Ex-Stone hap­pier as Rhythm King

At 71, Bill Wy­man says he has to keep work­ing

Windsor Star - - Entertainment - BY ROBERT SAN­DALL THE DAILY TELE­GRAPH LON­DON

Bill Wy­man is sit­ting in a booth at the back of his Sticky Fin­gers restau­rant cud­dling a beau­ti­ful young girl called Matilda. She’s telling him what she thought about his band the Rhythm Kings’ re­cent per­for­mance at the O2 arena, where they sup­ported Led Zep­pelin.

For Matilda, this isn’t an easy con­ver­sa­tion. For one thing, the large age dif­fer­ence be­tween them means that most of the vin­tage R&B tunes the Rhythm Kings play were recorded decades be­fore she was born. It can’t help ei­ther that the guy she’s with, the group’s leader and bass player, is her fa­ther.

“It was great, but you weren’t very good, Dad,” Matilda says, slith­er­ing around on her ban­quette, the way bored nine-year-olds do when grownups are do­ing most of the talk­ing. “Ev­ery­body else was singing ex­cept you.” Wy­man beams in­dul­gently at his youngest daugh­ter.

A less per­nick­ety ob­server than Matilda might marvel at the fact that, at 71, Wy­man is more ac­tive now than he has been since the ear­li­est days of the Rolling Stones. To­day, the Rhythm Kings em­bark on a 32-date U.K. tour, play­ing small the­atres and con­cert halls. Last fall, they toured Europe be­fore join­ing the bill at the Ah­met Erte­gun me­mo­rial ben­e­fit in De­cem­ber. As well as per­form­ing their own set, the Rhythm Kings stood in as the house band on the night for Paulo Nu­tini and a host of soul greats, in­clud­ing Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge. “We had to learn 30 songs in two days,” Wy­man says, with ev­i­dent sat­is­fac- tion. “Mu­si­cians have re­ally started to ap­pre­ci­ate this band.”

Though Wy­man en­joys the praise, com­pli­ments about his stamina fall on deaf ears. “We’ve al­ways worked hard. We have to be­cause of the bud­get. You can’t make much money tour­ing with a 10-piece band. You get a bit of small change, but ba­si­cally you do it be­cause you love play­ing.”

His band – a fluc­tu­at­ing squad of vet­er­ans presently headed by gui­tarist Al­bert Lee, vo­cal­ist Bev­er­ley Skeeter and Den­nis LaCor­riere, for­merly of Dr. Hook – do not sign up with him to line their pock­ets. “Bev­er­ley has turned down gigs with An­nie Len­nox to tour with the Rhythm Kings, for which she gets a fifth of the money. This has not been a ca­reer move for any of us.”

Wy­man formed his cur­rent band in the early ’90s as a de­lib­er­ate an­ti­dote to the one he left af­ter the Steel Wheels tour. From a fi­nan­cial stand­point, the tim­ing of his de­par­ture from the Stones was not aus­pi­cious. “The big money wasn’t there yet. I had a small nest egg, and I can live nicely. But I can’t rely on Stones roy­al­ties to sup­port me. I have to work, and I’m not in the same league as the boys who stayed on.

“But I wanted to have fun. Play­ing with the Stones there was al­ways such a lot of pres­sure. The next album or sin­gle al­ways had to be the best, or at least sell more. When we got to­gether to play, it was a great mo­ment. Work­ing with Char­lie (Watts) was fan­tas­tic, and we’re still re­ally close. But, when I toured with the Stones, it would take a month to prac­tise all th­ese songs we’d been play­ing for 30 years. The Rhythm Kings do it all in two days.”

Wy­man is keen to quash the ru­mours about lin­ger­ing bad blood be­tween him and his for­mer band­mates. He con­cedes that the air­brush­ing of his im­age from the ar­chive pho­to­graphs that ap­peared on the sleeve of the Stones’ 2005 ret­ro­spec­tive album Rar­i­ties was “dis­ap­point­ing and petty, but I don’t know whose de­ci­sion that was. I don’t bring those things up.” His gen­eral view is that the wounds, such as they were, healed years ago. “They didn’t want me to leave, but we get on great now. I had 30 great years with them, then a re­ally nice di­vorce, and, corny as it may sound, we are still fam­ily. We still send each other birth­day and Christ­mas presents.”

Well, you have to ask what th­ese are, and Wy­man duly tells of the gifts he re­cently re­ceived from the other Stones. A large, scented can­dle from Richards, “one of those huge round things that burns for­ever. Keith al­ways sends me those.” An even larger pot­ted plant from Ron­nie Wood – “a poin­set­tia the size of a ta­ble.”

His favourite present was the box of Bronze Age ar­ti­facts from Watts, a nod to his keen in­ter­est in arche­ol­ogy. This in­cluded two flat-blade axes from 2,000 BC. “When Char­lie dropped the box off he said, ‘Be care­ful with this; it’s a bit frag­ile.’ Now, what did Mick get me?” Strangely for a man with such a re­ten­tive me­mory – ex­haus­tively de­tailed in his mem­oir Stone Alone – Wy­man can’t re­mem­ber what Jag­ger slipped in Santa’s sack; it might have been a book.

Wy­man’s cur­rent phase of con­tent­ment dates back to 1992, when he con­ceived the idea of form­ing a band with an older mu­si­cal agenda that would al­low him to play the bass in a more fluid, jazzy style. “When I play now, it has more the feel of a dou­ble bass, an in­stru­ment that I love but can never play be­cause I’ve got such lit­tle hands.” He still prefers to hold his elec­tric bass ver­ti­cally, his trade­mark with the Stones. “That wasn’t a gim­mick, it was a ne­ces­sity!”

His other ma­jor de­ci­sion of 1992 was to marry Suzanne Ac­costa, whom he had be­friended in Paris in 1979. “When we first met, Suzanne had no idea who I was. She went a bit pale af­ter I said I was in the Stones. She didn’t seem all that im­pressed with it.”

Af­ter 13 years – dur­ing which Wy­man’s re­la­tion­ship with the teenage Mandy Smith was all over the gos­sip pages, along with sug­ges­tions that he was a sex ad­dict – he pro­posed to Ac­costa. “She said I’d have to change my ways, and I have.”

Wy­man is thrilled to have had the chance of a sec­ond bash at fa­ther­hood late in life. “I joined the Stones when my son Stephen was eight months old, and I never re­ally saw him grow up. I’m now at the age when, if you’re lucky, you’re dot­ing on your grand­chil­dren. I’ve never been so happy. I’ve got my health, my ca­reer, all my hair, and three beau­ti­ful daugh­ters.”

At this Matilda, who has just fin­ished cray­on­ing over a list of band tour dates, flashes her fa­ther the sweet­est smile.

Star file photo

AU­GUST 2001: Bill Wy­man leads The Rhythm Kings through a spir­ited set at Old­cas­tle’s Cio­ciaro Club.

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