Born June 1, 1947 in Hillingdon, England, Ronald David Wood was a visual artist before even picking up a guitar. Prior to establishing his musical career, he received accolades as a small child for his artistic aptitude, winning a competition on the BBC program Sketch Club and later attending the Ealing College of Art in London. In the mid-’60s, he joined seminal British garage groups the Birds and the Creation before finally landing as the bassist in the Jeff Beck Group in 1967.
When the Jeff Beck Group broke up two years later, Wood and lead singer Rod Stewart joined former Small Faces members Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan to form the Faces, and Wood returned to his instrument of choice, the guitar, and a sound which trademarked their blues/rock swagger.
Faces disbanded in December, 1975, and in 1976, after earlier collaborations with the Rolling Stones—much of “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” was recorded at Wood’s home, with Wood on 12-string guitar and Kenney Jones, rather than Charlie Watts, on drums—Wood was declared an official member (he was made a full financial partner in the Stones’ organization in 1990). Throughout the years, Wood has maintained a substantial solo career, including launching his own record label, Wooden Records, in 2005.
Wood has also authored or co-authored three books, including his 2007 autobiography Ronnie. Last year, he, along with former Faces Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan released Faces: 1969-75, a limited edition collection of stories, rare photos and memorabilia. He regularly exhibits his paintings, and has had fabric designed from his prints. Wood and sons Jamie and Tyrone own the art gallery Scream in London. Since 2010, he has presented “The Ronnie Wood Show” on Absolute Radio, for which he won the Sony Radio Personality of the Year Award in 2011. He’s a busy guy.
Born in East London in 1948, by the time he was 12 years old, Kenney Jones had turned his parents’ front room into his personal rehearsal space, crashing away at the drums. By 17, Jones had joined the Small Faces, quickly releasing their first single, “What’cha Gonna Do About It,” on Decca/London Records.
The Small Faces were fixtures in swinging London and a prominent part of the Mod scene, regularly appearing on British TV shows such as Ready Steady Go! and Top of the Pops, which, backed by considerable fan and critical acclaim, catapulted their first album up the charts.
In 1968, Jones and the Small Faces released Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, a hugely influential psyche-tinged affair, still considered one of the best British releases of all time. Although a massive critical hit, the experimental proponents of the record made live performances particularly difficult and the band only performed it live all the way through once.
After Steve Marriott notoriously quit the band by storming off stage in 1968, Kenney Jones was instrumental in recruiting both Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood into Faces. Faces burst onto the music scene in 1969, regularly selling out stadiums around the world from ’70 to ’75 and widely recognized as a rock ‘n’ roll band that reveled in their raucous reputation.
By the end of Faces, Jones was considered one of the world’s premier drummers and was the Who’s choice to replace Keith Moon. Despite a bristly relationship with Roger Daltrey, Jones remained with the Who until the mid-’80s.
Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year; for a man that has spent nearly 50 years consistently working in the music industry, this came as no surprise. Although he also has worked with artists as varied as the Who, Paul Rodgers, the Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry, it is his stellar work with the Small Faces and Faces that is deservedly celebrated.
Elmore had the pleasure of speaking with the men together in a relaxed atmosphere, where the back-and-forth of old friends and bandmates joking and catching up was infectious. Wood fell back in his chair, laughing, throughout the interview. The down-to-earth Jones talked about their Faces: 1969-75 book and the Rock Hall induction with a refreshing enthusiasm and honesty. Listen in:
ON THE SMALL FACES AND FACES
Kenney Jones: It’s quite an emotional experience going through the book and its format in black and white when it was presented to us. It brought a tear to my eye, and the same with Woody.
Ronnie Wood: When Rod saw it, he only got a third of the way through it and he was going, “I can’t believe this!”We had to close the book, otherwise he was totally lost in it.
KJ: The induction is quite exciting, especially the Small Faces and the Faces being enrolled at the same time, it’s just great. I’m quite honored that both bands are doing it together, yet we’re being seen as separate and it’s a kind of a lovely feeling that we’re both looking after each other in a sense. A marriage value, there you go. Small Faces never went to America. We all know why. (To Ron Wood) Do you know?
RW: Steve Marriott passed.
KJ: No, it was Mac (Ian McLagan). The reason we didn’t go to the States was because Mac had a drug bust.
RW: Hash, good ol’ hash. (Laughs.)
KJ: But anyway, the Faces did, and because we came into it, everybody was so inquisitive and wanted to know more about us and where we came from. The Faces actually made Small Faces famous.
RW: Rod and me were big fans of the Small Faces until Steve Marriott left, and then we said, “What’s going on! We gotta keep the spirit going.” So I joined and we were playing a lot of instruments and Ronnie (Lane) was singing a little bit, I was singing a bit, but we wanted a vocalist and Rod was hiding upstairs listening. Kenny asked him eventually, “Come down, come down, join in,” cause he’s always shy, Rod. Very shy.
RW: Unlike his image. Between all of us we kept the spirit going of Steve Marriott, and eventually the spirit of Ronnie Lane when he died. Even though he was replaced by Tetsu (Yamauchi), it was never quite the same.
KJ: Nooo. Rod sums it up quite well. He said when Ronnie Lane left the band, the spirit of the band wasn’t quite the same, and I tend to agree with him a little bit there because Ronnie (Lane) was quite prominent and you missed him, he just had that wonderful voice.
RW: Yeah, wonderful driving voice.
KJ: He was the first one to fall over.
ON DRUMMERS AND GUITARISTS
KJ: I’ve got lots of favorite drummers. Charlie Watts! There you go. I only know the old ones…Ringo Starr and all that lot. The Meters’ drummer is wonderful, I’m forgetting his name… (To Wood) You’ve got his name.
RW: Zigaboo Modeliste—Ziggy. They have a wonderful language between the drummers, you know, him and Jim Keltner and Charlie Watts, Ringo. There’s a kind of understanding.
KJ: My favorite is Al Jackson. He knows what a drummer should do, knows his place basically. He stays in the pocket, stays in the groove. Absolutely wonderful—plays just slightly behind the beat. Just perfect, ya know?
RW: My favorite guitarists…you know Slash is great, a sparring partner of mine. I’m looking forward to seeing him and Flea, one of my favorite bass players. I played bass in the Beck Group as well so I have a wonderful understanding of him and Slash. There’s Jeff Beck—we’re still great friends and when it comes to guitar players you know, you still have the lovely exchange. Buddy Guy is a favorite. It’s all American influences really, with us. We came over and sold their music back to them really, in our own way as a tribute. ON GREAT MUSIC
Elmore: The British Invasion saved American rock music….we were falling into pop.
RW: Yes. Thank God for Muddy Waters and thank God for all the Motown and, you know, the soul and everything great and fabulous. And Elmore! (Points to the magazine.) Thank God for Elmore James. YES! It’s where I come from.
You guys have played with pretty much everybody on the planet.
KJ: It’s nice, right?
What are you listening to right now?
RW: I go to my radio shows because I’ve done years, maybe a hundred hours and now it’s televised by this guy in England. I just saw Bruno Mars with his new band. They were great, real soulful, you know the spirit of James Brown was running out. I loved it.
KJ: I tend to listen to most things, what my kids actually put in front of me because I can’t get away from it. It’s fantastic. There’s some good stuff there. Usually I like most music. Even if I don’t like something, I find something within that piece of music that I like because I don’t want to hate music. Funny enough, there’s a little band that was formed in my daughter’s school and they’re really good. They play Zeppelin better than—well not better than Zeppelin, but really impressive I must say. So hopefully they make it. They’re about 15, 16.
RW: The proper age.
What was the first record you ever bought?
RW: Count Basie and Joe Williams. I had an EP by Howlin’ Wolf, “Smokestack Lighting” and another one, “Little Brown Bird” from Muddy Waters.
KJ: Jimmy McGriff. When I learned to play drums, there was only three 78s in the house and I learned how to play to the “Twelfth Street Rag,” which was perfect to learn to play drums to. And the theme tune to Rawhide. (Wood sings “…Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, Rawhiiiiiiiiiiiide”) (Laughs.)
After a week of that I went, Fuck this! and went in to the record shop, and there was Lonnie Donegan and skiffle.
Where do you buy your music?
RW: I just download through the archives.
KJ: Same here.
What was the first instrument you played?
RW: Drums for me. Both of my brothers were musicians, Art and Ted, eight and ten years older than me. They were artists as well, so if they would draw, I would draw—that’s how come I have exhibitions now. And if they played music, I would play. Ted had a drum kit and it was always under the stairs, so when my parents when to work, I would take the kit out and make a terrible racket. All of the neighbors would complain and the parents would come home, “What was that noise this afternoon?” and I’d say, “I don’t know.” (Laughs.) But they knew it was me playing the drums, but I just loved the rhythm. I still do.
KJ: We used to have an old upright piano and I was an only child so I used to hide underneath and plunk all the notes. But I also fell in love with the banjo when I saw it on TV. I went to the shop to buy a banjo ’cause I seen one in the window of a pawn shop and when I got in, it was gone. I was really upset about it and I told a mate of mine, and he said, “You’re really upset? Well, a friend of mine has got a drum kit so I’ll get him to bring it over.” He brought this tom-tom over and a bass drum and two sticks, but one of ’em was broken. He kept trying to glue it together but it never happened, so I learned to play on one-and-a-half sticks.
(To Wood) I went out and bought a banjo and it’s fantastic. I want to show it to you when you come around next, it’s all mother of pearl, but I bought the wrong one. I bought a lead one instead of one you just strum.
(To Elmore) I haven’t really learned to play it yet, I am saving that for the rocking chair. When I am about 90, I will pick it up.
What brought you to the instrument you now play?
RW: We had a local guy who played with my brother’s skiffle group called Lawrence Sheaf and he lived around the corner. And he could play exactly like Big Bill and Josh White and Lead Belly and I used to think, I want to play like that. And he would teach me when I was about seven. That was me when we were growing up. I copied Big Bill Broonzy and that was my medium. Lots of people were making their own bass guitars, Ronnie Lane, Bill Wyman. I made my first guitar. You know, it would be nice when it worked. They all kind of worked and they would teach us bass on one string tied to a stick, almost.
What musician influenced you most?
RW: Big Bill Broonzy is still with me, still rings in my heart and Elmoore Jaaames! Wes Montgomery too.
KJ: For me, it goes right back to Booker T. & the MG’s and it stays. Each one of them influenced me—Steve Cropper. Buddy Rich, too; I love jazz.
RW: I just had Steve Cropper on my show, follow the dots.
What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
RW: The first time I went on stage. I was playing a washboard with my brothers’ band in a local cinema in between two Tommy Still films, I think I was nine. I got stage fright, the butterflies, and I played washboard, brought the house down, and thought, This is the job for me! This looks like a good job.
KJ: Oh God, I kind of never looked at it like I wanted any reward from it except my own pleasure; it gave me a lot of pleasure and that was that. Then everything after happened so quickly. I met Ronnie Lane and we formed a band and there it was.
RW: And you were suddenly Number One. Boom!
KJ: I was 15 when we had a Number One. It kind of carried me along and I still question it to this day like, What am I doing here, where have I been, where am I going?
RW: He’s still in shock!
KJ: In those days, most people didn’t ask for anything. We were the same in those days. Then suddenly fame comes along and you go, Oh okay, I’ll have to go with it. And you make a bit of money— in our case, we didn’t make any. Don Arden [notorious manager and father of Sharon Osbourne] was our manager and he sort of took all of the money basically.
RW: The old story.
Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
RW: We’d both have Al Jackson on drums. And that’s about as far as we’ve got (Laughs).
KJ: On keyboards, Ray Charles.
RW: That’s a pretty good one. The keyboard player with Muddy, Otis Spann. James Jamerson on bass.
KJ: I’d love to sling John Entwistle in there on bass, funny enough, just to see what happens. I mean, John was just a fantastic bass player. Or Woody, actually. Woody used to play bass and I’m a big fan of his bass playing so take him out…(Both laugh.)
RW: On vocals, Ray Charles.
KJ: Ray Charles, he’d be great. It has to be someone relaxed…Otis Redding! There you go!
RW: Buddy Guy on guitar.
KJ: Let me think about it. Steve Cropper.
What’s your desert island CD?
RW: “Shame, Shame, Shame!” Jimmy Reed.
KJ: Anything by Nat King Cole, I just love his voice. It just calms me. It’s lovely, it’s wonderful.