on December 20, 2011
While rock autobiographies have become the flavour of the day recently (Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Keith Richards, Ace Frehley and Duff McKagan have all written theirs recently, with Neil Young reportedly ready to pen his own), this is probably the granddaddy of them all - it was published in 1991 and precedes most of them (Bob Dylan published his in 2004), plus it is absolutely exhaustive! Wyman is the perfect autobiographer, being notoriously sober as an individual (as opposed to any of the above) with his memory presumably fairly intact; he's also a meticulous journal keeper and an archivist of press clippings, meaning that he is his own encyclopedic source of dates and data. Stone Alone rocks!
It's tough to review Bill Wyman and his book - first of all, Stone Alone is huge, 539 pages of text and several appendices. It is also only goes from his birth in 1936 (seven years before Mick Jagger and Keith Richards!) to 1969, ignoring the years between then and 1991, when the book was published. The book's opening chapter of 32 pages deals with his life at the time of writing and his romance and engagement to Mandy Smith, who was 13 when he met her and 18 when they married (the marriage didn't last more than two years and was ending as the book came out in 1991, even though he doesn't hint at it much more than Mandie's health problems, although the divorce wasn't complete until 1993), but then quickly dives into his youth and leads up to his involvement in the Stones.
But Wyman doesn't only write about himself, he also chronicles the background of each member of the band and their entourage, often also going into details of events he was not present for, such as some of the court hearings, or trips to Morocco, or tales from Brian Jones' sex life before he ever met Wyman. Many of the pages of the book recount gripes of expenses, with Bill noting the balance of his savings account, highlighting monies that were paid out to other Stones and not him, or how he lost out on the songwriting royalties to "Jumping Jack Flash", a song he claims he came up with the key riff for. Yes, lots of financial grousing, but also a fascinating trip through the dynamics of the Rolling Stones, the excitement of nearly being crushed to death by screaming teenage fans night after night on their grueling tours of 1963 to 1966. He also makes it his personal mission to vindicate Brian Jones as much as he can (and, being a balanced reporter, he also writes of the evil side of Jones' nature). The book ends with Jones' death on July 3rd 1969 (when I was only two months old). Wyman seems to have been close to Jones, probably closer than the other Stones (except maybe for drummer Charlie Watts, who attended Jones' funeral along with Wyman), and the two were fellow womanizers, competing with each number to see who had the greatest tally of bed partners. They were also among those excluded from the songwriting partnership of Jagger and Richards, and on the financial short end of the stick after being marginalised in terms of the band's leadership and direction, a bitterness that Wyman betrays indirectly in the pages of the book. Wyman is also very proud of the many awards that the band won: "When Mick came sixth in the best vocalist section of the popularity polls, Brian fourth in the best guitarist section and Charlie eighth in the drummer category, I won the poll as the best bass player." The book goes all the way up to the death of Brian Jones on July 3rd 1969 and ends with a description of the Hyde Park free concert for Brian Jones, one of the first free concerts ever.
The thing that hit me the most in the book, anecdotes of which are repeated over and over again throughout the book, is of the extreme hostility that the group met over their appearance - their "long" hair was considered a catastrophe by so many, it produced waves of hysteria and people didn't know how to deal with it (except the thousands of girls who went insane for them at their shows). Amazing that there was such low tolerance for such a minor break in decorum in those days (well, it's not really that hard to imagine - my dad maintains a squareness about hair to this day, his skin crawls whenever his hair grows long enough to touch the skin on his neck - of if he sees another guy with hair long enough to touch the skin at the back of his neck). They must have been really brainwashed to be so threatened by hair touching the collar, or covering the ears. The band was regularly banned from hotels and restaurants and some concert venues. Wow! In Australia, a policeman said "You know, ten or fifteen years ago we'd have lumbered those blokes on a vagrancy charge for impersonating females." Another said "I am unable to believe that five young men would make themselves look this way for real... it is all, I believe, a gigantic hoax on us, their elders."
Wyman's tome if full of interesting points. There's a bit about drugs and the Exile on Main St sessions. He describes being the first Stone to release a solo album, Monkey Grip, in 1974, and Stone Alone in 1976, which had 40 guest musicians on it, including Dr John, Van Morisson, Joe Walsh, Sly Stone and the Pointer Sisters (?!?). But the Rolling Stones office couldn't promote either, and in one case the answer Wyman got when he requested help was that the office was busy helping Keith find a nanny (?!?). Wyman's eccentricities are well known, and here he describes one - his youthful sexual attraction to his widowed aunt! The book covers the many encounters the Stones had with the Beatles, all of them friendly (except for that time that Paul McCartney was trying to make moves on Astrid Lundström in the early days of Bill's relationship with her), such as the time on the 15th of September 1963 when the Stones had "the unenviable task of opening a big concert that featured the Beatles at the top of the bill". "The Beatles watched us and they were, as they told us years later, very nervous about the reception we got." The gig was in aid of the Printers' Pension Corporation, ironic considering the unkind things that were said about the Stones in the press, and they were paid £35. Jimi Hendrix praised the single "We Love You", which had John Lennon and Paul McCartney singing backups on it, by saying "Production-wise, `We Love You' is very complex. More so than their other hits, I feel. This record only really moves me towards the end. I wouldn't say it was Beatles-influenced at all." More stories of Beatles-Stones collaborations: they were going to invest in a studio together, they were both into transcendental meditation, the Beatles were not smoking as the Stones had been for a while, and Mick lived just around the corner from Paul. There are some funny, ironic episodes: "At the Cardiff show [in 1965] some local Bo Diddley fans came backstage and we all chatted to them. One of the guys offered us some grass. The whole band freaked out and had them ejected." Ha ha ha!!! At that point, Charlie was the only one who had ever tried grass; this was soon to change.
There's lots of talk about fitting curtains for the new flat, making repairs, ironic and unglamorous stuff. The 1963 Christmas wish: "Best wishes to all the starving hairdressers and their families." Notes that the first Mick and Keith songs "It Should Be You" and "Will You Be My Lover Tonight" were recorded by George Bean. "The president of the National Federation of Hairdressers, Mr Wallace Snowcraft, announced that `A free haircut awaits the next artist or group to be the top of the pops. The Rolling Stones are the worst. One of them looks as if he's got a feather duster on his head.'" One particularly harrowing story has Brian Jones, separated from the Stones as they exit a show post haste to get away from the screaming fans, running down the road, fans tearing off his jacket, waistcoat (vest), and half of his shirt. Our classic rockers were all young men in those times, and one day Bill and Ian Stewart jammed with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page at one club (!!!). One time in America they met Muddy Waters, who helped them move their amps (!!!), another time they met a snooty Chuck Berry, who perked up when he heard that they were recording one of his songs (and that he'd get royalties for it). "Swing on, gentlemen! You are sounding most well, if I say so. Wow, you guys are really getting it on!" Wyman recounts some of the postcards Brian wrote to his girlfriends or parents (how did he know what was said on them? Did Jones ask him to post them for him, and he recorded what was written on them for posterity?). Bill may have coined the word "groupie", but on the Australia tour their code word for available girl was "laundry." "Did you arrange the laundry for tonight?" they'd ask each other. In Melbourne, Mick told Bill that he slept with the woman who owned the motel that they were staying at and her daughter (but not at the same time, surely). "Two teenage girls who had been hiding in a cupboard in an adjoining room for two hours burst out and attempted to reach us; they were removed by security guards. Shame." Wyman notes arriving in Singapore on February 15th 1965, the day that Nat King Cole died at age 45 of cancer (Cole apparently smoked three packs of menthol cigarettes a day, believing it helped give his voice a rich sound). He noted the incredible heat, and the heavy security. The group was driven to Government House with the British Deputy High Commissioner Philip Moore and his family. There were two concerts, each for an audience of 10,000. There were Chinese New Year firecrackers going off, and at an evening reception for the band on the menu also were ladies of the night for everybody, courtesy of promoter Freddie Yu. Wyman was too nervous being with a paid woman, his first time despite having slept with hundreds of women, and couldn't perform - but the "toothpaste trick" finished off the deal. There are many stories of the establishment coming down on the Stones, such as a magistrate in Glasgow insulting the Stones, calling them "complete morons" and "animals", and that "they wear their hair down to their shoulders, wear filthy clothes and act like clowns". Then there was judge Block who admitted to a campaign to bring the Stones down a notch in dealing a harsh penalty at one of the trials by stating "We did our best, your fellow countrymen, I, and and my fellow magistrates, to cut the Stones down to size, but alas it was not to be...", but then had to protest that he was only being "sarcastic". Indeed - the Sarcastic Judge! Then there's the tale of Mick Jagger's girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton getting in a cat fight with Beatles fan Ann Richards!
Like Keith Richards, Wyman often quotes other people's accounts, even going so far as to quote people quoting him! An interesting example is:
"Gered Mankowitz, photographer; `Bill was always stone-faced on stage and didn't give very much. He told me why he held the guitar up vertically, like he did. It was to shadow his face from the spotlight so he could see the girls in the front row. I watched him pulling from the stage! He held the guitar almost upright against himself... everybody thought it was very moody and it looked great. But he was pulling the girls at the front - and mouthing his room number at them!'"
It's Wyman's book, why didn't he just say so himself? Weird. He recounts a tale of police brutality in Berlin, with cops armed to the teeth wandering around backstage scrounging drinks. Keith took a half-empty whiskey bottled, urinated in it, shook the mix up, passed it to the cops, who drank it. EWWW!!! Wyman smokes his first joint with Brian Jones and Bob Dylan, who then jam together by candlelight (there was a blackout that night) with Robbie Robertson and Bobby Neuwirth. Wyman calculates in 1965 that in the first two years of the band's history, he'd slept with 278 girls, Brian 130, Mick 30 (among them a mother and her daughter in the same day), Keith six, and faithful Charlie only one (his girlfriend/wife). One time in LA they met two girls they had become acquainted with in Phoenix, they told them to walk into the studio naked for the rest of the band, after which manager Andrew Loog Oldham "grabbed one and pulled her into the control room for `action' in front of everyone." EWWW!!! The band had a lot of fun on another visit to LA: "In the nine days that Brian and I were there, our bungalows were staked out by about fifty girls who stayed outside on the grass, day and night, the whole time. We would take our pick of them, and I finished up sleeping with thirteen girls here." Wyman quotes Mick as saying in June 1966:
"In ten years I hope I'll be an actor and still make the occasional record. It's very unlikely that the Stones will still be going in ten years' time. I've worked out that I'd be fifty in 1984. Horrible, isn't it? Halfway to a hundred. Ugh! I can see myself coming onstage in my invalid carriage with a stick. Then I turn around, wiggle my bottom at the audience and say something like: `now here's an old song you might remember called `Satisfaction'!'"
And that's just how it turned out, isn't is?!? Despite the recording and touring, Wyman highlights his domesticity: "As `Paint It Black' soared effortlessly to the top of the charts on 28 April and Aftermath remained at number one, I was more concerned with the family dog." Wyman lists one of Brian Jones' shopping trips: a mandarin coat, a pink fringed coat, pink velvet cape, a flannel-and-lace jacket, embroidered and velvet jackets, two velvet scarves, four pairs of trousers, two scarves, two strings of bells a blouse, a pink beaded belt and two kimonos (this was in pre-Rush days). Whew!! There's also some article that journalist Richie Yorke wrote in Canada claiming that the Rolling Stones did not write "Satisfaction", that they bought the song from Otis Redding; meanwhile, Wyman ascertains that the song came about before they even met Redding and clears his name with another quote from Redding's backup band. Check out Mick's droll humor: when the record label objected to Beggar's Banquet having a picture of a toilet on it, he said "We really have tried to keep the album within the bounds of good taste. I mean we haven't shown the whole lavatory! That would have been rude. We've only shown the top half!" The first US cover of Beggar's Banquet, which was quickly withdrawn, showed a street demonstration; it has become a rare collector's item. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and Ian Stewart played "Snake Drive", "Tribute to Elmore" and "West Coast Idea" for a release called "Blues Anytime, Volume 1'! Wyman wrote in 1991 about the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, which had been shelved, but which has now finally been released. More domestic affairs: "
"My life in the country at Gedding Hall was calm. Gazing out of the kitchen window on New Year's Day I spotted a big pheasant across the moat. That night, I took pictures of the almost-full moon from the tower. We enjoyed feeding and photographing the ducks. I applied myself for getting the house together for the return later in January of Stephen, who was staying with Diane over Christmas."
A funny anecdote about how Mick Jagger wrote to MC Escher "Dear Maurits..." to request an illustration for an album cover, but was snubbed quite badly.
The book has lots of great pictures - Wyman's parents, a five-year-old Bill, Bill in his RAF uniform, his first wife Diane on their wedding day in 1959, an early publicity still of the Stones in 1963 standing on a ledge, pictures with wife Diane and son Stephen, pics of Keith and Bryan and Charlie at their new homes in the summer of 1966, Andrew Oldham, Allen Klein, Peter Frampton, Jimmy Miller, the Rock `n' Roll Circus, the Beggars Banquet pie throw, court pics, Astrid Lundström, Brian's casket, and finally a new guitarist to replace him - Mick Taylor.
Even the appendices are out of this world! Wyman reproduces eight letters of agreement between Allen Klein and the Rolling Stones signed between July and September 1965, in case there's a lawyer among his fans. There's a list of the Rolling Stones' UK and US singles, album appearances, and full EPs and LPs from 1963 to 1969. A list of awards from 1964 to 1969 (gold discs, silver discs). Then there's a 21-page list of shows, starting with the July 12th 1962 show that the band played with another drummer and bass player. The first show with the full band was on January 11th, 1963. Many days in 1963 they'd play two gigs, but at separate clubs (one show at each). He also lists cancelled shows (such as the June 1969 dates at the Coliseum in Rome), abandoned shows, first shows and last shows as a particular venue's house band, days they played two shows and shows that Brian didn't play due to illness. The schedule was grueling - the 1963 shows alone cover seven pages of this 21-page appendix. Yes, the Rolling Stones paid their dues! Wyman also lists which shows were on package tours with other bands, such as the Everley Brothers (1963), the Ronettes (1964), John Leyton (1964), Inez Foxx (1964), the Spencer Davis Band (1965), the Hollies (1965) and Tina Turner (1965). From September 24th 1965 to October 17th 1965, they played 24 dates in a row with the Spencer Davis Band, two shows each day! The only shows in Asia in the sixties were in Singapore, February 16th 1965 (two shows). The first Toronto gig was April 25th 1965, nearly four years before I was born (they played four nights in Canada in April of that year - Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and London, returning to Montreal and Toronto in October, and playing Vancouver in December). They played Montreal and Toronto again in June, 1966 (6.66), and in July Winnipeg and Vancouver. They'd sometimes play two cities a day, like Ithaca in the afternoon and New York in the evening, meaning that they needed to drive a distance of over 350 kilometers between them. The band only played once in 1968, that was at a New Music Express event. That was the only date between the short 1967 tour that ended in April, before resuming touring again over two years later in July 1969 upon Brian Jones' death and the addition of Mick Taylor to the band.
There's also an appendix of film and television spots, starting with a 1957 ATV show called "Seeing Sport" that features Mick and his father. The band's various TV appearances are on the shows "Thank Your Lucky Stars", "Ready Steady Go!", "Scene at 6:30', "Top of the Pops", "Arthur Haynes Show", "NME Poll-Winners Concert (1964, 1966, 1968), "Top Beat Prom", "Two Go Round", "Open House", "Les Crane Show" (US), "Hollywood Palace Show" (US), "Clay Cole Show" (US), "Juke Box Jury", "Six Ten", "Here Today", "The Man They Call Genius", "Red Skelton Hour (US), "The Ed Sullivan Show", "Glad Rag Ball", "Shindig", "Six Five", a 1965 Rolling Stones special in Australia, "Eamonn Andrews Show", "In The North", "Big Beat 65', "Hollywood a Go-Go" (US), "Shivaree" (US), Shindig" (US), "The World of Jimmy Savile", "Hullabaloo" (US), "Man Alive", "Carl Alan Awards Show", "A Whole Scene Going", "David Frost Show", "Sunday Night at the London Palladium", the "Our World" "All You Need Is Love" show of June 25th 1967, "Time For Blackburn", "Line Up", "Release", "Frost on Saturday", "The Stones In The Park", "A Child of the Sixties, "Ten Years of What", "Pop Go the Sixties". Finally, there's a whole list of radio spots, including a audition for "Jazz Club" that was rejected (it was also done without Bill or Charlie), and a broadcast of Saturday Club that featured Bill, Brian and Charlie backing Bo Diddley (!!!!).