BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Robert Putignano
In celebration of our Bill Wyman Giveaway, this week we offer you a repeat issue of one of our most popular articles of the past year. If you missed it the first time, you will really enjoy Bill Wyman’s insights and stories. If you have read it, it is worth another read. No matter what, you should enter our Giveaway for the chance to win one of two Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings’ five-CD Collector’s Edition Box Sets, both autographed by Bill Wyman. Enter now by using the form at the end of the article, the Giveaway ends June 21.
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.
To be continued…
Robert Putignano is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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