From above [www.Esquire.com
] :Ronnie Wood: "I'll never forget our first concert at the Calderón. Are we going to play there this time?When he plays the chords of Midnight Rambler on stage at the Wanda Metropolitano, one of the most influential guitarists in history will be 75 years old. He claims he's still 29. Here's what he says in an exclusive interview with Esquire Spain.
What do you ask a Rolling Stone? The taxi service from Heathrow to Ronnie Wood's home, in the middle of the British countryside, 40 kilometres from London, hidden in a chestnut forest, has been efficient enough to arrive half an hour early. And in that time of waiting, all doubts creep in. We meet in the building adjacent to the mansion Wood uses as a painting studio. That woman is his wife, Sally, and those girls are his soul twins, Alice and Gracie. And that man weeding the flowerbed, the estate gardener; and that other lady, who knows...? Ronnie opens the doors of his house and his life just like that. Suddenly you enter his flutter of dear, happy people in the middle of England. He hasn't arrived yet.
What do you ask a Rolling Stone? He smells of wood and paint. Mostly paint. Tons of paint because Wood devotes half his life (maybe more) to painting. The house is a messy museum of mind-blowing works. There is a version of Guernica in which the swords become guitars. Keith Richards stars in a davincian anatomical study... Ronnie studies old pieces and recreates them in his own way, a glorious cocktail of expressionism, classicism and pop-art with which he has broken the critics' mould. Suddenly, an immense Mick Jagger (whom we also interviewed... 54 years ago!) reincarnated as El Greco's Immaculate Conception emerges from among the easels. He is escorted like celestial angels by portraits of Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie himself. The Rolling Stones ascend to heaven propelled by a legion of musicians stylised like the figures of the Cretan painter. It's called The Show and you can't take your eyes off it.
What do you ask a Rolling Stone? The portico is adorned with a twisted wooden lintel like the one you imagine at the entrance to a witch's house. Above the fireplace, two pirate swords. Here and there, records, covers, portraits. A copy of his Tribute to Chuck Berry, the tribute album that Wood released with the Wild Five, presides over the room. You have to be careful not to step on a Billie Holiday charcoal, a guitar stand, a tube of yellow gouache. Paint specks on the floor, on the walls, on the furniture, on the grass. On the paved path, magnolia petals delivered by the winter that, when stepped on, take on the shape of the tongue of the band's legendary logo. Someone has hooked up their mobile phone to the house sound system and the blues are playing: Lightnin' Hopkins to welcome Ron.
What do you ask a Rolling Stone? What the hell, anything! When he enters with that smile he gives as if you were one of the family, you understand that one of the most influential musicians in history is ready to tell you everything. We got you out of rehearsals for the Stones' new European tour, which starts on 1 June. It's a big day: I'm turning 75. And I imagine it's a big tour. The first time you've played in Europe since Charlie Watts' death. Yes. We were lucky enough to have his blessing to start rehearsals without him, with Steve Jordan, and we did it with a very strange feeling. What was going to happen when Charlie was gone? But despite the uncertainty and the sadness we went ahead, with all the energy in the world. It's what he would have wanted, the Rolling Stones don't stop. And believe it or not, even if it's almost like magic, I can tell you that the band has an extra boost now. It's Charlie's energy... Charlie lives.
In a sense, the tour has become a tribute to him. And what else is music but a constant homage? It starts in Spain on your birthday... 46 years after your first concert in Barcelona. Do you have any memories of that day? Yes, how can I forget it! It was in a bullring, wasn't it? Yes, yes, that image still sticks in my mind: that orange dust floating. It was difficult to see the audience. When the concert was over I was left watching the people leaving through the cloud of sand... Unbelievable. Somehow, when you play in Spain strange things happen... Like the huge storm that almost ruined your concert in Madrid in 1982. You almost risked your lives playing in the middle of the hurricane. That was in... what do you call it, the Calderón! Are we going to play in the Calderón now?
Well, more like its heir. It's always very special to play in Spain. 60 years together! An anniversary tour of a band with six decades behind them is not very common. Sometimes even the Stones themselves don't believe they've been going on for 60 years. It's incredible that all this is still going on with so much energy, and that the audience is still filling the stadiums, shouting and dancing and asking for more from this bunch of almost octogenarians. The almost octogenarian Wood has been reborn. An indescribable halo of happiness surrounds him. He has twice overcome cancer. The first was lung cancer in 2017 and more recently a small cell tumour he had to fight during the pandemic. Earlier he had also been reborn at the hand of Sally Humphreys, the woman who helped him settle down, forget his addictions and become a father again. There is a new Wood on stage.
Do you feel reborn? Without a doubt. I have a new private life, new health, new inspirations. You've already seen it with your own eyes: the energy that runs through this house is profoundly renewed. And now I need that energy more than anything else - after all, we are facing the last tour! 'Last' is a polysemic word in Spanish. According to the RAE it is "that which in a succession takes the place after all the other elements". No big deal. But it's impossible to decipher (and almost scary to do so) what Ron Wood meant by "última". Last? Well, every tour is the last tour. You never know what's going to happen next. Every tour is a mystery. But there's no doubt that this one is especially so.
Where did you get the energy to face it? From everywhere. From the clouds, from the music, it's in the air. From the friends in the band, from Mick, from Keith... each one contributing their part, their impulse in rehearsals. They say you also recharge your batteries in the Mediterranean? (Ron and Sally have a spectacular flat in Barcelona where they spend a good part of the year). Yes, yes. Spain is very special to me. You have that incredible light and that weather.... I don't care if it's winter or summer, I love it. And the people, and the artistic inspiration. You have Picasso and Miró. When I go to Barcelona it seems incredible to me to be walking on the same ground they walked on. And, of course, the gypsy culture.
Wood is the son of a family of gypsies who lived for decades on barges on the Thames. They say he was the first to be born on dry land. That his father played the harmonica at night, that his brothers at first wouldn't let him pick up the guitars, that he himself goes around saying that that hard black hair is the rest of his genes, who knows if it's Spanish? Gypsy culture, Spain... What more coherent mix could there be? We are deeply connected. The Roma world, the origins of art and music in Spain? I love flamenco. I would have liked to dialogue with the guitars of people like Paco de Lucía. I have the gypsy way of life imprinted in my blood. I still have a wagon at home, I don't forget my origins. There are many things I admire about Spain. But being an artist, I'm left with the light. And with El Prado, especially with Goya. Seeing your house, listening to you talk, it's difficult to decide whether you're more of an artist or a musician. I'm fifty-fifty both. My older brothers are to blame for that. They have influenced me a lot in my life. Some were artists and graphic designers, others played instruments. And I watched them do it. If one painted, I painted; if one played, I played.... And look, here I am.
How would you define your art? It's an eclectic approach. I take different inspirations from here and there. It's like my music, a cocktail of all kinds of sources. I've evolved over time. But the funny thing is that I started studying Rembrandt and the last thing I've done is an interpretation of Rembrandt. I've let myself be impacted by expressionism, by abstraction, by the Renaissance. I've looked at Da Vinci, I've studied horse painting since Michelangelo. I love painting horses. And riding them. And have you explored digital art? NFT and all that? I'm going to try it. To be honest I don't think anyone is quite sure how far we're going to go with this trend yet, but I want to experiment with it. There will be some future project.
Do you use art to escape from music, music to escape from art, art and music to escape from something? Maybe I use both to escape from everything. They are my driving force. The truth is that I think I use music to escape from the world. Or, better, to help someone escape from the world. This world sucks sometimes, with all this stuff that's going on... I'd like to think that we started this tour to make people forget for a couple of hours about the problems that weigh us down. But, intimately, I use painting as a personal therapy. It's good for my mind. I think we haven't talked about music for a while... You are as eclectic with the guitar as you are with the brush. Yes, of course I am. And I also learn from the classics... One day, chatting with Chuck Berry (don't miss our selection of his best songs), he looked at me and said: "You know, everything we're doing, everything we're playing and will play... Mozart had already invented it". We dedicate ourselves to doing versions of what he had already imagined.
Do you play differently over time, do you approach the chords, the sounds, in a different way? Some conductors tell you that as they get older Mozart or Brahms sounds different to them. Does the same thing happen to an old rocker? Absolutely. Music changes with you, it evolves. The years pass through it too. Not always for the worse. I've released a couple of tribute albums lately. One about Chuck Berry [Mad Ladd, Live Tribute] and another about Jimmy Reed live at the Royal Albert Hall. Rock and roll and blues. And I've tried to recreate the feeling that they put on their original albums. Which is impossible, of course. The feeling is magic, and it only happens once. But I like the idea of seeing how the sound has changed over time. What we saw in those works when we were young and what we see in them today. And maybe to get new generations to experience now similar things to what we experienced. It's a way into the past, a thread that links Chuck and Jimmy with the musicians of today. Imagine if we could get a young kid to come across an original recording of Johnny B. Goode or Shame, shame, shame and say, "Holy cow, this was good!". When I was growing up, Reed's Shame, shame, shame, shame was everything to me. Somehow you have to preserve that feeling and reincarnate it. I had to do a tribute like this precisely because of what you're saying: because time also passes for music.
And it also passes for your own songs? What do you feel when you listen to Rolling Stones recordings from 30 or 40 years ago? Horrible. You play one of those takes and you say: "But how could we record something like that? Cut it, please. We're very critical of our own music. We're proud of it, of course... But it's been so long. The world is completely different now. Do you often review your old recordings? Maybe not too often. But I do dip into them from time to time. Lately I've been enjoying a rarity that's coming out soon. Something I did in the 80s, with a small band, live in a studio in New York. It was a day playing Slide on this, my fifth solo album. Now we will re-release it as Slide on live. Every now and then it's comforting to go back to the music of the past. And speaking of music and the past, the conversation enters a strange time warp. Through the window peeps an almost life-size plaster lion painted as if the twins had decorated it. There is a certain genetic vocation for shamanism in this giant musician bent on saving memories. Who knows who played that plectrum, where the photo was taken with Mick who looks at us from a corner, at which concert he wore that chupa. People come in and out of the house, like a big family from a circus or a fair or simply from a happy home. And memories of the past of one of the greatest guitarists in history come flooding back.
RW: What a night that was with Muddy Waters. We were in Chicago and we heard that Muddy was playing at Buddy Guy's legendary Checkerboard Lounge. So we showed up there. We had to almost jump over the heads of the audience to get to an empty table. They handed out bourbon and we drank and smoked. Muddy was playing Baby please don't go. Suddenly we heard his big voice: "Mik Yaaaagar!", inviting us on stage. First Mick, then Keith, then he calls me. And we stood up to play a hand's breadth away from the audience.
The tunnel of time is capricious. Ron remembers in detail the night in 1981 with his idol Waters. What does it matter if it was really a spontaneous meeting or if it was a good job by the representatives to achieve one of the most mythical scenes in recent blues and rock history. What does it matter that there was a suspiciously empty table in front of the stage, in front of Muddy, with exact space for the Stones and that the guitars sounded tuned as if they had been waiting for Wood and Richards for centuries. Whether it was a spontaneous jam session or an arranged meeting, the unique encounter between these musical monsters will remain forever etched in the memory of the fans and Mr. Ron Wood.
RW: Muddy was the godfather of the blues? I won't forget him. Nor will I forget another meeting with another giant, Bob Marley, in 1979. He invited me to play with him and the Wailers - unforgettable! The story is longer than Ronnie can remember. But that night at the Coliseum in Oakland a young Stones guitarist jumped at the chance to play with one of global music's greatest idols whom he had just met. Wood had flown in from San Francisco to bring a guitar to his friend Al Anderson, guitarist with the Wailers, who had just had his work equipment stolen. Al introduced him to Marley and invited him to play some tunes with them. Bob didn't say much (they say he spoke very little), but after a few chords Ronnie noticed the look of the grateful master: "You can play with me". Ron Wood became the only one of the Stones to have played live with the king of reggae, probably to the envy of Keith Richards, the one who has lived in Malibu, the one who loves the reggae guitar riff, the one who has covered Get up, stand up
like nobody else. And travelling back in time, Spain comes up again. RW: Believe me if I tell you that among all the concerts I've played in my life, the one at the Calderón in the middle of the storm I consider a real blessing. To come back to Madrid after so many years is incredible. I think we are linked by a thread in time and we have to take advantage of this opportunity.
What do you expect from the Madrid audience? You must have aged a bit... Yes, of course. The people who saw us 40 years ago will be as old as we are, but I hope they'll come with their kids and their grandkids and they'll be just as excited about rock and roll and blues as their old people were. And I hope that what the Stones have to offer will flow. A solid, veteran, respectful commitment to the roots of the music that will hopefully inspire new generations. Could the Rolling Stones have been born in the 21st century? You have to recognise that at the time we broke the mould, eh? I don't know if it would be so easy today with all those rules and norms and so much political correctness? I think we had it easier than the new bands have it now. We lived in a world full of musical references, of young people wanting to provoke and break the established. There was healthy competition between thousands of bands. We had live music shows on radio and TV. Now a new band has a hard time. You either get millions of followers on one platform or you don't have a place where anyone can see you.
What is family to you? It's everything. Life has given me the opportunity to raise girls again at this age. My older children have grown up, now they're running around the house again. Alice and Gracie and their mother are a blessing. I like having them around all the time. And they come with me everywhere. They're globetrotters.... Remember we are a family of gypsies! What does getting older mean to you? We're really obsessed with age, with youth. But it's just a number. I really feel like I'm 29. Do you worry about leaving a legacy? I don't really think about it that much. But, to be honest, I think I've left my mark on the world, haven't I? And after the tour, what? We'll see. I have some projects to do more music. I'm working with Faces [one of his first bands, with Rod Stewart], digging into the repertoire and rescuing recordings from the '60s and '70s that never saw the light of day. Maybe we'll do something with them, Rod and Kenny Jones - who knows, maybe we'll see Rod Stewart and Ron Wood together again! That, and paint... always paint.
What's your favourite Rolling Stones song? [He thinks about it for a while] Midnight Rambler
. What's your favourite Beatles song? [He thinks about it some more.] I Want To Hold Your Hand
. What is your favourite song of all time? [He thinks about it much, much more.] Smokestack Lightning
by Howlin' Wolf. The sun has faded, there are no more girls, no more gardeners, no more visiting friends in the house, but the blues are still playing. Ron has to get ready for rehearsals for the "last" tour. Outside, the neat taxi awaits me back to Heathrow, where I will inevitably hesitate again: what the hell do you ask a Rolling Stone?*This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Esquire magazine. Translation done by DeepL.com .