A Jeff Beck student born to be a Rolling Stone.
One is tempted to feel compassion and pity for Ron Wood, writing that he is just one more great guitarist that the rankings and encyclopedias unfairly consign to the crowd of 6-string masters. But no, Ronald David Ronnie Wood (Hillingdon, Middlesex, England, June 1st 1947) is a Rolling Stone, and that’s good enough for anyone. You are a legend in your own right.
And you don’t just join the Jagger/Richards band because you’re a great mate out on a slash -something like a Richards avatar - , Ron, or Ronnie, Wood, every biographer writes it differently, is one of History’s great guitarists, like that, in capitals. Mick Taylor was/is technically better, something that nobody, not even Clapton denies, but he didn’t fit in in that shake-up. His successor not only had blues and reservoirs of whiskey running through his veins, he had been born to be a Rolling Stone.
He was and is a master of the 6-string. Perhaps the difference was on one of those gypsy barges that as a lad he rode with his family on the Thames River. That is where he grew up, among a myriad of music and a Spanish guitar, which surely got him to the front of the line at his big brothers’ parties. Too fantastic to be the real thing, as usually happens in super star biographies. What does seem certain is that he bought his first electric at 14 for 60$ at that time.
He finally brought his ship to port in the 60s, and set foot on terra firma - just saying-, music became a way to make a living. His first flings with his first bands, at the height of the Mods, put him, at a fresh 20 years of age, in the perfect band that would turn him into a real musician. Jeff Beck signed him on as a bassist, and Rod Stewart as an inseparable mate...the best school at the best moment.
And Keith Richards prowled those parts as well. When Taylor left the band in 1974, Wood was one of the most solid candidates in the auditions to replace him. Faces was a great success that put him on the map, Rory Gallagher turned down the honor, and Peter Frampton was too cute for Mick Jagger...again, he was in the right place at the right time.
Becoming a Rolling Stone wasn’t easy however. The glimmer twins took their time, by first delaying the release of their first record until 1976, and later having him share the spot with two other aspiring players, -Harvey Mandel and Wayne Perkins-. On Black & Blue, he comes in on only half the songs, although he is credited for the ‘inspiration’ behind one of them, Hey Negrita. Some years earlier he had collaborated with an acoustic 12-string on the legendary It’s Only Rock and Roll...
Jagger and Richards hit a bull’s eye. His cutting style and sharp plucking that showed on his first signatures Duesenberg and Zemaitis would take turns with the 50s Fender - Telecaster more than Strat- they fit like a glove in the dirty rock his bosses liked.
And whole those guys were giving it some thought on whether or not to let him on board, Wood made the most out of 1974 to record his first solo record and to write several songs. I’ve Got My Own Album To Do was really another rehearsal for Jaggers and Richards, who also wrote some pieces, before giving him their blessings. George Harrison also appears with him in the credits, which doesn’t avoid making this debut perfectly expendable.
Between strings and brushes
As the title seems to imply, one gets the feeling that Wood himself was not enthused with the project. He’s a great guitar soloist, but composition isn’t his strong suit, nor is he a frontman like Rod or Mick. He just wants to play, as in his paintings, -his true passion-, hiding behind the canvas, the strings and brushes can take care of the rest.
This attitude and a ton of money are what really set aside this pack of famous guitarists. But for him, his Gibsons, Fenders, ESPs, are his work tools in the strictest sense of the word.
Ronnie’s evolution as a guitarist isn’t really typical of a soloist nowadays. He started off with Beck as a rhythm guitarist, until he was asked to take up the bass. A step down the ladder for most, except for him, who accepted the situation as part of the learning process.
Guitars, however, were still on his mind, and the 4-string Fender gave way to a 6-string Danelectro. When he left/was tossed out of the band, he immediately picked up the Gibson SG that he had seen tucked away in the case.
As is a tradition with most good guitarists, Wood changed guitars, make and model, whenever they got stolen or ‘lost’ to an irate girlfriend -more fuel for the legend-. They were, nonetheless, good times, and one fine day he decided to have a guitar made in his name, so he called Tony Zemaitis. Yet, in interviews it seems his favourite was a Strat, that was no doubt given to him by Clapton himself.
Ronnie Wood’s guitar isn’t an end, but a means to satisfy what truly matters to him: women and painting, not always in that order, and with whatever the expensive bottle of vodka in his hand allows. He has written a diary, and has his own line of clothing, and on and on...At the end of the day, Richards is even writing children’s books among the palm trees.
By the way, Wood is also, about to turn 70, the youngest in the band, and as he has shown on the last Stones album, hasn’t forgotten the blues, and neither cares whether others -I mean Clapton-, steal the spotlight, because when all's said and done, it’s he who has done most of the work. It’s enough to casually watch the vids and try to guess whose hands carry each song. It’s supposed to have been recorded ‘raw’ without overdubbing or tricks. In Ronnie’s case, the norm as he’s always tried as few effects as possible. What he likes is the bottleneck.
Blue & Lonesome has all the look of the final push despite Jagger & Richards refusal to say so.
Over all it’s almost a half century that Wood has piled a full dozen of records, either alone, or with old mates, such as Rod Stewart at the head of a long list. The New Barbarians was another shot at launching his own career in a decade, from the mid-80s to mid-90s, when he had loads of free time while Mick and Keith were at each other over who knows what.
He had the best job in the world without a doubt. And he still has. Ronnie has worked hard at it and, as I am reminded by an enthusiast and long-suffering creator of GuitarsExchange.com, my great friend Massimo D'Angelo, he has always been “professional and a gentleman”, without Ronnie, maybe the Stones wouldn’t be around after years of filling the gaps left by a Keith who couldn’t get two chords right.
With so much free time, and aware that at this level, it is theoretically impossible that they surpass their own Story -and we hope they don’t try to break it up like AC/DC did-, their choice has been to enjoy life and make millions for detox rehab clinics besides the girlfriends. Officially, as of today, Ronnie’s ‘clean’, but with him, it’s merely circumstantial, and could stop being clean at any moment.
We hope that doesn’t happen because his guitar has become a luxury item. In 2017 Ronnie Wood looks happily retired -multi-millionaire- and nowadays only plays when he feels like it, whatever he likes, because he enjoys it...and because it’s what Chuck Berry taught him: It’s Only Rock n Roll.