Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ronnie - Ronnie Wood


If everyone has a favourite Beatle (even if it's Yoko Ono) does that mean that everyone also has a favourite Rolling Stone? If so, then I wonder how prominently Bill Wyman features? I don't wish to be unkind to Bill - particularly as the ravages of time have been unkind enough to him already - but what kind of person might cite him as their favourite? They'd have to be pretty perverted, I suspect.
No, basically it's going to be between Mick, Keith, Brian Jones or Charlie Watts. But then what about Ronnie Wood? Where does he fit in? Whose favourite would he be? And why?

Ronnie's a perfectly affable bloke, I should point out. He's a brilliant guitarist, a talented artist and he's a character. He's interesting. He's also strangely if not uncannily lucky, his autobiography being testament to this. The company he's kept over the years reads like an A-Z of the history of rock'n'roll and throughout his life he's more often than not been in the right place at the right time and even when he's not - as in missing a phone call from the Stones asking him if he'd like to join them following the death of Brian Jones - the opportunity seems to come around again even if it's five years later. Ronnie Wood is blessed; not discounting his talent there's no other explanation for it.

Born into a two-up two-down council house in a place called Yiewsly near Heathrow Airport, Ronnie was always destined to be either an artist or a musician - or both. His two elder brothers played in skiffle and R&B groups and when Ronnie formed his own first group he fell into the orbit of such Blues legends as Bo Didley, Memphis Slim, Long John Baldry and Muddy Waters. Encounters with Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck led to the formation of the Jeff Beck Group, which led to the Faces which led to the Stones which led to the company of the Good Lord Keith Richards. The Faces had a reputation for enjoying themselves whilst out on the road, for partying and trashing hotels, but it wasn't until joining the Stones that Ronnie discovered the true meaning of excess along with the newly fashionable art of freebasing.

Ronnie's descriptions of his childhood are all very charming and nicely written but in a book such as this what we all really want is sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. We want debauchery, we want decadence, and we want depravity. Do we not? So does Ronnie deliver? Well, kind of, to a point. He certainly doesn't shy away from anything risqué but then it would be a very slim-paged autobiography if he did. There's a few revelations and lots of tales of drug fun and games but you're also left with the feeling that a huge amount has been left out. Not that this should really be surprising, I guess, as his lawyers would obviously have gone through it before publishing. But with that in mind, it's also surprising about some of the stuff that has been let through.

So what do we get? Ronnie confirms that he was shagging Margaret Trudeau, the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister and says that they spent a lot of time in Keith's room - which, given Keith's reputation implies only one thing. There's nothing said about Britain's Princess Margaret, however, and her hanging out backstage with the Stones at Earls Court in the 70s.
We're informed that Bill Wyman wasn't just standing still on stage concentrating on the music but that he was always playing a game called 'Spot the tits', and that he'd always be ambling over to Ronnie and saying "Nice pair over there". Which begs the question as to what he saw in 14 year-old Mandy Smith?
We're informed that Tony Curtis liked his drugs and that according to Curtis, Marilyn Monroe was fucking everybody and in her early days would sleep with anyone to get a part in a movie. Christopher Reeve (aka Superman) liked to get 'out of his brain' apparently as well. There's a funny anecdote about Ronnie finding a little girl backstage at Wembley looking totally lost so he asks if she's alright and if she needs help in finding her parents? It turns out it's Kylie Minogue.

Some of the best anecdotes, however, refer to Keith Richards: Staggering down from bed one afternoon whilst staying at Ronnie's house he takes a look at a chirping pet budgerigar in a cage before opening the window and tossing the bird and the cage out. "What are you doing!?" they all scream. Keith thinks about it for a moment then mumbles "Nobody told me it was a fucking real budgerigar."
On another occasion, he's at their house again but this time Ronnie's mother-in-law is there too so Ronnie's wife says to Keith "Do me a favour, my mum's never seen cocaine before, please, please be really cool." So Keith replies "Don't worry, darling, I'll break her in gently." Come lunchtime after they've all finished eating, Keith pulls out a stash of coke and puts it on the table and announces "And now for dessert."

So yes, Ronnie Wood is an interesting bloke and Ronnie, his autobiography, is pretty amusing. He's not as interesting as Keith Richards, for sure, and perhaps not as interesting as Mick Jagger, Brian Jones or Charlie Watts. But certainly a lot more than Bill Wyman.

John Serpico

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