Bill Wyman is 72 years old today. He doesn’t look a day over 70. He left the Rolling Stones in 1992, which seems like last week but it was sixteen years ago.
Wyman was 27 years old when he joined the Stones (replacing Dick Taylor who’d go on to play guitar in the Pretty Things). He was married and had a son named Stephen. Keith and Brian immediately hated him and nicknamed him Ernie, which was also their all purpose nickname for any type of square.
More has been written about the Stones than anyone could possibly need to know. If you’re not sick of the subject some of the more readable books are Stanley Booth’s True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Phledge’s Nakering With The Stones, and Robert Greenfield’s STP (Stones Touring Party). Also worth a glance is Wyman’s own Stone Alone as well as his giant coffee table volume Rolling With The Stones (nice photos and ephemera).
In Stone Alone (which ends in ’69 with Brian Jones’ death) Wyman tallies up the number of women each Stone fucks at the end of each section. Charlie, the faithful husband ends the book with zero. There is talk of a book to be called The Keith Richards Story As Told By Me by Nick Tosches which is great even though it hasn’t been written yet. Nick never lets facts get in the way of a good story.
Wyman was a lecherous old coot even at age 27. If he couldn’t find a girl for the night he’d practically have a nervous breakdown. One might even feel sorry for him, it’s doubtful that from the moment he joined the Stones that he had sex with a woman who wouldn’t have preferred to be with Mick, Keith or Brian.
Bill Wyman’s greatest contribution to the early Stones was not only his amps but his over sized bladder. It was his inability to stop pissing that led them to be arrested for pissing against a gas station wall (they’d been denied use of the bathroom because of their appearance), giving manager Andrew Loog Oldham one of his best publicity coupes– “We can piss anywhere we want man”!
Here are some rare tracks from those early years. First is a version of Bo Diddley’s “Crackin’ Up” recorded live in the studio (circa ’63) for the BBC (they’d never record a studio version). Wyman can be heard singing back up, off key. Here’s another great early track–the soundtrack to a Rice Krispies cereal commercial (!). The Senders used to cover this one.
I like the above video footage, the b&w clip is from the 1964 NME Poll Winners concert where the Stones upstaged the Beatles, the color footage is from the Ed Sullivan Show in ’67. I’m not crazy about the song “Ruby Tuesday” (I like the UK version of Between The Buttons better which has “Please Go Home” in its place) but the line up is interesting– Keith at the piano, Brian on recorder and Bill playing a bowed cello. As Bill Cosby says, always room for cello.
Wyman soon figured out that the real money in music was in songwriting but Mick and Keith had little use for Bill’s originals, with the exception of Satanic Majesties Request which features
Bill’s tune In Another Land which he not only wrote but sang lead on. It was even issued as a single. Here’s another version without the overdubs (here). SMR also featured one of Bill’s coolest bass riffs– “2000 Light Years From Home” which they’d revive in ’89 to show off their lazer light show. Here’s a rough studio track without the overdubs (here). Speaking of Satanic Majesties I’m including my favorite track on the album “Citadel“simply because I’m always shocked at how few people know it. The Nuggets sound starts here.
By the late sixties Bill had given up attempting to contribute ideas to the Stones recordings. “They’re Mick and Keith’s songs, I’ve given up making suggestions” he was quoted. Keith would end up playing bass on many tracks including “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Stray Cat Blues”, and many others. Wyman would eventually sue Mick and Keith claiming authorship of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, it was settled out of court. In the movie Rock’n’Roll Circus they made him dress like a clown, complete with big, red rubber nose. He would eventually record two rather mediocre solo discs– Monkey Grip Glue (’72) and Stone Alone (’80) justifying Mick and Keith’s opinion that Bill’s songs weren’t very good.
Wyman would go from looking like a lecherous old man to looking like Lily Tomlin to looking like Roy Orbison’s grandmother. Luckily he knew better than to call attention to himself onstage, becoming known as “old Stone face”. In a major judgement lapse he took to playing one of those head stock-less basses, the uncoolest instrument ever seen onstage with the Stones. His hands were too small to fit around the neck of a Fender Precision bass.
In 1983 he began dating thirteen year old Mandy Smith, they married in 1989 and divorced within two years. Wyman’s son Stephen briefly dated Mandy’s mother, had they been married Stephen Wyman would have become his own father-in-law. All of the Stones were obliged to attend the wedding (Bill wasn’t invited to Mick or Keith’s weddings) and the wedding pix are hilarious and quite embarrassing.
Wyman quit the Rolling Stones in 1992 figuring he only had a few years left and didn’t want to spend them on the road. Bad move. According to Charlie Watts they didn’t start making the big money until ’93’s Steel Wheels tour. With no songwriting credits to speak of and their recording royalties filtered through Allen Klein (who owns all the masters and publishing to their pre-Sticky Fingers material, the Stones were never signed directly to Decca but to Oldham’s independent production company, Oldham sold out to Klein ’68) Wyman never got really rich.
He says these days he must tour to make ends meet, his band the Rhythm Kings and his Stones’ theme restaurant Sticky Fingers being his main sources of income. Divorces, U.K. taxes and high living have taken a huge chunk of his earnings.
Daryl Jones has been in the Stones for sixteen years and I wouldn’t know him if he sat next to me on the subway. Charlie wanted him in the band because he played with Miles Davis. He doesn’t play the parts the way they were on the record, but he does a better job of it than that coctail lounge pianist they’ve been dragging around for decades– Chuck Levall (whom they got from the Allman Brothers). When Wyman quit they should have brought back Dick Taylor, he’s still best looking of the Stones bass players.