont go through them, so I thought, Im
gonna do a different kind of book here. Its going to be something thats very
visual, that you can pick up and put down. And the company (DK Publishing) are
perfect for those kinds of books; they do them for children and all that, and Ive
got lots of their books. So I decided to do it that way, and thats the way it turned
Q. One last question:
If the Stones called to twist your arm into coming back
A. Say, Im actually
walking out on stage now. Gotta go. See you in Chicago!