Rolling Stones

We’ve All Gone Solo #7 (Ronnie Wood)


Is Ronnie Wood rock music’s ultimate wingman? Born in 1947 in an outlying district in London, he’s a guitar-playing guy who came into the world at just the right time. After knocking around a bit in the capitol’s hothouse music scene, he got a gig in 1967 playing bass for the Jeff Beck Group and never looked back.

When the restless Beck dissolved that version of JBG, Wood and vocalist Rod Stewart quickly joined forces with Ronnie Lane, Ian MacLagan and Kenny Jones from the beloved Small Faces whose own frontman, Steve Marriott, had left to form Humble Pie. With the Faces, Wood went back to shouldering a six-string and took up his stage right position, dishing out his buzzing riffs and slide guitar fills through several notable albums (and co-writing such great tunes as “Stay With Me” and “Ooh La La”) and high-spirited tours with that archetypal group of working-class blokes made good. Oh, and since the mid-70s he’s been a Rolling Stone.


So life’s been good for this son of a long line of river barge operators—he’s been rock royalty for over four decades without ever seeming to hog the spotlight. Employing the time-tested tricks of the trade (rooster haircut, low-slung guitar, dangling cigarette) Wood’s been a reliable foil to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in rock history’s most durable top-line act. He’s also played with Bob Dylan at Live Aid, represented the Stones at the Last Waltz concert, had an affair with rock super-muse Patti Boyd Harrison, been in and out of rehab several times and was twice married to models—the second one divorced him several years back after he had a fling with a barely-legal Russian girl. I think that about takes care of the checklist.

And when it was time to do his first solo record in 1974, he came up with the perfect title. (I was going to name this blog series I’ve Got My Own Album to Do before choosing the more compact title I nicked from the chorus of “Solo,” the Sandy Denny song about the comings and goings of Fairport Convention alumni). Naturally, Wood had no trouble rounding up some mates to help him out. The credits are full of Faces and Stones (both Mick and Rod the Mod help out on vocals), not to mention the great rhythm section of bassist Willie Weeks and drummer Andy Newmark. This album is a real corker, as they say across the pond. You expect ol’ Ron to be chuffing away on the bluesy rockers that were the calling card of his various groups, but there is also some impressive variety in the songwriting. There’s the very nice “Far East Man” with George Harrison (who co-wrote it) on slide guitar and harmonies, plus a few songs (“Mystifies Me,” “Cancel Everything”) that channel that sweet melancholic vibe associated with his Faces songwriting partner Ronnie Lane. These slowies are especially well-suited to Wood’s slightly raspy, Everyman voice. But whether the mood of an individual song is sad or sassy, the overall ambience recalls a fun night out with the lads and it all ends with a loose, funky instrumental jam called “Crotch Music.”

This wouldn’t be Ronnie Wood’s only solo LP. His most successful one in the States would come in 1979 with Gimme Some Neck, which led to the short-lived semi-supergroup with Keith Richards called the New Barbarians. But mostly, life with the Stones has kept him pretty busy over the years, with occasional solo outings to fill the gaps and keep him (mostly) out of the tabloids. When you’re this high up in the court of the Royal Rock Stars, it is good to be The Wingman.

From the 2007 concert film “Shine A Light.”

My latest book, Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey is now available. You can view a 30-page excerpt by clicking on the image of the book cover on the upper right.

Charlie is My Darling (Doc of the Week #10)


The Rolling Stones: Charlie is My Darling—Ireland 1965
Directed by Peter Whitehead—1966—64 minutes

The Rolling Stones certainly are no strangers to celluloid, at least from the late Sixties on. In roughly chronological order, we got their headlining appearance in “Rock and Roll Circus”; a Jean-Luc Goddard agitprop period piece framed around their recording of “Sympathy for the Devil”; the Maysles Brothers’ hippie-dystopia classic “Gimme Shelter”, and various concert films from the 1970s on, culminating in Martin Scorcese’s 2008 “Shine a Light.” This spirited record of a showcase gig at New York’s Beacon Theater established the Stones as leaders of a movement that can only be called geriatric rock, carrying the flag of a genius era into the Social Security age bracket.

Good footage of the early Stones has been harder to come by. Their ascent to fame in the days before mass media overkill has yielded little more than their “T.A.M.I. Show” set and some old Ed Sullivan clips. Until now. Produced by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham reportedly to get his rising stars used to the idea of film, “Charlie is My Darling” was the first documentary about the band. The director was Peter Whitehead who would go on to make 1967’s “Tonight Let’s All Make Love in London” when the music-driven youth movement was in full “swing.”

After a brief theatrical release, however, all prints of “Charlie” were reportedly stolen and the film receded from memory, only getting a proper re-release in conjunction with the band’s 50th anniversary tour. Now you can wind the clock back almost as many years to the screaming-teenager epoch of the mid-1960s, as the boys are whisked off to Ireland for a quickie tour hastily arranged to capitalize on the recent smash hit “Satisfaction.” It’s a bit of a revelation here to see the Stones in the first flush of their youthful success. The Beatles have “A Hard Day’s Night” and Bob Dylan the warts-and-all “Don’t Look Back.” Here the five Stones likewise struggle with whirlwind fame, each of them ambivalent and thoughtful when Whitehead interviews each in turn.

A brilliant montage set to “Heart of Stone” shows the band arriving in Dublin where the establishing street scenes recall the age of James Joyce a half-century previous. But even if the country was still largely in the parochial grip of the Catholic hierarchy, the kids quickly shake free of that once the Stones hit the stage. The clarity and immediacy of this restored footage is electrifying, the lean-and-mean band whip their fans into a frenzy straight out of the gate with “The Last Time”, not that the crowd needs much whipping up. The Stones were already well known for the riotous audiences they attracted and by the end of third number, the stage invasion is in full stride, easily captured by Whitehead’s in-the-wings camera.

A bit of this footage recently turned up in the recent “Crossfire Hurricane” doc but it’s good to get the full flavor of those days here. The interviews reveal five guys to whom fame is still new and a little intimidating. Mick Jagger, an exciting young performer but hardly the indomitable peacock of later years, admits “I don’t know who I am on stage.” Keith is already the sly one, Bill is practical and Charlie misses his wife. Most poignantly, Brian Jones frets about the Stones’ chances for sustained success and—four years before his death—says, “I’ve always been a little apprehensive about the future.”

Elsewhere, you get the expected shots of the band being chased in public places, vox populi with the teenybopper lasses and hotel scenes of the guys goofing around and (more interestingly) writing a new song, “Sitting on a Fence.” Back onstage in Belfast, the joyful abandon in their version of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” is visceral and the cathartic discontent of “Satisfaction” would probably never sound so real again—worldwide success was just around the bend. The druggy excesses and jet setting and artistic peaks were all to come and this guileless snapshot from a distant monochromatic past is the perfect antidote to today’s over-hyped media landscape.