Bill Wyman: Satisfaction Guaranteed (Relix Revisited)
On the 50th anniversary of the first performance by the Rolling Stones, we present this interview with Bill Wyman, an extended version of the piece that ran in the April/May 2005 issue of Relix.
As the Rolling Stones’ bass player for 30 years, Bill Wyman has been there and done that, and, most likely, done it again a few more times. Having retired from the band in 1993, Wyman began focusing on family, archaeology, photography, charity work, the restaurant business (Sticky Fingers) and writing (he’s published three books with two more on the backburner). After not playing music for several years, Wyman got the itch again and formed the Rhythm Kings in the late ‘90s. The group released its first album, Just For a Thrill, this past March adding to Wyman’s already deep satisfaction.
The new album Just For the Thrill is pretty hot. I must admit that I’m always a little leery of legends coming back and making albums with other legends. But this seems really… genuine. And it sounds good.
I’ve had that band for about six years. However when you go in the studio you can be a little more adventurous and you can bring in the odd person as a guest on one or two tracks or something and we’ve done that over the years with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Chris Rea, and so on and so on, Mick Taylor, and various people have come in and done it. But basically the band stays as it is, especially for most of the songs. We tend to look for roots music as much as we can and I try to write a few songs in the same styles as the album, you know, that will fit with what we’re choosing. If things don’t fit we don’t use them and the same applies to tracks we cut. But it’s quite a fast process although we keep it at very good quality.
We’ll go in the studio for five or six days and cut 20 tracks—basic tracks—and then, I mean, the over-dubs will be mainly backing vocals, horns, and the occasional over-dub of a guitar or percussion or something like that. Most of it’s done very, very quickly. And then we’re left with about 25, 30 tracks and we choose 14, 15 for the CD. (laughing) And the ones that aren’t used we put on the shelf for another time. It’s quite nice actually because we do get high quality. I mean, I listen to a lot of cover versions of earlier songs and, generally, they’re quite rushed off and not done too well and you tend to prefer the original better. Do you know what I mean? But we try to just change it a little bit without losing the mood and the feel of the original. It’s very important to get that atmosphere of the original song, even if you change instruments a bit and change vocals, you know. I’ve had a girl sing songs from the past that have been done by guys, but you must get the essence of the song, that’s very important to us. So, we cut, like, maximum three takes. We usually get it in one or two because we just run through it a couple of times and it sounds correct and then we do it. So, and then I just use my regular people.
I know this band, when you tour in the U.S. or elsewhere, you’re doing smaller club dates.
Well we’ve only been there once [U.S.]. That was three years ago, we were offered a tour. It seemed to have been the wrong promoter, actually. We ended up doing about 18 gigs, down from Canada down to Memphis after I did a book launch. No, before I did a book launch actually. I should have done it after a book launch because it would have been more noticeable. So we went… and apart from about three shows it was very well attended. I mean, we played up to audiences up to about 7,000 outdoor, full audiences everywhere, did a couple of shows in some places where the first one sold out like the Townhall in New York and places like that, and it was very good. There were about three places where they didn’t really know us and it wasn’t very well attended. So, it went all right, but it didn’t break any boundaries or anything. And, of course, where we didn’t go, of course we were still unheard of. So, these CDs have tended to go by the board in America, although they’ve been very popular throughout Europe and the Far East, Australia, places like that.
At this point in your career, is there much difference between playing a massive stadium or playing to 3500 people?
Well that’s the beauty of this, you know? The great times with the Stones, as far as I’m concerned, and I think you could speak to any of them and they will probably say the same thing, was playing the little gigs. And that’s why they incorporate little gigs in their tour now more than ever. I mean, when I, before I left the band after 30 years, we always tried to do one or two maybe, little gigs like the Fox Theater in Atlanta or places like that. We’d also open the show in a small club to 3-400 people. And they were the fun gigs. And the more the band has gone on since I’ve left, the more they’ve incorporated little gigs into their tour. And now, when they come over to Europe a couple of years ago, they did one big major London gig and then they did a couple more London gigs but they did two or three small ones. And I think that’s very nice because it’s great to see the band in those small places.
So for me taking this band into, well we play theatres, we play large clubs but not many, we mostly play theatres and concert halls which go up to, like you said about 3000. And it’s very nice because the people are close up, you can have a rapport with them. It feels like you’re one with them. It sounds a bit corny but that’s the fact of the matter. And, they’re most enjoyable, they really are. You know, you have a sit down audience and within half the set they’re all up on their feet and they’re all coming down the front and it’s very, very nice.
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