Q&A

Ron­nie Wood

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Henry Yates

The Rolling Stone re­calls the ground­break­ing US gui­tarists who shook 60s Lon­don.

The blues is the spine that runs through the 56-year his­tory of the Rolling Stones. In Oc­to­ber 1961, it forged the band’s nu­cleus of Mick Jag­ger and Keith Richards, as the fu­ture song­writ­ing part­ner­ship com­pared Chess vinyl on the plat­form of Dart­ford rail­way sta­tion. The blues was the bedrock of the band’s break­out early sets, and drove their im­pe­ri­ous turn-of-thedecade hot streak, when al­bums such as 1969’s Let It Bleed, 1971’s Sticky Fin­gers and 1972’s Ex­ile On Main St paid open trib­ute to the big blues beasts of Chicago and Mis­sis­sippi.

Even in 1981, at the band’s com­mer­cial peak, the su­per­star lineup shrunk back to wide-eyed fan­boys as they guested with Muddy Wa­ters at the Windy City’s Checker­board Lounge. And now, as Ron­nie Wood re­minds us, that for­ma­tive in­flu­ence still has plenty of fuel, spark­ing the re­lease of the Stones’ ac­claimed 2016 cov­ers al­bum Blue & Lone­some, and a brand-new com­pi­la­tion, Con­fessin’ The Blues, with a track­list­ing cho­sen per­son­ally by the Stones.

Do you think the Stones would ex­ist with­out the blues? Def­i­nitely not. We’re all walk­ing li­braries of dif­fer­ent as­pects of the mu­sic. I sup­pose Keith would say that he’s the big­gest blues fan. But then the knowl­edge Mick has is un­be­liev­able. Char­lie goes right across the blues into jazz. I come from the soul side. And it all con­nects. It’s this won­der­ful blend. I think that ev­ery­one in the new gen­er­a­tion should take a leaf out of the blues and have a smat­ter­ing of it in their di­ets. Be­cause mu­sic ain’t go­ing any­where with­out it.

How did you dis­cover that mu­sic, and what was your re­ac­tion? When I was just a lit­tle kid in short pants, my broth­ers – who were eight and ten years older than me – would bring home songs like Smokestack Light­ning from Howlin’ Wolf, and Hoochie Coochie Man by Muddy Wa­ters. Those were some of the first blues songs that I ever heard. God knows where they found the al­bums. Then I did a lot of re­search, started dis­cov­er­ing Chuck Berry and learn­ing his stuff. I grew up learn­ing Big Bill Broonzy’s Gui­tar Shuf­fle. That’s where I came in, re­ally.

What drew you to the great blues gui­tarists?

When some of those blues guys came over from Amer­ica, my brother Art backed up Lit­tle Wal­ter and Howlin’ Wolf, and it was amaz­ing for lit­tle Ron­nie to meet th­ese guys first-hand. The blues sounded dan­ger­ous. That’s the right word. Be­cause th­ese men were dan­ger­ous. You didn’t mess with them. They’d been through a lot of hard­ships – that’s where the blues comes from. They were used to be­ing treated badly, and they didn’t mind dish­ing out a bit of that pun­ish­ment, too, if you crossed them. But un­der­neath they were re­ally soft. They just wanted to be nice peo­ple, but they’d been treated so bad, you can’t blame them for the at­ti­tude they had. I mean, Chuck Berry had quite a vi­cious at­ti­tude – quite nasty – about peo­ple steal­ing his songs and not giv­ing him credit. So did Bo Did­dley. And they were right, peo­ple did nick that Bo Did­dley beat, and a lot of Chuck Berry’s songs, and they never got the credit or saw the money. So you can’t blame them. How much of an im­pres­sion do you think the blues ti­tans make on six­ties Lon­don?

They didn’t know the im­pact they had on us. They were just play­ing from the heart. Steve Crop­per has be­come a good friend of mine, and over the years he’s told me that he had no idea of the im­pact of all the songs he played on – the Sam & Dave stuff, the Otis Red­ding stuff, Booker T and The M.G.’s – on the English R&B and soul scene. I mean, he played on things like In The Mid­night Hour by Wil­son Pick­ett, and that song was just like a way of life for us. But he thought it was just a riff. He once told me: “I just put my fin­gers where all the white dots were on the gui­tar!”

So when the blues guys came over to Eng­land I think they were pleas­antly sur­prised. Muddy used to love us boys. He al­ways used to think I was in the Stones be­fore I was even in them. He’d go:

“My man from the Rolling Stones!” And I’d go: “I’m not in ’em yet, Muddy!” Then one year he saw me in The Speakeasy and I said:

“I’m fi­nally in that band that you al­ways thought I was gonna be in, Muddy!” He was a real gen­tle­man, and a nat­u­ral with the slide. He ac­tu­ally lent me his slide once. It was the tini­est lit­tle slide bar, about half an inch long. Af­ter I’d fin­ished the song he said, ‘Can I have my slide back?” He was so pos­ses­sive about ma­te­rial things. I don’t blame him – I was gonna steal it!

Which blues tunes made the big­gest mark on you?

Blues opened up a whole world to me. There was clas­sic stuff like Lit­tle Quee­nie from Chuck Berry. Robert John­son, who sounded like an orches­tra. El­more James’s Dust My Broom. That’s where Fleet­wood Mac started – they based all their songs around that lick back in the old Peter Green days. Ev­ery­body took a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. Y’know, Eric Clap­ton was with John May­all and they’d do Otis Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby – which we did on the Blue & Lone­some al­bum.

It’s funny, a lot of th­ese songs, they come back around. BB King was just such an in­no­va­tor. Jimi Hen­drix gave me the [King’s] Live At The Regal al­bum. I think it’s Eric Clap­ton’s favourite al­bum as well. That was just a real eye-opener. And it al­ways will be, as to how to play the blues live if you’re a gui­tar player. Buddy Guy’s still around. He was a real founder of the blues, and the young­ster of the pack. I re­mem­ber meet­ing him in Bill Wy­man’s room in Chicago – Buddy Guy, Muddy Wa­ters and Howlin’ Wolf, all in the same room! They had a lot of re­spect for each other, but they were all jest­ing that the other guy couldn’t play.

Was there any de­bate be­tween the mem­bers of the Stones over the con­tent of Con­fessin’ The Blues?

Not re­ally. We let Mick take the helm and we all put our in­put in. The great thing is, there’s such an in­cred­i­ble amount of broad cov­er­age here, such a great cross-sec­tion of artists. Like Ed­die Tay­lor and all th­ese undis­cov­ered peo­ple that I think kids to­day should be lis­ten­ing to. It still sounds fresh. It makes me happy to think that a new gen­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians will get a huge buzz from this – and hope­fully meet their fu­ture wife lis­ten­ing to!”

Con­fessin’ The Blues is out now via BMG/Uni­ver­sal.

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