" BluesWax Sittin' In With Bill Wyman
By Bob Putignano
"Bob Putignano sits down with ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman who talks about life as a Stone; his band, the Rhythm Kings; and their new five-CD release." Chip Eagle for Blueswax.com
No introductions are necessary, other than the fact that one of my station managers at WFDU (Barry Sheffield) asked if he could ask Bill Wyman a couple of lead-in questions. How could I say no?
Barry Sheffield: Bill, I’ve been a fan…
Bill Wyman: Come on Barry, be brave.
BS: Okay, I just read Keith Richards’ book where Keith describes the 1970s as being a fallow and tumultuous times for Rolling Stones; you recorded Monkey Grip around those times. It’s an album that’s one of my favorites. What drove you to make this record?
BW: It surprised a lot of people. I recorded it in L.A. and played it to a lot of musicians, even David Bowie. The advantage was that I employed great musicians to play on it, so the reason I did it was because of the frustrations I had was not being able to be involved with any of the records the Stones were making. I couldn’t contribute any songs or arrangements, not even the mixing. It was very limited as to what you could do there. Mick [Jagger] and Keith pretty much dominated. For the same reasons, this is why Mick Taylor left the band. So instead of getting upset, I decided to do my own thing and recorded three albums over the next ten years, plus a movie score and went on to produce other artists records as well. This satisfied my frustrations.
BS: Interesting, your bio also indicates that you had a lot of other non-music-related projects like archeology, photography. You hit on a lot of bases.
BW: Restaurants and book writing, too. I’ve always had lots of different interests, even as a kid growing up when I joined as the fourth member of Stones right after Charlie Watts. I thought, as we all did, that if we ever had a career in music that it might last about three years, even the Beatles, the Animals, and the Who all thought similarly. So thirty years later, and even though I did some things in the seventies with photography and stuff like that, it still was very limited what I could do. I had to do these extra project in bits and pieces because of the time constraints of the Stones.
BS: Do you think that bass players in general get shorthanded?
BW: [Laughing] Most bass players are pretty quiet and are typically not pushy with high egos, which is very different than your singers and lead guitarists. That also applies to my great mate Duck Dunn, as Steve Cropper got most of the songwriting credits, even with Otis Redding. That’s the way it was with me and the Stones and I just lived with it.
BS: Thank you, Bill. I just wanted to let you know that I am honored to have spoken with you as I’ve been a Stones fan from the mid sixties. Now I will turn you over to Bob Putignano who will talk to you about the Rhythm Kings.
BW: That’s very nice of you to say Barry, thank you.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Alright Bill, you’ve got a nice, new Rhythm Kings five-CD collectors edition box set out now, how did this all come about?
BW: Well, the Rhythm Kings are very well known in Europe, but we haven’t been promoted in America. We do have American fans that follow us; in fact a few years ago three hundred Americans chartered a plane and flew over to London to one of our gigs. I thought that it was quite fantastic! But that’s rarity and few and far between. I’ve always felt that America was a market that hadn’t been broken into. So when Proper Records suggested compiling the box set I thought, “Yeah, well, let’s go for it!” What’s already been nice is the great feedback we’re getting from critics, so I’m very pleased. It really is a great band and we do great covers that are of high-quality, we’ve got great singers and musicians, too. This has been a dream for me to do, as otherwise I wouldn’t do it.
BP: You always have assembled high quality players for your records, some of my favorite players like Georgie Fame and Albert Lee.
BW: [Laughing] You are right, Bob, my musicians are highly rated.
BP: Growing up and to this day I always like to look to see which musicians contribute their craft to albums, so when you started releasing Rhythm Kings records I immediately became highly interested.
BW: Thank you. Of course, when I record a specific track that needs something special I also like to reach out to guys like Eric Clapton, and that’s how it’s been working out. Unfortunately I can’t take Clapton on the road. I’ve been fortunate to use Mark Knopfler, Chris Rea, Paul Carrack, Peter Frampton, which may or not be names you are familiar with in the USA, but they are well known in Europe. Just before he died, I also asked George Harrison to do a track. Harrison asked me why I wanted him and went on to say you have two of the best guitarists in your band already? That being Albert Lee and Martin Taylor, both are stunning. Harrison went on to say that you know I can only play one note [laughs] and I told him, “But that’s the one note I want!” So we recorded with George, bless him, and he did a very nice job on it. Since his passing we now cover “Taxman” as a tribute and thank you to him. So it’s nice to be able to do these kinds of things, you know we are very open to someone to join us on stage when we perform, but that only happens occasionally.
BP: Speaking of Harrison, he was caught up in a similar trap, like you, with the Beatles.
BW: Indeed. In fact I just Ringo saw last week to see the new Harrison movie. It was brilliant and everyone was there. In fact Ringo and I spoke about music and told me about his recent European tour and he seems to be having a ball.
BP: Ringo hires a nice band too.
BW: Yeah, but the only difference is, with his bands (and he has hired people that I use, like Peter Frampton and Gary Brooker), but he has them perform their hits, like having Dr. John performing “Right Place, Wrong Time.” But in my band we don’t do that, everyone in my band does Rhythm Kings music, which is a mixture of roots music that can go back to the twenties to the seventies; so songs by JJ Cale, Fats Waller, you name it we do it! We like to keep our own identity as band, instead of letting our bandmates perform their greatest hits. You know, Ringo once asked me to be in his band and I told him I’m already in a band… But truly, Ringo and I are close friends.
BP: Speaking of Beatles, did you go to the recent McCartney wedding?
BW: We didn’t go; I’ve kind of lost touch with Paul over the years.
"In Part Two of Bob Putignano's interview with Bill Wyman, the Stone remembers Nicky Hopkins and Billy Preston, and shares why he rarely plays in the United States." Chip Eagle for Blueswax & Blues Revue
Bob Pitignano for BluesWax: So have you settled your Stones frustrations with the side projects, and with the Rhythm Kings?
Bill Wyman: Yes, it was kind of hard being in the Stones, and I felt bottled up, as did Mick Taylor. When you cannot create in a band you are in, it’s a nightmare really. We were pretty much doing an album every eighteen months, where there’s maybe ten songs on it, so the people who mainly write the songs had a whole stack of tunes to add to the record. So there was no room for me, I had to appreciate that, besides I don’t write their kind of music anyway. But I got over it. In the eighties I got involved with Willie and the Poor Boys, which were pretty much the forerunners of the Rhythm Kings. In fact Ringo was a guest on the video we did. That project was a lot of fun to do. I only do these things because they are enjoyable; fortunately I have a lot projects going on at the same time, it just goes on. And we are just starting a Rhythm Kings thirty-eight-show tour. Plus, I have three beautiful teenaged daughters, which is a nightmare! But it’s also a delight, and I enjoy every minute of these things, but if there’s something I don’t like anymore I don’t do it.
BP: From your Rhythm Kings recordings, is your only Stones cover “Melody?”
BP: With Clapton and Georgie Fame, right?
BW: Correct. And my vocalist, Beverley Skeete, when we perform “Melody” is nice as Skeete and Georgie Fame go back and forth with “Melody,” and Georgie sings Beverley, and Beverley sings back Georgie, so they make it more personal. This tune always goes down like a storm, and you know that once we started performing “Melody” the Stones must have heard about it, and they put it back into their live performances, too. But we also do Muddy Waters‘ “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” too, the up-tempo Stones version, and occasionally I get dragged into singing “Honky Tonk Women,” which I feel that I don’t have the voice for, but it goes down well, the audience loves it, and my band plays it great. But the only Stones tune we’ve recorded is “Melody.”
BP: And is it by design that you haven’t also recorded with any original Stones musicians?
BW: [Laughing] But I have used Mick Taylor who did a little bit on a track. Mick wasn’t in very good form, he had just sold his guitars, so I had to hire stuff for him, he really wasn’t up to scratch, and it was a shame. I spent three days with him trying to get stuff out of him and help him; he was in a bad state. But since that time, he’s gotten himself together and has a band now. Sometimes when we are in Europe, especially Holland, Mick Taylor comes up on stage with us and plays two or three numbers.
BP: You also used Bobby Keys, one of the few Americans you’ve recorded with.
BW: Yeah, and Chuck Leavell, too. I do still stay in touch with those guys via email which is nice.
BP: Have you heard about the new Nicky Hopkins book?
BW: No, who is the author?
BP: Julian Dawson. The book is titled And on Piano Nicky Hopkins, the Extraordinary Life of Rock’s Greatest Session Man.
BW: Tell Julian thank you for writing the book. Nicky was a fantastic player.
BW: Nicky was a really good friend, who used to stay at my house. I liked to go visit him in California, too. We were quite close.
BP: He was truly gifted.
BW: One of the best, he could play anything. Let me tell you a brief story about Nicky. I was at Olympic Studios waiting for the rest of the Stones, so it was just me and Ian Stewart when Nicky arrived. Stewart told us that we had to hear this new album by Delaney & Bonnie, their first album. So Stewart plays it on the turntable in the control room, just the first track. Nicky walks out into the studio and played the entire song note for note, with all the breaks, etc. Ian Stewart turns around to me and says, “That’s what I don’t like about Nicky Hopkins!” Of course, he was joking, but isn’t that wonderful?
BP: The fascinating thing about Nicky was after listening to him play with all the U.K. bands, I found it remarkable that he wound up in San Francisco playing with the likes of the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver, and even Jerry Garcia’s band.
BW: In England he played with everyone. The Who, the Beatles, the Stones, everyone wanted to use his skills whenever they could because he was a stunning player, he really embellished tracks like nobody else at the time. The only other person like that was Billy Preston, who was another gem.
BP: So there were only two musicians who played with the Beatles and the Stones, Nicky Hopkins and Billy Preston.
BW: Yeah, absolutely.
BP: And, of course, Preston got the credits on the Stones album cover Black and Blue “Melody (Inspiration by Billy Preston.)”
BW: That’s right.
BP: Bill is there anything else that you would like to add?
BW: People and fans ask me when am I going to come to America with my Rhythm Kings band. I get lots of requests via email and my website [www.BillWyman.com], unfortunately I stopped flying in 1990, so I’ve had no desire to fly again. I did go to the States twice since, but those were for book signings where I was contracted to do it. I also took the band over in 2001 and did some gigs. It wasn’t a very good tour, we weren’t known over there, and it was pretty much like the first Stones tour of the States. We did okay, but it wasn’t what it should have been. Yet people ask me, are you going to come over again, I always say, “Build a bridge or a tunnel, and I will be there!” We do go to France via the Chunnel.
BP: Thank you, Bill, continue to keep busy and stay young.
BW: I’ll try. Thank you too Bob, it’s been nice chatting with you.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com