Guitarist or painter? Both apply equally to Ronnie Wood, for he is one of those rare human beings that have been given two amazing talents and yet he’s not allowed one to dominate – happy to concentrate fully on the one that he’s working on at any particular time.
Ronnie Wood is disarmingly self-effacing about his talent and he has been called ‘the ultimate sideman’, yet his gift as a guitar player, especially on slide guitar or the notoriously difficult lap-steel guitar, place him well above the status of a mere sideman.
Ronnie Wood played his first ever concert with the Rolling Stones on his twenty-eighth birthday in Baton Rouge Louisiana; it was 1975 and he had been brought in to replace Mick Taylor who had recently quit the band. Ronnie was already a veteran, having played first with The Birds, before joining Jeff Beck’s band, where he played bass, and later the Faces with Rod Stewart.
Ronnie Wood was born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, England, in 1947, into a musical and artistic family – his father Arthur was an amateur musician and ten-year-old Ronnie played his first gig as a member of his father’s Original London Skiffle Group at the Regal cinema in Uxbridge. His two older brothers Arthur and Ted went to art school and Art was also an accomplished musician. At sixteen years old, before pursuing his musical career, Ronnie went to Ealing College of Art in west London.
Having first seen the Rolling Stones play live the Richmond Jazz and Blues Festival in 1964, Ronnie decided that it was a band he would like to join, but never thought he would. It was ten years later that Ronnie first played on a Rolling Stones studio album – he inspired and plays guitar on the title track of It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll. Two years later he made his first official appearance on an album, although for years Keith insisted he was not really a Rolling Stone – it was on Black and Blue and he’s been ever present for the past thirty-seven years.
Among Ronnie’s numerous other credits are appearances on Keith Richards’s solo albums, he toured with Keith Richards as, The New Barbarians in the late 1970s and 1980s. He’s appeared on Rod Stewart’s solo albums, including Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells A Story, David Bowie’s Pin Ups album, one of Bill Wyman’s solo albums, he’s played with U2, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and a huge list of the great musicians of rock and blues, including the infamous appearance at Live Aid with Bob Dylan. Ronnie has released over a dozen of his own solo albums, including 1974’s I’ve Got My Own Album To Do, 1979’s Gimme Some Neck, and 2010’s I Feel Like Playing.
Ronnie’s paintings of musicians and the Rolling Stones in particular command high prices and yet his art is not restricted to just musical subjects. He paints animals as well as portraits of other well-known figures including the large painting of London’s ‘movers and shakers’ that adorns the wall of the capital’s Ivy restaurant. Among those who own original Ronnie Wood artworks are former US President Bill Clinton, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jack Nicholson.
Recently Ronnie said, “I want to live as long as possible. And play and paint better. You never know what you want, but you’re always reaching further and further.” So it seems likely that his best may still be to come.