Ronnie. The Book.

You wont get any deep insights from Ronnie. The autobiography of Ron Wood, the other Rolling Stones guitarist. What you will get is a stargazing jaunt through the best part of British Rock history. Youll also get plenty on the booze hes drunk, the coke hes used, and the women hes shagged.

The description he gives of his early years seems to provide an explanation for his trajectory. Growing up in working class Yiewsley. Apparently always surrounded by music, and very often this music is performed by his Dad and his booze sodden mates. Gathering at home for a party-come-singalong around the piano once The Nag s Head, the local boozer, had shut for the night. Almost every house in their street had a piano, says Ronnie, because you never could tell where a party might spontaneously erupt, but more often than not the party would be at the Woods, with his Dad and his older brothers banging away on musical instruments because Ronnies Dad was the life of the party, the street, and very often The Nags Head.

We soon enough reach the struggling musician part of the book with the endless tours up and down the UK and Ronnies early bands crammed in the back of a van with the amps guitars and drums and smelly farting musicians. Driving through the night because the manager wouldnt cough up for a hotel, and was blithely ripping them off anyway.

All the while though Ronnies making friends with all of the names of British Rock and Blues, like Long John Baldry, and John Mayall, and of course, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, Keith Moon, Jeff Beck, Jeff Lynne, and Rod Stewart. And eventually Ronnie and Rod join the remaining Small Faces after Steve Marriot crazily walked away from one of the most powerful and soulful pop-rock outfits of the sixties (viz Tin Soldier). With Ronnie and Rod, the Faces still delivered plenty of grunt, and in this clip you can still hear the Small Faces sound as Ronnies chops are laid over Ronnie Lanes thumping bass, Kenny Jones kick arse drumming, and most important of all Ian MacLagans anthemic Hammond B3 (In my view the most phenomenal of all instruments). Despite this depth Ive never been much of a Faces fan. Probably they were great live, but I never saw them, and their albums, frankly, were just too loose, bordering on sloppy to my ears.

Hes no literary genius is Ronnie. This book is written in a fairly matter of fact style, with little ebb and flow to the narrative. It just trundles along at a moderate pace dropping names right left and centre, George Harrison. Harrisons wife Patti Boyd (top root), Eric Clapton (later rooting Harrisons wife also), Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali, John McEnroe, Pat Cash and so on. The narrative, annoyingly tends to jump from place to place from gig to gig, from anecdote to anecdote, perhaps its described that way because thats how he actually experienced it. Always in and out of planes and hotels. Rootless wouldnt be the right word in Ronnies case. But you know what I mean.

The whole book really, is just an endless string of anecdotes. And sometimes these anecdotes are just left hanging in the air without any explanation. For example he writes about witnessing some magic moments with the west-country, classically wrong persona of Reg Presley from the Troggs, and calls him a strange phenomenon. But fails to illustrate in any satisfactory way Regs classically wrong persona. Its just not explained. So why mention it? Maybe Ronnie just likes writing those words. Who knows?

On the plus side though, it is packed with what is in effect, high quality Rock and Roll aristocracy gossip. There is none of that cheap Paris Hilton, Britney Spiers, Lindsay Lohan type of girlie gossip. This books got boozing, substance abusing, sexy nude babes 1970s manly type gossip. Like when they are at some record companys mansion and Bob Dylan hits on a chick with a gammy leg and disappears. Ronnie later discovers that Dylans stolen his blankets and has taken the girl off to a tent hes pitched in a nearby field for a bit of Paralympics training.

There are other insights too, like Ronnies financial situation, which youd think would be sweet, but with Ronnies profligacy and an amazing knack for making dud investments, hes managed to become broke at least three times. Luckily for Ronnie the ever bounteous Rolling Stones world tours come to the rescue every couple of years and top up the piggy bank. Nowadays Ronnies supplemented that with a sideline in moderately good oil paintings by Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, and of course by this book, which apparently sold like hot cakes this Christmas according to my local bookhandler.

I must say though, after reading this, Keith Richards, whose persona as Rock and Rolls gritty pirate-like survivor, and which these days is forever reinforced and repeated, in that gushing way by slick and well-groomed entertainment industry reporters, comes across as nothing more than an egotistical dickhead. Not that Ronnie says that, or even implies it, but with the description of Keiths dangerous habit of threatening people with revolvers or knives, and of generally being a wacked out smack freak who doesnt ever give a shit, but always demands his own way, I began to see him as a selfish dickhead. But you know, I could forgive all of that especially it being Keith and all. But something clicked when Ronnie tells of how Keith cultivates this image. You may recall those stories of Keith having blood transfusions in Switzerland so as to kick his smack habit whenever he felt like it. They werent true, but Keith, according to Ronnie encouraged the stories. I presume he felt it added to a persona he wanted to promote. But for someone whose focus has ostensibly been solely about the music, why bother cultivating any persona? Why not just play? Ive never been a huge fan of Richards (he can play blues and bang out some riffs but who cant), I did though accept at face value the persona weve all seen. The renegade bluesman. But reading Ronnie has made me start to wonder whether Keith Richards isnt just a bit of a phoney.

As a Rock and Roll autobiography, Ronnie is not as well written or as emotionally engaging as Billy Thorpes two biographies. But the fact that its all about Rock and Rolls aristocracy, and that it contains a number of mighty funny and hair raising anecdotes makes this book worth the read. Especially if, as a kid, you had a garage band, and imagined yourself poncing round in a pair of flares with a Fender Strat casually slung over your shoulder, while the cameras zoomed in and gave a grateful nation an eyeful of the salami you had stuffed down your pants. You get to live it vicariously through Ronnie.

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Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
13 years ago

According to my friend who read the book, there are plenty of mis-reported but self serving anecdotes. For instance Ronnie describes the New Yardbirds searching for a guitarist and asking him. At that stage Ron says they only had a bass a drums and needed a lead axeman. But hold on. Jimmy Page had the rights to the Yardbirds name and was founding member of the group (who became Led Zepellin). They were never looking for an axeman.

Add to this the story about Mick Jagger ringing up after Brian Jones died and someone answering the phone and saying Ron wasn’t interested…yeah. Sure.

Rex
Rex
13 years ago

But hold on. Jimmy Page had the rights to the Yardbirds name and was founding member of the group

Very good point Chris. I’d forgotten that. And he does indeed make that claim. It did occur to me also that many of the stories were self serving, but on the other hand, a quick look around Youtube produces plenty of evidence that he did at least meet many of the people he claims to have met.

The Worst of Perth
13 years ago

Yes the Hammond is the most superb instrument. Got to see Jimmy Smith, the Hammond master here some years ago. Incredible. I think he was 70+ then.
Just brought my ridiculous mid 70’s Yamaha (with bossanova beat) inside from the junk room for the young bloke to learn on.

Rex
Rex
13 years ago

Just brought my ridiculous mid 70s Yamaha (with bossanova beat) inside from the junk room for the young bloke to learn on.

Corny but fun nonetheless.

Rex
Rex
13 years ago

Er. What I meant to say was that those 70’s Yamaha’s with the bossa nova beat are corny. I remember them well. They were sometimes in motel resturants, in clubs or even funeral parlours lending a delightfully amaturish and chintzy feel to the proceedings.