Image Credit: Jack EnglishThe past few years have been turbulent for Ronnie Wood. Since 2008, the Rolling Stones guitarist has made headlines for a rehab stint, a divorce, and an arrest for alleged assault (the case ended with an official caution). Now a clean and sober Wood is hoping to put the drama behind him. On Sept. 28, indie label Eagle Records will release I Feel Like Playing, his first solo album since 2001. The bluesy set, which Wood began recording in December 2008, features contributions from famous friends like Slash, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Bobby Womack, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Eddie Vedder, and more.
Wood, 63, called the Music Mix yesterday from the NYC hotel where he’s staying to tell us all about the new album — and what the future holds for the Rolling Stones. Read on for our lightly edited Q&A.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In the credits for this album, you give “special thanks to [Hollywood producer] Steve Bing, for starting this whole process.” How was he involved?
RONNIE WOOD: I was in Los Angeles, and he loves to hear me play. He said, “Hey, Ronnie, do you fancy taking this studio? I booked the House of Blues for you. Do you want to make some tracks?” And I said, “Wow, I wasn’t planning on it.” And he said, “Oh, I just love the way you play, man, come on, please, get out there.” I said, “Well, I’ve got a few ideas kicking around in the back of my head.” So I went up with [Stones backup singer] Bernard Fowler. Steve Bing said, “I’ve got [drummer] Jim Keltner up there, and [singer/keyboardist] Ivan Neville.” I rang up Flea, who had said, “If you make an album, I’ll be on it with you.” He was in town, and then me and Bernard went up, and we cut “Spoonful.” That was really spontaneous. It just happened in one or two takes. We took it all from there. I had these phrases in my head, like, “I don’t think so,” and I also had, “Why’d you wanna go and do a thing like this for?” I’d just left home at the time. So I started to put melody to some of these words…What we would do is sit in my hotel room and plan it in the afternoon, and go up in the studio and make ’em in the evening.
The last time you put out a solo album was 2001. Had you been itching to get back in the studio?
Well, I’ve been so busy with my art and with the Stones and everything. I thought I’d take a break, you know, and try and have a bit of downtime. But I was being followed by the press everywhere, and I had no private life. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I thought, well, to make a solo album now, unplanned, is perfect. It gives me something to do. It keeps me busy, which I love to be, and it keeps me creative. I was turning out a lot of paintings at the time, and then I turned the painting off for a bit and I got into the total music vibe.
How do you balance recording a solo album with your obligations to the Stones? Is it something you do during breaks?
Some of the songs [on the album] have been with me for many years. Some of them are just ideas. It takes downtime and time off for these ideas to emerge and see themselves in a concrete form. When I’m with the Stones, I’m doing all the Stones catalog. It’s so much stuff to remember and keep on top of. So it’s nice to keep your chops together in time off — to keep my fingers hard and keep the riffs going. It’s good fun, making a solo album, because there’s perhaps songs that wouldn’t get used for the Stones or any other kind of outfit that I’m working with. It’s just nice to be the boss.
What’s the oldest song on the album?
Back when I made my first album in 1974, the song “Forever” on I Feel Like Playing was one that wasn’t used on that album. It wasn’t quite in the right shape. So that’s been with me, like, 35 years.
What made you dig it out after all that time?
I thought it was a shame that it continued to be overlooked. I mean, I’ve made albums since, and I’ve thought, “Oh s—, I forgot about ‘Forever’!” And this time, I didn’t. [Laughs]
Are you someone who generally writes songs before you go into the studio, or do they evolve while you’re playing?
When I was in Ireland, I had that song “100%” that had been knocking around in various demo forms. I thought, “Well, I’ll beat that into shape.” “Tell Me Something” was one that I really liked the riff and the simplicity of it, and I thought, “Yeah, okay, this is another contender.” Before I knew it, the whole thing was taking shape. And I had hardly any fillers. They were all quite important songs for me to get off my chest, which is perfect, because I hate making an album, feeling under pressure of, “Ooh, what am I going to do next, how am I going to fill this gap?” I don’t like that feeling… And keeping it really simple and really spontaneous is something I love to do. Also concentrating on my vocals a bit. Bernard Fowler being such a great vocal coach, and Bobby Womack and people are saying, “Oh yeah, these songs are much more in your vocal range, Woodie. Before maybe you’ve overreached and tried to sing too high.” This album I’m really feeling comfortable with what I’m singing. Also the interplay with people like Slash. He was making an album next door when I was in L.A. He’d always come by and say, “Anything I can do, Ronnie?” I’d say, “Yeah, play on this. You know what I want!” And he does. Billy Gibbons passed through. He said, “Hey, man, I’ve been looking at you. I got a song for you.” A lot of them were very spontaneous like that.
What’s it like working with another guitarist like Slash? How do your styles mesh?
It’s great, really. It’s an unwritten kind of conversation that we have. We kind of talk to each other through the guitars, like Keith [Richards] and I do.
What did Flea bring to the mix?
He brings a lovely kind of bass freedom. A nice, fresh outlook, the way he plays. He’s a very energetic player and very soulful, very feeling.
Having Bobby Womack sing backup for you must be pretty cool.
Yeah, it was great to get Bobby out of the woodwork, because he disappeared. I hadn’t spoken to him for many years. He resurfaced just at the right time. He was so happy to see me, I was so happy to see him. He said, “Yeah, whatever you want, man, let’s go.” I don’t have to tell him what to do, you know.
How long did recording the album take all together?
Well, my time was spent drying out and getting into rehab and painting again. In this day and age, where there’s no record companies, I sat on the tracks. I didn’t know quite what to do. Then I got together with Eagle, and I thought, “Oh, this is a blessing. A record company, I’ve found one!” They were very keen.
You mentioned rehab. How have things been since the last time you did that?
The last time I did it on my own. Through the strength of the fellowship, you know, I was going to AA, and I made a decision: “Okay, I can’t carry on nibbling, saying I’m drying up and then having a drink again.” It was just boring. I’d been there and done it, and I just decided to say, “Hang on, I’m a much better person, I’m much more creative when I’m in control and focused.” So that’s the way I am today, and I’m very happy with it.
Does being in the news for reasons other than music affect your work?
Well, I’ve always thrived on getting a drive from different emotional circumstances that I’m going through. I’ve certainly been through the mill in the last few years, with leaving home and everything. But it’s all in a positive way. There were no bad vibes. [This album] was just something I had to do to strive for my own freedom. I’m not getting any younger. I thought, I’ve got to live life and be more responsible in my own way.
You do a lot of painting, including the cover art for this album. What do you get out of painting?
That’s another great outlet that I’m blessed with, that I can do as another solo project. When I get intimate with my paintings, it’s a real good spiritual thing to get off my chest. Same as playing the instruments is a great release. And being accepted into the Butler museum is a great milestone for me. I was up there in Youngstown in Ohio yesterday. It went really well.
Who are your favorite visual artists?
Through the years, since my art college days, I always loved Caravaggio and Rembrandt, through Picasso and Expressionists and Impressionists. I love Georges Braque and Goya. It’s a whole different field to express myself, taking influence from the great artists and molding it my way. You know, you can apply the same thought to music. You take a little bit of Mozart, a bit of Chuck Berry, and a bit of Bob Marley or something, and you mix it all together and it comes out your way. [Laughs]
He’s another musician where it’s kind of an unwritten rule. I have to just give him an idea of what I want, and I just play it to him once, and he’s got it. It saves a lot of time when you’ve got that understanding from another musician. He knows what I want. It’s a delight to hear. He gets it.
You, Ian, and drummer Kenney Jones played some Faces reunion shows this summer. Were you happy with how those went?
Yeah, I was, even though we only did three shows. We did the O2 in London and Goodwood festival, and we went over to Denmark and did an obscure gig there. It was great fun, and it was great fun to have [Simply Red’s] Mick Hucknall singing like [former lead singer] Rod Stewart used to sing in the ’70s. There were a lot of people who thought, “What? Mick Hucknall? That won’t work!” But I knew it would. When we played the Royal Albert Hall [in October 2009], when the Faces got presented an award by the PRS, Mick Hucknall happened to be on the bill. He said, “Can I please sing ‘Stay With Me’ with you?” Because Rod Stewart couldn’t be there that night. And we said, “Yeah, Mick! That would be great.” And the way he sang it was really great, really promising. We thought, “Wow, that’s a real tribute to the way Rod sang it.” And that’s what it was. It was a lot of respect from Mick and a lot of respect back from Rod, saying, “Well done, boys.”
You heard back from Rod about having Mick Hucknall fill in for him?
Yeah. I had an email just the other day from him. He was saying, “You did me proud. Thanks for mentioning and supporting me being a new father, and good luck with any more pursuits you have with the Faces.” And he said, “Can you come out to play, Ronnie? Let’s go and have dinner!” So when I get back to London next week I’m going to hook up with him again. And Mr. Jagger is in town, he’s around the corner at another hotel here in New York, so I’ll probably get together with him.
Are you planning on working on any new music with Mick Jagger, or is this just a social visit?
We’re just going to hang, probably go for a meal, and catch up. I haven’t seen him for a few months. I think everybody is itching to put their two penny worth in about what’s going on [with the Stones]. Mick’s been very supportive. They’ve been doing the Exile, which has had a rebirth. Mick and Keith and Charlie [Watts] have been really happy with that, and I’ve been off doing my stuff. We can’t wait to get back together again as a unit. But we don’t have any plans just yet.
There was a rumor going around that the next Stones tour was going to be a farewell tour.
They’ve said that for the last 30 years. [Laughs] So I don’t know. All I know is, Charlie’s out there playing with his jazz band. He’s over in Europe at the moment, having a great time, ’cause he loves to play. Mick’s doing various projects. Keith’s being a pirate and enjoying life with Johnny Depp. I’m going to see Keith probably next week as well. He’s over in England filming. So, yeah, it’s all exciting stuff. I saw Charlie again a couple of weeks ago. I gave him a copy of my album. He loves Jim Keltner, who’s playing a lot on it. So he said, “Anything Keltner’s involved with is all right with me.”
Are you planning to tour for your solo album?
Yeah, I’ve got a great theater show in London. It’s a small theater called the Ambassador. And the cast of STOMP are there at the moment. They’ve agreed to come and play on things like “Spoonful.” It’s going to be really percussive. It should be a really good live show. I’ve got my son Jesse on bass. I’ve got Andy Newmark from my first album, who used to play with Sly [Stone], he’s on drums. It’s going to be very interesting.
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