The Stones guitarist on the value of honesty and how to keep Mick happy
How do you define success?
Satisfying masses of people, seeing the look on their face, the pleasure that we bring when we do live gigs.
You always look so relaxed and happy onstage. What’s the secret to taking life less seriously?
People say, “If you’re going to be successful at something, pick something that you enjoy doing.” And the smile is all over my face because I love playing guitar and I love the challenge of learning something new.
Your new live album, Mr Luck, pays tribute to bluesman Jimmy Reed. Some of the songs are nearly 100 years old. How do you connect to that music?
It’s got the thread that runs through soulful music, whether it’s soul music or not. . . . I get a thrill listening to the original records, and I feel so proud when I hear my cover versions. I think, “So it’s live, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but that’s me.” And it reminds me of the Faces. We were live and very rough around the edges, and we all loved Jimmy Reed.
What are the most important rules you live by?
Take one day at a time. . . . With programs that I dearly love — the [Narcotics Anonymous] and the [Alcoholics Anonymous] recovery — which has helped me through everything these last 12 years now, I’ve done a year for every step. At step three, I hand my will and my life over to somebody else, my higher power. I hand my problems over and I feel really safe knowing that they will be taken care of, and everything will be all right.
What advice do you have for people struggling with addiction?
Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re wrong or you’ve been wrong. I spoke at a public meeting the other month with a charity that Prince William and Kate support. And when I got up to speak, I said, “Hi, I’m Ronnie. I’m an addict.” And after I got down from my talk, people said, “Wow. How brave you are to tell people that you’re an addict.” And I said, “No. That’s a natural thing. If you have an addictive personality, it’s a great thing to say that.” . . . People should not be afraid to say who they really are and what they want to do and ask for help. I’ve had to ask for a lot of help over the last few months, fighting everything I’ve fought, and I’m all the better for it. [Editor’s note: Wood battled small-cell cancer during the pandemic.] People want to help.
You and Keith Richards describe your guitar interplay as “weaving.” What’s the secret to that practice?
It’s a give-and-take. It’s an unwritten law of leaving space, and the other guy, he might just put one note in, or he may answer the question with a phrase on the guitar.
How do you know when to give Keith space?
Well, if I don’t give Keith space, I’ll be wearing his guitar around my head [ laughs].
You’re fronting a band on your new album. What have you learned about being a frontman from Rod Stewart in the Faces and from Mick Jagger?
They love genuine support. They like to hear, “Hey man, you did a good job.” Because they’re selling it. . . . Jagger is doing his Jagger, and Rod is doing the Rod, but underneath, they want to know that they’re on the right track because they value what they do really importantly. The first thing to them is how to please the audience and to give the best — the best show, the best album, the best presentation of music.
The chorus to your Faces hit “Ooh La La” goes, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” What do you wish you knew then?
I wish I knew that all the promoters were ripping me off. It’s like, “Oh, my God. Those guys opened up a supermarket and a chain of restaurants, and I’m on 50 quid for the week or something.” It’s like, “Wow, I wish I knew then what I know now.” It can be funny. That’s life on life’s terms, you know?
Wood’s new LP, ‘Mr Luck, a Tribute to Jimmy Reed,’ is out later this month.