Happy Birthday, Ronnie Wood!
One of my favorite rock’n’roll characters of all time, Ron Wood has enjoyed a solid solo career as well as being a fixture in two of the best bands of all time, The Faces and The Rolling Stones. In the mid-60s he was the guitarist and principal songwriter for The Birds (not to be confused with these guys) and briefly joined The Creation in their waning days before joining The Jeff Beck Group as bassist. While with Beck (along with Rod Stewart and drummer Micky Waller) they recorded two classic albums, Truth and Beck-Ola, before he and Stewart joined the remaining members of The Small Faces after Steve Marriott’s departure.
With Stewart, he rejuvenated the band in a more arena rock direction, and their four studio albums released in the early 70s remain stone cold classics. Although they only had one hit in the United States (“Stay With Me”), their shows were booze-drenched wonders, sloppy yet inspired, brilliant yet imperfect. In other words, everything a great rock band should be. Too many great songs to pick favorites, but with four strong and prolific songwriters in the band, it looked like they would be around forever.
The Faces also acted as Rod’s supporting musicians for the albums he released as a solo act during the same time. When Stewart started hoarding much of his material for himself and his solo success eclipsed the band’s, Ronnie Lane left and one album later it was over…and there was Woody standing at the altar.
Perhaps (along with Ian McLagan’s album Bump In The Night) the best Faces album never made, Wood’s solo debut is as fresh and vital today as it was upon first release. Featuring mates from both the Stones and Faces helping out and a first-rate rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark, I Have My Own Album To Do is easily as good or better than anything the Stones or Rod Stewart has put out since.
Live Video: I Can Feel The Fire
His follow-up album Now Look was more r&b oriented thanks to a collaboration with Bobby Womack, one of Woody’s favorite artists. The pace slowed after that, but Wood has released six studio albums (plus Mahoney’s Last Stand recorded with Ronnie Lane); there are also several live and compilation albums available.
It’s odd to think that Wood has been a Rolling Stone for thirty-five years; a tenure as lead guitarist that dwarfs the combined span of Brian Jones (1962-69) and Mick Taylor (1969-1974). In Wood, Keith Richards finally found the perfect mate for his preferred style of guitar weaving; onstage they play like a two-headed, four-armed man. He also found a drinking and carousing buddy, and Wood moved right from the Faces’ pub lifestyle to a new global level of decadence. Despite their years of friendship and Wood’s proven status, he remained a salaried employee for over twenty years before finally becoming an official partner in financial affairs.
For those who loved Wood’s tone and solos with The Faces, however, the Stones years have been a disappointing experience where his songwriting is not welcomed by Mick and all musical direction comes from Keith. Why buy a hot sports car and leave it up on blocks in your garage? Likewise, despite his financial and popular success, Rod Stewart never again hit the creative heights he did when Wood was his writing partner.
Imagine if the material from Stewart’s solo career from 1971-1974 had been combined with the work The Faces produced – how huge they could have been! But rather than household names and multi-millionaires, their legacy lives on through the hundreds of bands that used them as a step-stool and a model. It is one of the biggest injustices in rock history.
Personally, I look back upon the Stewart-Wood years as pure bliss. Like Jagger-Richard, it’s a partnership that draws the best out of the two halves and a system of checks and balances that helps push the creative work to its peak. I can’t imagine Wood signing off on any of the schlock Stewart released during his latter career, and Stewart’s commercial sense probably would have sharpened Wood’s songwriting.
Watching them reunite for Stewart’s Unplugged special in 1993 briefly recaptured the magic, but in recent years not even their personal bond can overcome the demands that Rod (or his management) continue to throw up as roadblocks to a Faces reunion and tour (a tactic the band may finally have tired of).
I’m not certain what the man himself thinks of the past three decades, but I can assure you that if you want to hear Woody having fun, listen to the New Barbarians albums, where he and Keef are free of Rod and Mick.
Years of booze and smoke wore down a voice that was always rough and ragged to begin with. Perhaps this was never more clear than when Wood covered Bob Dylan’s “Seven Days” and the realization set in that Dylan sounded almost sweet by comparison. But like Dylan, you could look past the imperfection of the technique to reap the emotion and the soul of the performance. Woody always had heart and soul.
Wood is also an accomplished artist and painter whose portraits and sketches are collector’s items; many of his albums include samples of his work.
Sadly, in recent years Wood has been in and out of rehab and has suffered through some serious some family issues as a result. Here’s hoping that body and mind recover fully and we have many, many more songs and paintings and quips from one of the last true rock stars of his generation.
Ron Wood website – art and music!
Ron Wood discography and wiki page
June 1st also marks the 30th anniversary of CNN’s first broadcast as well as the birthday of Pat Boone, Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe, Morgan Freeman, Jonathan Pryce, Brian Cox and Cleavon Little; it’s also the anniversary of the deaths of David Ruffin and Sonny Boy Williamson.
And a belated R.I.P. to counterculture icon Dennis Hopper. I was traveling when I heard the news of his death (and the completion of the trifecta of Gary Coleman and Art Linkletter). I’ll pay tribute by spotlighting ten classic Hopper performances in this Friday’s TGIF.