Rolling Stones new boy Ronnie Wood not only met Hendrix, he shared a flat with him. With an address book as preposterously fat and well-thumbed as Woody's it would be impossible to accommodate all of his celebrity chums (some of whom feature on his new I Feel Like Playing album). So it's apologies to Peter Cook, George Harrison, Graham Chapman, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aretha Franklin, John Hurt, Jimmy White and the countless others who, despite featuring strongly in our stroll down Ronnie’s Memory Lane, were destined for the cutting room floor. And this is only the stuff he remembers...
We shared a house in Holland Park – Pat [PP] Arnold’s house – and he gave me a basset hound called Snoopy that used to shit everywhere. Pat said: “Either the dog goes or you two go.” So Jimi said: “Why don’t I go and you keep my dog? I’ve got to move on anyway.” He was quite quiet as a flatmate: Quaaluded-up all the time. And spliffed. Very laid back. He’d just sit back and play right-handed or left-handed guitar – that ambidextrousness blew my mind. If I try to play left-handed it’s like giving a child a guitar. We used to get out the acoustics and swap blues licks, sometimes for him to warm-up before a show. He always said: “I don’t like my voice.” And I’d say: “Don’t worry, your guitar playing takes care of that.” He was a very sweet man. I remember him walking out of Ronnie Scott’s on the night he died. He had his arm around a girl and I shouted after him: “Oi, Jimi, say goodnight!” I was in tears when I found out the next day. I couldn’t believe it.
He was a lovely boy, until he took the gypsy route and moved to some remote farm in Wales with his best friend’s girl. It always used to be Ronnie and Sue Lane, always together with their dog Molly. Then one day he came round and said: “I’m leaving Sue. And I’m also leaving the group.” And I went: “What? Nice joke!” We always used to say that we were leaving during group arguments, it would dispel any bad vibes in the room and we’d all have a laugh. But he said: “No, I really am leaving the group.” That was the last I saw of him, and then his health went down. The MS got progressively worse. We did our best for him, Rod and I investigated snake venom treatment, pressure tanks, but after a while there was very little we could do.
Last time I saw Rod he was so lovely to me. He gave me and my girlfriend a wonderful evening. We had dinner with his family at his Celtic House in Hollywood. It’s very Hollywood, with effigies in the garden, columns, water-spouting fountains. It’s a really over the top mansion, just like you would imagine. Rod likes to show his wealth, with his collection of Pre-Raphaelite-type paintings. He often says to me: “Is that one alright? Did I buy the right painting?” And I go: “Rod, buy whatever you want, you know what you like.”
He’s playing out of his skull right now. He’s still like a kid in a toy shop and loves to experiment. I spoke to him the other day and said: “Jeff, will you give us some guitar lessons, show us your latest tricks?” And he said: “Yeah, I’m really dying to.” He does this bending where he can pull one way and one string goes up and the other string goes down, and it sounds like a pedal steel guitar, and he was teaching me that and I was starting to get the hang of it. Jeff is always experimenting and he’s such a pleasure to be around because he makes you excited about learning things on the guitar again.
He used to be incredibly shy when we were in the Jeff Beck Group, as was Rod. If there was another guitar player like BB King or Albert King on the bill he’d go: “No, I can’t go on,” and he’d disappear because he’d think he wasn’t good enough. Rod would be like: “I’m gonna sing behind the amps, I’m too shy,” and I’d say: “Why don’t you just come out and enjoy yourselves?” That’s how it developed with The Faces – we got rid of all the nerves. Everything was a risk, some risks came off and some didn’t and the audience picked up on that looseness and raggedness. There’s still a bit of that with The Faces. You can’t polish a turd – unless you wait for it to go hard.
He’s not happy unless he’s working with the Stones, nor is Charlie really… nor is Mick and nor am I. But it’s a matter of getting all those energies directed at the same thing at the same time. The next thing will be a group meeting, probably before Christmas, and we’ll decide whether to record, or do live, or both. See how everybody’s doing.
I know I’m tour fit now. I’ve never felt better. I know Charlie’s itching and Mick’s always fit – and I believe that Keith is in the best form he’s been in ever. When I first took Keith home he was high, and crashed out on my dad’s couch in the living room. So my dad come down at seven in the morning, opens the curtains and Keith went: [bellows] “Fuck off!” And my dad came straight back with “Nobody swears in my house!” and ordered him out. Keith had a tremendous amount of respect for my dad after that.
AXL ROSE & SLASH
Guns N’ Roses and the Stones did a few shows together on the Bridges To Babylon tour and that’s when I got to know them. They were really sweet guys, but they all knew they were too high to carry on at that rate. Axl used to call me aside at parties and he’d go out on the balcony and say: “Please help me with my relationship problems.” So I told him: “First of all you’ve got to get some fucking coherency.” It was funny giving him advice ’cos at the time I was out of it as well. Slash was always a constant. I didn’t notice any difference between when he was high and when he was straight. He’s a lot more clear these days, but he was always a gentleman whether he was using or not.
Working with Bob can be hard for most people, but not for me, because I know that he doesn’t know what’s coming next, so it’s easy to fit in with his meanderings. You have to follow him into various ox bow lakes. That’s the way he thinks – it ends up going in a straight line, but takes various deviations along the way. Often a song that he’s thinking one way will come out in a totally different way, which is evident when you see him live. You’ll be saying: “Was that Blowing In The Wind or All Along The Watchtower?”
He always used to try to get off with my ex-wife, Jo. He used to propose to her when I was asleep. I’d say: “John, I can hear you, you fat git. If you weren’t so fat and ugly you might stand a chance.” Like all comedians he was really pathetic, and he had a low tolerance to alcohol and drugs. Dan Aykroyd used to always put him in my care when he came to Hollywood. He used to drop him off at my house and say: “I know he’s safe now, I can go off and leave him.” Then he’d go off and do his stuff. The only time he didn’t do that was when he died. John booked himself into the Chateau Marmont. He dearly wanted to be a rock star.
Moony used to come up and jam with us when we were in The Birds. I always used to say to him: “Keith, you’re only supposed to take one Valium, not the whole jumbo bottle.” He used to do that with uppers and downers, take the whole lot. He gave me my first Mandrax when they first came out – when they were really powerful. He said: “Take two of these.” We were in the Speakeasy.
I had my Jaguar XK150 outside and I was with my first wife, Chrissie, and my manager, Billy Gaff. We’d already had a few whiskies, so although he gave me two I only took one. It kicked in before I got to the bottom of the stairs, so by the time I got to my car I was well gone. I ended up driving straight over Marble Arch and straight over Hyde Park without going round. I ended up in a mews with just enough room to get the car in and no one could get out. We had to get out of the roof. After that I don’t remember anything. I was sick. I don’t know how I got home, so not a great recommendation from Moony. He used to lead me astray, but my mum used to think he was a gentleman. He used to put a smoking jacket and cravat on and serve her brandy and she would say: “What a polite gentleman that Keith Moon is.”
I first met Pete, who is still a neighbour of mine, back in the old Ealing Club days when The Who first had I Can’t Explain in the charts. I was in The Birds and they were going: “We’re number one!” And we were going: “Fuck off back to Acton!” We were so jealous. The High Numbers were brilliant, and the early Who, especially at the Marquee, were incredible. They’re still great today, but there was nothing quite so electric as the original line-up.
He’s always very suspicious of me, but he takes me under his wing. He’s very pleased that I am clean and serene, but he just doubts that I can keep it up. I used to go every week to The Crawdaddy in Richmond to see Eric with The Yardbirds. The first time I was ever invited up on stage there was when Keith Relf was ill. They said: “Are there any harmonica players in the audience?” and all my friends pushed me up. So I did I’m A Man and all their raving stuff, and they said: “Get that red Indian back… Cleopatra,” because my hair was always like this. “Get him back on stage.” That was my claim to fame. I’d played with The Yardbirds. I was always the youngster in them days, the newcomer. But it’s great, I’m still the youngest one, even though I’m 63 and they’re all 66. It’s fantastic… but they’re still all kids at heart.
A very sweet, very mysterious person… and his own worst enemy – a bit like all those snooker players. One minute you see them all the time, then you can’t find them for love nor money. Ronnie’s like that at the moment. He’s got the constant fight with the alcohol and drugs – like we all seem to have – all of us, musicians, snooker players, artists, writers… Any of the creative sports. Ronnie’s checked me into recovery a few times and he’s said: “Take my room, it’s the good room. I came out and won the world championship after I was in here.” He’s been really helpful in my recovery.
Mick has been so supportive, I can’t tell you. It really surprised me because I thought he would have given up the ghost on me by now, but he’s getting stronger with his commitment of support. He’s saying: “Well done, Ronnie… I need at least one and a half guitar players I can rely on.” And now he’s got two full-blooded ones, so he’s very happy. What he wants to see is me showing the strength not to fall off the wagon and possibly messing up, because he needs me as a really concrete support, like Charlie, when he puts on his show. And he’s got it. I’m ready any time.
Ronnie Wood’s new album I Feel Like Playing _is out now on Eagle Rock. _
This feature first appeared in Classic Rock issue 151.
Read a Q&A with the Stones guitarist here.