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Published: 2011/10/19
by Randy Ray

Bill Wyman: The Rhythm of a Stone

RR: Let’s talk about the Rhythm Kings.

BW: The band I’m going on tour with—which began on October 17, we’re going to do 38 cities in six and a half weeks with maybe four or five days off—it’s the same band I started gigs in 1998 with the Rhythm Kings with the exception of one person, and that’s the keyboard player, the piano player. Georgie Fame has been there, Albert Lee has been there, Terry Taylor was there, Beverley Skeete, my girl singer, was there, the two horn players [Frank Mead and Nick Payn] were there, and Graham Broad, my drummer was there. We’re the same band.

Only, over the years, when someone has been unavailable, it’s a bit like a soccer team; when people get red cards and get sent off for three games (laughs), or get injured, and you have to replace them off the bench with somebody else who can sit in. So, if Albert Lee is working with the Everly Brothers, or is on tour with his own band, and can’t make this gig, I get Andy Fairweather-Low, or someone like that. If my keyboard player, Gary Brooker can not be available, I’d find Chris Stainton from the Eric Clapton Band, or Chris Stainton would also play organ if Georgie Fame wasn’t available. Basically, the crux of the same band has flowed through all the twelve years. It’s only been added to on occasion for certain songs in the studio, and things like that.

We’ve got the same band with the exception of Gary Brooker for four years who got busy with Procol Harum again, and then I had a guy in there, Mike Sanchez who is fantastic and he was with us for about four years, and, now, I’ve got a guy called Geraint Watkins, who is Bob Dylan’s favorite English piano player, and he’s fantastic. He was in Willie & the Poor Boys with me in the 1980s, so it’s all a bit incestuous, you know. (laughs)

RR: How much did Willie & the Poor Boys, many years later, lead into your thoughts about forming the Rhythm Kings?

BW: Unbeknownst to me at the time, that was the forerunner of the Rhythm Kings. Mind you, Charlie Watts was in that with me. I had Kenney Jones in that, as well, from The Who. I had Andy Fairweather-Low, I had Geraint Watkins that I just mentioned, he was in Willie & the Poor Boys, and we even had people like Ringo [Starr] guest on the video. It was a fun band and it played roots music very well, and it was very well-received. It did very good and I did that album, principally, to raise money for Ronnie Lane of the Face’s Multiple Sclerosis charity, at the time, and who died of MS in the end. And it was the forerunner of the Rhythm Kings without me realizing it.

RR: You’ve had a wide variety of musicians play with you from time to time, too. On this tour, you’ve got Mary Wilson from the Original Supremes.

BW: Yes, she’s our guest on this tour. We always have guests, or we try to. For two years, we had Eddie Floyd all over England and, also, Europe doing “Knock on Wood,” and “634-5789,” and all those songs he wrote or co-wrote. And then, we had Gary “U.S.” Bonds; I had him come over because I heard he was still doing the business; in fact, Springsteen’s people told me about him. Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen told me that he was still happening, so I got him over and he did a tour with us and he was great doing all that sort of New Orleans stuff he was doing in the past, but he also sang wonderful Otis Redding songs, as well. I had Dennis Locorriere, the lead singer of Dr. Hook, who we became quite good friends with, and he did a great job, as well.

So, it was time to have someone else, and I thought, “Mary Wilson—why not?” because we did a charity for Prince Albert of Monaco three years ago for the Princess Grace Trust, and the prince asked me to put a band together for the night with as many guests as we could get because they raise a lot of money for the charity. I got Donovan in there, I got Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, I got a very famous French guitarist, and I got Mary Wilson. I also got a few other people like Gary Brooker, too. Mary was great on it. Then, I went to see her last year when she was touring England, and she was still doing the business great, so I thought, “Why not? This will be a change.” She was delighted to accept, and we got around seven songs in a couple of days time.

We usually rehearse two afternoons, re-learn the set, and put in about six new songs, which we can do in two afternoons as we have to do six new songs with the Rhythm Kings as we always do every tour. We are also doing seven with Mary, so it is 13 new songs and we stretched it to three afternoons. (laughter) This band can do that. When I was in the Stones, we’d rehearse for a month learning all the songs we’d been doing for 30 years. It was a bit bizarre. But this band is very, very conscientious and functional, so we can do that in three afternoons.

RR: The records are very tight and well-crafted. I was wondering how much the band is able to let loose and improvise during the live gigs. Are you the musical director containing that to a certain degree?

BW: I’m pretty much the one who says everything, which is different from when I was in the Stones, obviously. Someone had to be responsible, so I pretty much choose everything that we do with the exception of an odd one or two things that the band suggests. The arrangements are done between us all. I often help with the horn arrangements with the horn players, suggesting ideas, and, also, with backing vocals. But, apart from that, it’s just like a family unit, really. We all love each other’s performances. We all leave space for each other. No one tries to be a prima donna and take over and boss it all, so it’s just very pleasant to do, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it because I’ve got eight different projects going all the time. I’ve got books, I do archeology, I open events at all the big museums in England, I play charity sport for years, and I’ve got a restaurant [Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers in Kensington, England], I’m raising a family, and on and on—there is so much to do. I’ve got photo exhibitions, too. I’ve got a big one coming up in London in three days time. I wouldn’t do this unless it was just a lot of fun and just great to do because I’m too busy and I can’t afford to waste my time anyway.

RR: I love how you connect artistic philosophies in your work. Your phrase “land fishing” that I’ve read about—when referencing your archeology—reminded me of some of the music that you are doing with the Rhythm Kings.

BW: I often say that we are doing archeology into music now. I often use that phrase when I talk to people about it—just digging through the past and coming out with a little gem like you would in archeology, and like you would do in fishing, coming out with a little gem from 1928 by some obscure person and rebuilding it and, obviously, trying to capture the essence of the original because that’s important and that’s why you like that particular song—it’s got something about it that’s special. You have to try to capture that, as well, when you record. You don’t just bash it out like a lot of bands I’ve heard do. They do cover versions of songs and smash them out without any thought of trying to capture the essence of it. And that’s why I do things in just the maximum of three takes; that’s when you can capture that.

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