Bill Wyman: The Rhythm of a Stone
RR: Your book Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey is really quite good. I also appreciate the phrase “odyssey” due to the subject matter, as well. Was that a word that you had thought about for a while when considering writing a book on the blues?
BW: Oh, yeah, that book took me four years of research. The awful thing was that when it came out in America and I got an award for it—bless the people who did it for me; they gave me an award and I gave one to B.B. King and Buddy Guy, personally, when I was over there and they both said that this is the best blues book we’ve ever seen, which was a great compliment—but when I got reviews, I was getting reviews like “Well, Bill Wyman’s popped his name on this, but I wonder if he had anything to do with it,” and I thought, “Oh, God, I spent four bloody years doing this, and I just gave it to someone to write it a little bit neater than me.” It was my ghost writer, you know. I did all the work; I just gave him all the shit to do. ( laughs) And that’s what I’ve done with all my books. It really upsets me when people think you just stapled your name to the book, and it is
really somebody else’s book. They think that someone in my position would not be bothered to make the effort to do anything, so they think people just stick your name on it, and it is going to sell. It’s very tasteful, and it doesn’t bear thinking about, really.
RR: You’ve written some very solid Stones biographies, too. It should be fairly obvious that you’ve undertaken this sort of work in the past as an author.
BW: The book I’m most proud of is Rolling with the Stones, the big book I did, which is the history of the Stones. It has about 3,000 illustrations and 95% of them are from my collection—photos and artifacts and posters and programs and all that. That sold almost half a million copies in the world, and was translated into twelve languages, including Russian, Polish, Norwegian, and all the European languages, so, for me, that was the best book I’ve written, so far. There have been lots of Stones books out—300 books, or something—but a lot of people say that’s the best book ever. Charlie Watts says it: “If you want to know anything about the Stones, read that book.”
If I do anything, it’s got to be as good as I can do it. I don’t just bash things out for the money. That doesn’t interest me. It never has—musically, or in any other projects that I do. You’ve got to do them to your best ability, and then you walk away happy and comfortable about it.
RR: I think that holds true with the timeless rhythms and riffs you played with Charlie Watts, too. That music really stands up.
BW: Yeah, otherwise it is not worth doing. If I can’t get quality into it, then I don’t want to do it. And that’s been throughout my life. I’ve had that in everything I ever do. Now, I’ve got photography and I’ve got these exhibitions going all around the world, including the huge one I’ve got coming up in London, that I mentioned. They’ve taken some of my 35 mm negatives and blown them up to six-foot wide. I’ve seen the exhibition and it’s fantastic. I feel so proud of it, but, once again, I just took photos for the fun of it all my life, and suddenly, people started to say, “These are a bit special. Can we do an exhibition?” (laughs) Which totally surprises me. I say, “Are you sure? (laughs) Do you think people really want to see these?” It’s like telling people to come and watch your home movies. (laughter) Everybody thinks it is going to be the biggest bore ever, and I think like that, too, and I say, “Do they really want to see my pictures?” And there’s been some successful exhibitions—in San Francisco, I had a huge one years ago, and I’ve had a couple of others in California and in Berlin, Tokyo, three in Holland, and they’ve all been very successful, but I’ve never done one in England before, so now I’ve got England coming up this week while I’m rehearsing for the Rhythm Kings tour and I’ve got the box set going on. It’s non-stop. (laughs) That’s the way I like it. It keeps me young. It keeps me sparking and all that. I saw it with the artist Marc Chagall when I knew him—sparkly eyes and on the ball morning, noon, and night, and he lived to 93, so I think that’s a good one to aim for.
RR: That’s a tremendous book, too— Wyman Shoots Chagall .
BW: Oh, thank you. Yeah, that’s a limited edition book. I’ve given that away to a lot of people, and they all like it. They all think it’s a bit special, so that was very nice. He was a lovely man and I wanted to honor his memory because I was friends with him for the last eight years of his life and he was fantastic.
RR: Your down-to-earth realistic attitude is very telling to me. How much has that approach helped you throughout the years so you can do the work you desire, while maintaining your sanity and focus?
BW: It probably held me back. It did. You’re not pushy; you’re not forceful, so people tend not to take too much notice of you when you talk about things, or when you want to suggest things, or when you want to talk business with people. They don’t really take you too seriously because you’re too easy going. You’re not forceful.
I don’t have a business mind. You know. I can’t…even in the Rhythm Kings, if someone starts to do things wrong, I can’t really tell them off. I have to do it in a nice way. (laughs) I don’t like upsetting them. And that can bounce back wrongly on you all the time because then people can take advantage of you—if you know what I mean.
RR: I do.
BW: If you’re nice, you get shit on, basically. It’s the people that are horrible that get away with it and do well. The nice people always get the shit. (laughs) I always say that anyway. It’s my belief. I’ve been shit on a lot in my life, but it’s still a great life and I still enjoy every minute of it.
RR: Entering into conflicts and being demonstrative all the time would get tiring.
BW: Yeah, it doesn’t interest me.