Ronnie by Ronnie Wood

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Ronnie by Ronnie Wood

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A memoir by the hellraising guitarist and occasional artist, whose music career included working alongside Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart before joining the Rolling Stones in 1975.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2008
Publisher: Pan Books
ISBN: 978-0330445047

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As a member of the Rolling Stones for over thirty years, Ronnie Wood has become virtually synonymous with the term 'hellraising'. Despite a burning-the-candle-at-both-ends lifestyle, though, he has reached his sixtieth birthday intact. Moreover, unlike Pete Doherty and the late Sid Vicious, he will always be remembered for his music than for merely making the wrong sort of headlines.

In this memoir, he tells of a childhood listening to jazz and skiffle records which blossomed into a stint with the Birds, thus threatening a legal run-in with more successful American contemporaries the Byrds. From there it was a short step to the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, before Ronnie and Rod found the mercurial guitarist impossible to work with. His lively account of those heady days when British rock came of age paints a good picture of those frenetic times, be it a gruelling time on the road as a hard-gigging band, or enjoying the club scene around Oxford Street and Christmas parties where all the rock aristocracy would bump into each other as a matter of course, and spontaneous jamming with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon was just part of the fun.

Then in 1969 almost came the big break. Ronnie and Rod had just joined three of the Small Faces, almost broke and rudderless after Steve Marriott's departure, when Mick Jagger phoned to ask if Ronnie wanted to join the Rolling Stones. Ronnie Lane answered and said that Mr Wood was happy where he was.

Luckily he got a second chance. Is Mr Jagger the craftiest man in rock? In 1975, after Mick Taylor had left the Stones, he found the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone (excuse pun), by getting several different guitarists to play on the album then currently being recorded for free. How? The recording sessions were actually auditions for the vacant post in disguise. Our Ronnie got the job.

Considering that much of a Rolling Stones' guitarist seems to consist of partying, putting away enormous amounts of booze and getting involved with some unsavoury characters in order to get access to the more dodgy stuff, this engaging memoir holds together well as an account of the group's last thirty years together. It portrays the exhausting lifestyle well, though the reader is left with the feeling that one has to be tough to take the pace and emerge relatively unscathed at the other end. Wood and Keith Richards have done. Poor Brian Jones never came close.

I certainly learnt a good deal about the group as well as the man itself from these pages. Particularly interesting was the revelation that Ronnie was the middleman, the intermediary, to whom Mick and Keith, the brothers who always disagree, would speak when they were not speaking to each other around 1987. Had it not been for him, that might have been the end of the band.

Altogether I'd say there was hardly a dull page in the book. Perhaps a little more on his time with the Faces in the early 70s would have not come amiss, although on second thoughts there was probably little to say from that period apart from getting endlessly plastered and hanging around as a sideman to the ever-growing ego of Rod Stewart. He devotes a fair amount of space to his artistic talents, which could have provided him with a career had he not opted for music first and foremost.

There are some moving moments, like the death of family members as well as his reactions to the loss of John Lennon and pianist Ian Stewart, the original 'sixth Stone', of whom drummer Charlie Watts said at the funeral, Who's gonna tell us off now? And of course there are a few irresistibly comic stories, not least – let me tempt you here – how and why Mr and Mrs Wood managed to stop one landlady from suing them for cigarette burns at the top of the curtains.

You like the Stones or are interested in rock music generally? You'll enjoy this book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading: If you enjoyed this title, also try Tony Visconti by Tony Visconti and The Autobiography by Johnnie Walker. You might also enjoy Rod: The autobiography by Rod Stewart.

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