Ron Wood: "The Rolling Stones are indestructible" - SPIEGEL ONLINEMonday, 2-Dec-2019, 1:05pm
einestages: A profane question to start with - how could you save your wild rock star mane over the years?
Ronnie Wood: Good question (scratches his head). Because of my hair, I even refused chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago.
einestages: When you met the comedian Groucho Marx in the seventies, he was said to have had a royal laugh at your hair.
Wood: I visited him in New York. When he opened the door, he looked at me: "What are you, a man or a chicken? That's the silliest hairstyle I've ever seen!" You just had to love Groucho.
einestages: Apropos influential personalities - you recently released "Mad Lad", a live album in honor of Chuck Berry.
Wood: This is pure coincidence. I didn't know that my concert of Chuck Berry songs in Wimborne was recorded live last year. Don Was, our producer, was behind it and said it had to be released. I wrote then still an original song for the album: "Tribute to Chuck Berry".
einestages: What does Berry mean to you?
Wood: He's the forefather of Rock'n'Roll. And so our all grandfather, mine, Keith's, John Lennon's and all the others. We idolized him. When he died in 2017, I thought the world would overflow with Chuck Berry honors, but it wasn't like that. So I had to do it.
einestages: Your colleague Keith Richards used to have a lot of trouble with him.
Wood: Because he took the freedom of touching Chuck's guitar. Never happened to me - I had the guitar in my hand more often. I think there was a love-hate relationship between them. Sometimes I think I'm the only one who understood Chuck.
einestages: Was it really Berry's quirk that he collected his fee before the show?
Wood: And cash! He was suspicious, had no manager either, hid the money in his guitar case. Then he rocked and disappeared right after the last note. He usually didn't even know the musicians on stage. He did his thing, and everyone had to follow his lead.
einestages: His questionable reputation went far beyond that. In 1959 Berry was sentenced to two years imprisonment for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state borders for "immoral purposes". In 1989, he was given a suspended sentence after installing a camera in the ladies' room of his restaurant in Missouri and collecting the videos.
Wood: He must have had a perverse streak. On the other hand, he wrote the most wonderful songs, sang about cars, girls, love and breaking out of everyday life.
einestages: What is Rock'n'Roll for you?
Wood: A spirit that was born by Chuck Berry and that lives on in us. You can't forget Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis and Little Richard. Chuck was the first, but Elvis Presley made rock'n'roll great by paying tribute to black musicians - like Chuck, Arthur Crudup or Big Mama Thornton, who sang "Hound Dog" in the original. He spread the message among the whites.
einestages: Would the Rolling Stones have existed without Chuck Berry?
Wood: Probably not. Mick and Keith met on the Dartford platform and only started talking because Mick had records of Muddy Waters and Chuck under his arm that Keith also liked. The first Stones single then became "Come On", a Chuck Berry song. And they also played his songs "Carol" or "Route 66" at their first gig in 1962 at the Marquee Club in London.
einestages: Is it true that you were supposed to replace the late Stones guitarist Brian Jones in 1969?
Wood: I played with Rod Stewart at the Faces. Jagger called and wanted to poach me. But our bass player Ronnie Lane picked up and turned Mick down without asking me: "Wood is very comfortable with us, thank you." That's it, the Stones hired Mick Taylor. I didn't know about it until five years later. I had always been a Stones fan. Being accepted by them later was a big deal. My dad was the proudest. From then on he only called me "Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones".
einestages: In 1974 you had first joined the Stones and helped compose "It's Only Rock'n'Roll (But I Like It)" even before you were a member of the band. You still didn't get a songwriting credit.
Wood: Well, that's rock'n'roll too. It's a Stones thing, "Jagger/Richards" is a seal of approval like "Lennon/McCartney". I understand that, somehow.
einestages: Didn't you feel like you were being tricked?
Wood: Nobody could have known that this would be a cult hit. Mick also wrote "I Can Feel The Fire" with me back then. I was working on my first solo album "I've Got My Own Album to Do". He suggested that I use the "Fire" song for it, and he's using "It's Only Rock'n'Roll" for the Stones album. I agreed without thinking much.
einestages: The collaboration soon intensified.
Wood: Yes, in Munich the guys recorded their album "Black And Blue" at Musicland Studios. I was with the Faces in Los Angeles and lay flat with a cold. Then Mick came forward and asked me to come to Munich immediately. They would need my help again. I felt honored and flew there. "Hey Negrita" was my first own song I wrote for the Stones (jumps up, dances and sings "Hey Negrita, hey now, hey conchita nanana"). I remember the wild times in Munich very well. Keith and I often hung out in this rock shed, the "Sugar Shack".
einestages: Does the Rolling Stones actually have democracy?
Wood: Yes, in a strange way. Over the years, the Jagger/Richards team became more open to other people's ideas. That wasn't always the case. They know exactly what they want. I've always respected that.
einestages: Do you still feel like "the new guy" after all these years?
Wood: Until a few months ago that was really the case.
einestages: And what happened then?
Wood: I finally realized that the Stones just need me, like in the studio: "Ronnie, you have to play bass on this and that number, please" and so on. I benefit from being able to play several instruments. Charlie said I was a seven-day-week type, always there when you need me. That's my nature.
einestages: You grew up in a social building in a London suburb.
Wood: In Yiewsley, near Heathrow Airport. I was the only one born in the family on the mainland. Before that my family had lived on a barge, my parents worked as bargemen and sailed on canals between London, Stratford-upon-Avon and Manchester.
einestages: Doesn't sound like a programmed rock'n'roll career.
Wood: Music was close to our family's heart. We are of Roma descent. Gypsy blood fits temperamentally perfectly to Rock'n'Roll. At home we always celebrated a lot, even though we were poor. My dad played harmonica and piano, my older brothers Art and Ted, both of whom are no longer alive, were in bands, Art even used to play with Charlie Watts with Alexis Korner. We heard a lot of blues from Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
einestages: "Blue and Lonesome", the last Stones album, consisted of Blues cover songs. Is a completely new work to be expected?
Wood: Yes. We are already there. The new album is like a puzzle, we still have to put the missing pieces together. We hope to release it in 2020 and then continue our world tour.
einestages: You look top fit. You were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017.
Wood: After 50 years of chain smoking my life was hanging by a thread, but I survived. That's why the new documentary about my life is called "Somebody Up There Likes Me", someone up there probably likes me. The doctors were able to remove the tumor from my left lung, thank God the cancer had not spread. Now my lung works like a young man who never smoked. Four years ago I finally quit smoking.
einestages: cigarettes and alcohol were not your only vice. You used to party with celebrities like Bob Marley, Muhammad Ali, Tony Curtis and Sly Stone and are said to have gone to parties with your own Bunsen burner. What for?
Wood: To work the coke so I could smoke it. The seventies were by far my wildest time.
einestages: You survived all this. And Mick Jagger had a heavy heart operation last summer, soon after he was back on stage...
Wood: ...not to mention Charlie Watts, who had laryngeal cancer a few years ago, and Keith with his severe cerebral hemorrhage after falling from a palm tree. Everything went well, a big miracle. The Stones are simply indestructible.
Translated with: [www.DeepL.com