Ron Wood was in a few bands before he joined the Rolling Stones -- significant ones, too, like the Jeff Beck Group and the Faces.
But he had the Stones in his crosshairs well before it actually happened, from the time he first heard them play at England's Richmond Jazz and Blues Festival in 1963 and decided, "That's the band I want to be in!"
"I feel like each of the things I did before was a stepping stone to being in the Stones," says Wood, 68, who this year is celebrating his 40th anniversary with the group. "That was what drove me, to be in the Stones. I'm still as much of a fan as a member of the band, and I got there via the Jeff Beck Group, via the Faces, Rod Stewart...
"Then, to end up where I wanted to be is quite a great thing."
The Stones' "new boy" until bassist Darryl Jones joined in 1994 -- and a salaried employee until he was made a full band partner in 1990 -- Wood's anniversary is part of many celebrations the group has been observing since 2012's 50 & Counting Tour for its golden anniversary. This year's highlight is the 50th anniversary of the Stones' first U.s. No. 1 hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," but mostly, Wood notes, the group has been touring the past few years mostly to reaffirm both its heritage and its rock 'n' roll potency even with members well beyond conventional retirement age.
"We're playing better than ever. We really are," he gushes from the London offices of Genesis Publications, which has published his new book "How Can It Be? A Rock & Roll Diary," a lavish recreation of a journal he kept -- with both prose and sketches -- during 1965. "We're just mind-blown about it. The music is coming out better than ever. And I'm getting it easier nowadays 'cause we have an easier schedule than we used to, which is nice."
Wood's rock 'n' roll was kindled growing up in the London suburbs, with a pair of older brothers, Art and Ted, who were musicians and graphic artists. "I think it stared when my brothers brought 'Smokestack Lightning Home' and 'I'm Walking,' and when I first discovered Chuck Berry -- he really was the driving force," Wood recalls. Like many of his music peers Wood attended art school, but he left in 1964 to join his first professional band, The Birds. Wood's Birds actually sued the American Byrds when the group visited Britain during 1965, but in "How Can It Be?" he documents a "Zelig"-like existence that connected him to rock 'n' roll royalty such as Eric Clapton, the Who, Jeff Beck and many others.
He knew the Stones "from afar" and says The Birds "tried to keep up," without much success. "We lacked at hit single," he notes, which was made clear when Wood's band failed its audition with the BBC on the same day the Who passed theirs. "They had failed every time until they did 'I Can't Explain,'" Wood says. "When they had that hit record they had to be allowed on the radio. We didn't have a hit, so they could turn us down.
"In those days it was all men in white coats and this terrible, narrow-minded sort of committee where as soon as you plug the amp in or hit the drum it was like you failed immediately 'cause you were too loud for the airwaves. So we were used to not passing our BBC audition."
Wood had a prescient moment with the Stones while he was transitioning from Beck's group to the Faces during 1969 while chatting with frontman Mick Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts before the group's Hyde Park concert that summer, its first outing with then-new guitarist Mick Taylor. "They said, 'We've got to go play now. See you soon.' And I thought, 'Yeah -- sooner than you think,'" Wood says with a laugh. He did help Jagger and Keith Richards write the Stones' 1974 anthem "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I LIke It)" in 1973, while Jagger and Richards appeared on Wood's first solo effort, "I've Got My Own Album To Do" in 1975.
Taylor's departure from the Stones in December of 1974 gave Wood his entree, first playing on sessions for 1976's "Black and Blue" album and then touring, ostensibly as a guest, on the Stones' 1975 Tour of the Americas "He was a mate and he was a great player -- kind of a no-brainer," Richards says. The Faces breakup at the end of that year allowed him to become a full-fledged Stone.
Wood hasn't looked back since, and he says the 40 years with the Stones -- including 10 studio albums, 14 tours and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with both the Stones and the Faces -- feels "like no time has passed at all. I still feel like that kid in 1965." Well, maybe not JUST like that, or even just like early incarnations of Wood's adult self after years of battling alcohol and drug abuse and emerging proudly "clean and serene" the past five years and ready to rock for as long as he and the Stones are able.
"I've got a different focus now -- more focus, really," he says. "It's all ambition and always striving for better things, musically and artistically. I just hope we keep doing it, 'cause it always works when we're together."
The Rolling Stones and Walk The Moon
8 p.m. Wednesday, July 8.
Comerica Park, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Some tickets remain, priced $350 and $175.
Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
• This is the Rolling Stones’ 19th appearance in the Detroit area. The first was June 14, 1964, at Olympia Stadium and the group played six shows at the Pontiac Silverdome and one at The Palace of Auburn Hills. It also performed Sept. 9, 1994, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
• The Stones were last here Feb. 5, 2006, for the halftime of Super Bowl XL at Ford Field. The group’s last full concert was Aug. 31, 2005, at Comerica Park during the Bigger Bang Tour.
• The Super Bowl notwithstanding, Detroit’s most famous Stones date was July 6, 1978, at Masonic Auditorium, a rare theater appearance amid stadium and arena shows that year.
• Area native and Oak Park High School graduate Don Was has been working regularly with the Stones since 1994’s “Voodoo Lounge” album including on reissues of “Exile on Main Street” and “Some Girls.”
• The Stones have not released a new studio album since “A Bigger Bang” in 2005, but this year the group has released a deluxe edition of 1971’s “Sticky Fingers,” an archival “The Rolling Stones From the Vault: The Marquee — Live in 1971” on CD and video, and “Sticky Fingers Live” from the group’s May 20 show at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, via iTunes.
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