June 16, 2015

Bill Wyman: The Rolling Stones Never Forgave Me For Leaving - Updated


It’s the week of release for the deluxe edition of Sticky Fingers, the album that in 1971 transformed the Rolling Stones from rock’n’roll outlaws into world-conquering stadium rockers. In his diner-style restaurant of the same name in Kensington, west London, Bill Wyman — bassist for the Stones from 1962 to 1993, part-time archeologist and photographer, author, metal detector enthusiast, leader of R&B band the Rhythm Kings and recently reinvigorated solo artist with a new album Back to Basics — is recalling his short-lived, ill-fated reunion with the Stones for two concerts at the O2 arena in London in 2012. 
“I jammed with Charlie [Watts], Keith [Richards] and Ronnie [Wood] in a studio in Battersea nine months before the gig. Mick came on the third day,” says Wyman, in a characteristically flat tone, as he sits in one of the booths in Sticky Fingers beneath a wall decorated with Stones tour posters and concert photographs. “And they were getting over-friendly, Keith in particular. I invited Keith and Patti [Hansen, Keith Richards’ wife] to the house for dinner and he was all over me. He gave me a scarf with all these skeleton things on it and he kept hugging me, saying, ‘Man, it’s great to be back.’ And the talk was that I’d be heavily involved when they did their next thing.”

Wyman — who no longer has the cadaverous, crow-like air of a Rolling Stone but who now looks like your average 78-year-old millionaire, albeit one with hair — documents the frustrations that followed. They began when he was told he could only play two songs at the O2.

“And they wouldn’t tell me which two,” he says, managing to sound both indignant and unemotional at the same time. “It really disappointed me. I said, ‘Why don’t you let me do the last five, and then your guy [Darryl Jones, who replaced Wyman as the Stones’ bassist] can do the encore?’ No, no, no. So the day before the rehearsal I’m going through 50 Stones songs, thinking they’ll want me to do my signature ones like Miss You and Jumping Jack Flash. Then they tell me I’m doing Honky Tonk Women and It’s Only Rock’n’Roll.”

The torments didn’t stop there. “Two days later I went to the O2 for the soundcheck. I had to use his [Jones’s] amplifier and he plays completely differently from me. He plays with his fingers, hard, I play with my thumb, lightly. I didn’t have time to check out his amp settings. Then Mick says, ‘We’ve got to rehearse with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and this girl [Florence Welch] and there’s no time for a soundcheck — for you.’ In the end I just went on stage, plugged in and hoped for the best.”

What was the reason for such treatment at the hands of his former brothers in arms? “Maybe they were punishing me for leaving the band,” offers Wyman, to cries of protest from his personal assistant, who’s sitting at a table nearby. “They never wanted me to leave. When I came off stage and went to join my wife and daughters in the pit, the bass player started doing Miss You! He’s playing all my parts — and not as well as I thought he should. He’s playing the octaves as single notes. And then Mick starts saying what a great bass player he is, right in front of me. ‘Look at Darryl, isn’t he fantastic?’ goes Mick.”

Wyman shakes his head. “They never forgave me for leaving.”

He left the Rolling Stones in the first place after feeling that his contributions were going unheard. And Back to Basics is something of a late-career high. Conversational songs sung in a cockney baritone like What & How & If & When & Why and Stuff (Can’t Get Enough) recall the dry wit of Ian Dury, alongside that of Wyman’s own self-deprecating hit of 1981, Je Suis un Rock Star. He’s got a way with a down-to-earth tune, even if his sole contribution to one of the Stones’ original albums, the whimsical In Another Land from 1967’s psychedelic disaster Their Satanic Majesties Request, does not rank among their classics.

“It was a closed shop and there was no way in,” says Wyman on the Jagger-Richards stranglehold, established in the mid-1960s when the band’s then-manager Andrew Loog Oldham recognised the pair as the creative force within the group. “That was [Sticky Fingers-era guitarist] Mick Taylor’s frustration. He couldn’t get into the songwriting and any contribution he made wasn’t given credit, same as me. He left. I swallowed my pride and carried on.”

In his book Stone Alone, Wyman writes how he and Brian Jones came up with the iconic riff for Jumping Jack Flash, not something they received credit for. “I wasn’t given the opportunity to do my apprenticeship in the way Mick and Keith were,” he says, with stone-faced composure. “They wrote dozens of really poor songs until they started writing good ones. We’d be in Chicago or somewhere and they’d ask if I had anything. I’d run through a tune, they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll come back to you on that,’ and then go and work on one of their songs for a week until it had gone from a country ballad, as Satisfaction was, into something really commercial. It was frustrating.”

Wyman was always an odd fit. Older than the others, he rarely hung out with them and he was never interested in drink and drugs. He did, however, enjoy phenomenal success with women. He didn’t have the dangerous sensuality of Mick Jagger, nor the ragged charms of Keith Richards, yet Wyman, unhappily married to his first wife Diane from 1959 to 1969, slept with hundreds of female fans throughout his time with the band. What was his secret?

He tackles the question with sober consideration, as if being asked about the inner workings of the Bill Wyman Signature Metal Detector. “When I first went to work in 1960, as a clerk at a diesel engineer’s in Streatham Hill, a friend of mine took me back home and showed me how to develop film,” he explains. “He also said, when I told him I wasn’t getting on well with my wife: ‘I’ll tell you one lesson to take with you through life. With women, no matter who they are, no matter what they do, always treat them like a lady and you won’t go wrong.’ Since then I’ve been respectful to every girl I met. I was never rude. I never kicked them out like I heard other people did. I was always nice to them, even when they weren’t quite what I thought they might be.”

Despite such niceness, Back to Basics does feature a song called Seventeen, about a model who tries to break into acting and finds herself being described by Wyman as “a has-been” at the tender age of the title.

“That’s a rewrite of a song I did in 1980. We had a birthday party at the restaurant and this American model came along, I was introduced to her — I won’t mention names — and she wasn’t as attractive as I thought she was on screen. Seventeen is a bit cruel. It’s about moving on from being a model — I had loads of model girlfriends — to being in movies and how sometimes it’s not successful. Kelly LeBrock was one of my girlfriends and for her it was great, but most of them fail. My wife Suzanne [Accosta] was a model and she always talks about how badly they were treated by photographers. They’d go and do a shoot and be treated like a piece of shit, basically.”

Having a song on the album called Seventeen seems to be asking for trouble, considering Wyman found himself in something of a scandal when in 1989, aged 52, he married 18-year-old Mandy Smith. They were rumoured to have been together four years previously. Wyman appears to read my thoughts. “At least I called the song Seventeen,” he says, before Smith’s name has a chance to be mentioned.

The womanising days ended many years ago. Married to Accosta since 1993, living with her and their three teenage daughters in their houses in Chelsea and Suffolk, Wyman has matured into a faithful family man with age-appropriate interests, including metal detecting and archeology. Does he have any regrets about leaving the Stones?

“I’ve never regretted it,” he says, bringing an hour’s conversation to an end. “The past 20 years have been the most prolific of my life. I found two Roman sites they never knew existed. I’ve found Iron Age coins. I’ve opened events for the British Museum. I’ve opened the Castle Museum in Norwich, one in bloody Newcastle. Done photographic exhibitions around the world. Now it seems like this album might do quite well.”

Then, as if to make peace with three decades of frustration at the hands of the Rolling Stones, he concludes: “Makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?”
By Will Hodgkinson

With many thanks to The Australian

Below: Bill Wyman releases new album. Now available.

Bill Wyman - What & How & If & When & Why


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