Ronnie Wood: Sex, drugs and the ultimate rock'n'roller
The Rolling Stone is still playing music, painting, and now presenting a new TV show on Sky. Simon Hardeman meets rock's great survivor
Friday 24 February 2012
Is there a more quintessential wrinkled old rocker than the 64-year-old Ronald David Wood? It would take more than the world's supply of Botox and collagen to flatten his facial topography, he has been a member of the Rolling Stones for nearly 40 years, and he is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a second time, as a member of The Faces.
And yet there's something different about the rake-thin, chain-smoking mop-head lolling amiably on the sofa in front of me ("I've just had a hole in me foot repaired!"). Unlike Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Rod Stewart et al, what's interesting about Ronnie Wood is not so much what he has done, but who he has done it with (the five above, for a start). And not just musically – there's the sex, the drugs, the rehab, the art... and now the award-winning radio show (he was Sony Radio Personality of the Year last year) that is moving onto Sky TV.
"I never played with Elvis," he volunteers, "but there aren't many others!" He played with Dylan for Live Aid. "We'd been at my house for a week before, playing, and then we get on stage and he goes, 'lets play this!' It was hilarious – we played every song we hadn't rehearsed." Then Dylan broke a string. Wood gave him his own instrument and was reduced to playing air guitar to an audience of two billion.
One of his biggest challenges came in the late Eighties when the Rolling Stones all but broke up. "Mick and Keith didn't want to talk to each other. I said to Mick: 'Ring Keith now! And then ring me back in 15 minutes.' If there's something good I won't let it end." Maybe he was so keen because it was, he tells me, always his ambition to join the Stones. "I'd always imagined that was the band I wanted to be in. Through The Birds, Jeff Beck, The Faces, Rod Stewart, they were all stepping-stones towards the Stones.
"I bumped into Charlie and Mick round the outskirts of Hyde Park when Brian Jones died, when they did the concert. They got out of their car in front of me. There were thousands of people, and there they were right in front of me. And they said, 'see yah', and I said, 'yeah, sooner than you think!' And they carried on walking." Before he joined (for 17 years as a waged member) he helped create one of their classics, "It's Only Rock '* Roll", but seems to have had the raw end of the deal.
"I had no bargaining power 'cause Mick was helping me on a song called "I Can Feel the Fire" and he said, 'I tell you what – you keep "I Can Feel the Fire" and I'll keep "It's Only Rock '* Roll"'." The deal got even worse when Keith Richards became involved. "Keith wiped all my guitars off! It's David Bowie and me on backing vocals on the original track and [Faces drummer] Kenney Jones on drums. Keith said [Wood mimics a posh accent], 'I've taken the precaution of wiping all your guitars off'! But I listened to it and said, 'ah but you did leave my 12-string on there'... 'Oh dammit!' [he said]"
Wood might have joined the Stones much earlier. "They rang up once when I was rehearsing with The Faces in Bermondsey, and Ronnie Lane picked up the phone and said, 'no, Ronnie's quite happy where he is'. Five years later I found out... I wasn't ready for it though, I'd have been a junkie or OD-ed or something."
Ah yes, the drugs. He has been in rehab time after time. How on earth is he still alive? "I had a kind of cut-off switch. People would be teasing you, 'come on, have some more', and I'd pretend to take the pill and throw it away. They would carry on and bloody end up in hospital but I always had the sense in the back of my mind, no matter how out of it I was, of the body's ceiling."
Others weren't so careful or lucky, like his friend, Who drummer Keith Moon, whose drug intake contributed to an early death. "I remember Keith with the Valium. He'd give you like a handful and I'd have like a half and he'd have the whole lot!" says Wood as he takes another puff on the electronic cigarette he sucks between real gaspers.
He blames the very public collapse of his marriage to Jo in 2008, and the tabloid spreads that accompanied his turbulent relationship with the barely 20-year-old Ekaterina Ivanova, at least in part to drugs. "I'd gone a long while without drinking and drugging, and I thought, 'I can do it!'. So I dabbled again, and it would lead to these mad, deranged arguments and in the end it exploded in the street... [The tabloids] were waiting for it to happen. ... But I suppose just because of the fact that it was there and it was undeniable I didn't get annoyed with them."
And so back to rehab for something like the seventh time. It's like a club where rock stars network. He tells me about playing with "Anthony [Kiedis] and the boys from the Red Hot Chili Peppers" while he was "rehabbing it and they were recovering too", and how he got to know Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream at recovery meetings – "it's amazing the amount that are there."
Yet one of the younger guests on his show, superstar producer Mark Ronson, he knows in a much more innocent way. "I helped raise him! Me and his dad Laurence used to stay up late round at Laurence's house and this little kid would be on the stairs. We'd be playing music and getting high and the little kid would clocking it, and it was little Mark. Years on down the road there was this huge star, good-looking guy, and it turned out to be little Mark! 'Come and sit on my lap', it used to be!"
Wood adores making art – he trained at Ealing College, where Pete Townshend and Freddie Mercury went, and has had his own South Bank Show. Recently he has been creating iPhone and iPad art. I ask to see some, and he gets excited, scanning through the galleries on his iPhone for a nude he calls "massif bum". After the distraction of a chummy text from Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics, he emails it to me.
A few minutes later, as I leave the Dorchester Hotel, I realise Ronnie Wood has sent me a naked woman. I wonder how many people can say that.
'The Ronnie Wood Show' starts tonight at 11pm on Sky Arts 1
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