A band has some kind of amazing longevity if you can still be “the new guy” after 30 years in the lineup. But that’s exactly the case with Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, who puts down his life story here.
Unfortunately, Wood’s recollections consist of precious little about the music and fewer anecdotes about his fellow Stones than one might reasonably expect. Instead, chapter upon chapter detail Wood’s drinking / drugging / fucking / palling-with-Keith escapades that run together and, frankly, grow tiresome after awhile.
By the time Wood locks himself in the family bathroom for two days straight to freebase with a friend, you half hope that the ghost of Brian Jones would show up and never let him emerge.
Wood first began drinking as a teen after a girlfriend was killed in a car wreck. “In the bottle, I had discovered a way not to think about it,” he writes. The vodka transfusions continued while Wood gigged with the hard-partying Faces, whose onstage set sported a full working bar and backstage wardrobe included medical scrubs where “Drs.” Wood and a pre-Great American Songbook tamed Rod Stewart would examine willing groupies. All without a proper medical license!
Wood was already a longtime friend of the Stones when, while sitting with singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Mick Taylor in 1975, the latter abruptly quit the group. Unruffled, Jagger simply turned his head and offered Wood the spot on the spot, which was accepted summarily. “The music was the easiest part of becoming a Rolling Stone,” Wood writes. “The steep learning curve was living like a Rolling Stone.” However, it doesn’t seem that Woody needed much pushing to immerse himself in the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus.
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Trivia fans will be interested to know that Wood had a fling with George Harrison/Eric Clapton muse Pattie Boyd when he and the Quiet Beatle did a little wife-swapping, and that after the Faces were banned from the Holiday Inn chain for excessive room-trashing, they would sometimes check in as “Fleetwood Mac” or “The Grateful Dead.”
There’s also a hilarious account of the bizarre incident when Wood and Keith Richards were jailed in tiny Fordyce, Arkansas, with a Hunter Thompson-esque car full of drugs and weapons and the frenzy that ensued. It’s the same incident that Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee often refers to, noting with pride that as governor he pardoned Richards many years later – though, once again, poor Woody apparently lives in Keef’s shadow and may still be on the books as a criminal…
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There are a handful of major of gaffes and gaps. It is hard to swallow Wood’s claim that he was actually the first choice for guitarist in the “New Yardbirds,” which later became Led Zeppelin, and only after he turned it down was it offered to Jimmy Page. Every other reliable source everywhere else plainly states that Page (the only Yardbird at the time) was entirely the new band’s birth father.
Also, Wood never addresses the fact that for many, many years, the notoriously tight-fisted Jagger and Richards did not see fit to make Wood an “official” Rolling Stone, and only at the behest of other band members did he get to fully share in the monetary proceeds and billing; the same still can’t be said for the decade-plus service of current Stones bassist Darryl Jones. Wood does write of his incredible debts and financial problems, but they are mostly the result of his and wife Jo’s own appetites for homes, cars and drugs.
Scattered throughout Ronnie are sketches of both literary (various charmingly English pub crawlers and snooker champs who are Wood’s mates) and artistic (his own modestly-skilled renderings) value. Unfortunately, they don’t help a memoir that, given the rich potential of its source, never really gets rolling. - Bob Ruggiero
Ronnie, by Ron Wood, 368 pp., $25.95, St. Martin’s Press