Monday, 12 December 2016

A Short AAA Guide To Ronnie Wood and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings











As so often happens in these books, we've got a lot of stories going on at once here, so what we've elected to do is tell you about two of them in brief. Ronnie Wood's recorded more solo albums than any other Stones member to date, many of them before he was officially a band member and to be honest if we'd included them all in full on our main text it would be the opposite of 'not seeing the Wood for the trees' - he'd have probably taken over! Bill's work with the Rhythm Kings too is from a whole different bag to the band's sound (although you could argue there are more similarities with what the Stones were when they started than anything the band themselves were doing in the 90s and 00s), so we've included it here, though Bill's earlier poppier works when he was still a member (and which still sound vaguely like rock and roll, if you squint your ears very very much) is in the main part of the book. Just to keep you on your toes more than anything else. Neither career quite fits the general feel of the Stones' main work so think of this section as an aperitif if you want to know more but got fed up of reading Stones solo albums hundreds of pages ago and can't take another (my sympathies - I had to write them!) Before we start, though, it's worth pointing out that if you do want a sneak preview of what the two acts are like then your best bet is with a couple of good compilations that include a good two-thirds of all the stuff you need (better odds than most Stones comps as it happens). 'The Ronnie Wood Anthology: The Essential Crossexion' (2006) is an entertaining little two disc set most useful for the 'bonus' disc including Ronnie's charming early work with The Birds and The Jeff Beck Group as well as, oddly, Ronnie strumming a guitar more or less inaudibly behind some Rod Stewart solo hits and two of the rarest Stones tracks Ronnie played on: 'Black Limousine' and 'Everything Is Turning To Gold'. As for Bill, his two disc set 'A Stone Alone' is another excellent two disc set divided into the cream of his solo work and a good half of the best stuff from the 'Rhythm Kings' sets.

RONNIE WOOD:

1) I've Got My Own Album To Do (Warner Brothers, September 1974)
I Can Feel The Fire/Far East Man/Mystifies Me/Take A Look At That Guy/Act Together/Am I Grooving You?//Shirley/Cancel Everything/Sure The One You Need/If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody/Crotch Music By 1974 The Faces was on hiatus and Ronnie wasn't yet a full-time Stone. His response was to gather a collection of friends old and new to make an album that was a rather pointed barb at former lead singer Rod Stewart, who never seemed to be around when The Faces had an album ready to roll. Style-wise it's a Faces album that never got made, with the same bonhomie and joyful wasted-ness of that band. Though Wood lacks both the vocals of Stewart and the depth of Lane to make it quite as successful as the early Faces albums at least, this is still a likeable record and probably Ronnie's best with many of his better songs. Future collaborators Mick 'n' Keef turn up to help on the album, although perhaps symbolically on separate tracks: Mick adds some gritty backing vocals to 'I Can Feel The Fire' while Keef plays guitar on most of the songs, with Mick Taylor also playing guitar on a couple of songs. Old Faces partners Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones also guest, while George Harrison co-writes the track 'Far East Man' (which first appeared on George's 'Dark Horse' album), making this one of the few albums to feature contributions by both Beatles and Stones. Three tracks to download: The slow ballad 'Mystifies Me' is the Ronnie Wood equivalent of 'Wild Horses', a heartfelt yearning ballad. 'Act Together' is a leftover Mick 'n' Keef song from the 'Only Rock and Roll' sessions, 'swapped' with Ronnie Wood in order to use the title track on a Stones LP. Ronnie might have got less sales but he got by far the better song, a smoky ballad that beats almost everything on the parent Stones album. 'Sure The One You Need' is a second, more Stonesy collaboration that isn't quite as good but has a nice Chuck Berry-ish shuffle and some Richards vocals. Adjective: Happy

2) Now Look (Warner Brothers, July 1975)
I Got Lost When I Found You/Big Bayou/Breathe On You/If You Don't Want My Love/I Can Say She's Alright//Caribbean Boogie/Now Look/Sweet baby Mine/I Can't Stand The Rain/It's Unholy/I Got A Feeling A second album recorded at around the time Ronnie joined the Stones features less guests and more Ronnie, which is a good thing in terms of the guitar playing where Wood has never had so much space to stretch out and be himself with some excellent licks, but rather bad in terms of the vocals which sound gruffer and looser without the cushion of the various harmonies. There's a slower, sadder feel about this album, possibly influenced by the disintegration of The Faces, a band Ronnie truly loved (by contrast it sounds as if he got bored of the Stones as early as 'Emotional Rescue'). The vocals might not have been a problem had they been in healthier sounding surroundings, but alas the other problem with this album is that it's all so slick it loses all feel of emotion except for a couple of excellent exceptions. Worth buying if you liked the first record, though to be honest the debut was probably enough for me. Three tracks to download: 'Breathe On Me' is a sweet Ronnie Lane style ballad about humility with lashings of slide guitar which seems pointed to his old band: 'Does it have to happen like this?' The unusual Bobby Womack/Phil Spector collaboration 'If You Don't Want My Love (Give It Back)' is one of the more listenable mid-70s funk songs - better than anything similar on 'Black and Blue' in any case. 'I Can't Stand The Rain' is the most emotional you'll ever hear from Ronnie, a cover song about tragedy that's sung with real pathos. To be honest, the rest of the album could have done with more odf the same. Adjective: Sad

3) Mahoney's Last Stand (With Ronnie Lane) (Atlantic, September 1976)
Tonight's Number/From The Late To The Early/Chicken Wire/Chicken Wired/I'll Fly Away/Title One/Just For A Moment/Mona' The Blues/Car Radio/Hay Tumble/Woody's Thing/Rooster's Funeral/Just For A Moment Back in 1972 and the heyday of The Faces the band were asked to provide a film soundtrack. Only the band's two Ronnies accepted, the soundtrack effectively being Lane's last work with a member of his former band. The cowboy film Mahoney's Last Stand didn't do that well, but it had a big impact on lane in particular, who took its plot about a man leaving a hectic (though never specified) lifestyle behind to take up a more rugged but honest life in the country, something Lane would do for real soon. Wood is really here to help a friend out, although he does play some lovely guitar which is amongst his most expressive. Most of the songs are instrumentals and not very long ones at that, although the two Ronnies sound surprisingly good together when they do sing in harmony. The album soundtrack was eventually released a full four years after the film had died a hurried death to capitalise on both the bigger success of The Faces and Ronnie Wood's new assignment in The Rolling Stones. Three tracks to download: 'Chicken Wired' is a very Faces song, a revved up blues that would have sounded good in the hands of Rod 'The Mod' Stewart. Mind you the two Ronnies' shared harmonies sound pretty lovely too with lots of down-home country twang. 'Just For A Moment' is the Faces equivalent of 'No Expectations', a sleepy slide guitar ballad full of some lovely chord changes.  The closing 'Just For A Moment' is a great 'lost' Ronnie Lane song full of his usual mixture of pathos and hope. Adjective: Rustic

4) Gimme Some Neck! (Columbia, April 1979)
Worry No0 More/Breaking My Heart/Delia/Buried Alive/Come To Realise/Infekshun/Seven Days/We All Get Old/F U C Her/Lost and Lonely/Don't Worry By 1979 Ronnie is properly established as a Rolling Stone. For the most part Ronnie loves it: the fame, the attention and the music are exactly what he'd been searching for across his time with The Birds and The Faces. However one thing spells trouble: the perennial Jagger/Richards refusal to allow other band members credit on songs - even when the songs are someone else's idea. Frustrated, Ronnie keeps a load of his latest batch of music to himself for his own album, alongside some specially chosen cover versions. Though there are less guest stars than the first album it features many old Stones including his predecessor Mick Taylor - something Wood may have regretted given how much Taylor trumps him here. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts also guest. Oddly, though, this album sounds less like a Stones rip-off than a precursor for Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings with a similar big band R and B feel with very little rock about it at all. Most of the songs come with same mid-paced tempo, in fact (think 'She's So Cold') which gets a bit irritating by the end. Not as good as the earlier records, though some brighter points (including the clever title!) put it at least on the level of 'Emotional Rescue'. This album is still Ronnie's best-seller to date, no doubt helped by the publicity of his time with the Stones. Three tracks to download: Bob Dylan cover 'Delia' is one of the few on this album to come with real muscle. 'We All Got Old' has by far the best lyric on the album, a reflection on time passing and the importance of love and family - and possibly a barb at his new band for not doing more to keep him happy? 'F U C Her' (a double pun on 'If you see her' and the 'f' word) has a nice punkish quality to it too, although it's not exactly 'Some Girls' quality. Adjective: Horny (both meanings)

5) 1 2 3 4 (Columbia, September 1981)
1234/Fountains Of Love/Outlaws/Redeyes/Wind Howlin' Through/Priceless/She Was Out There/Down To The Ground/She Never Told Me The sequel came comparatively quickly coinciding with the period of lethargy that was outtakes-set-dressed-as-surprisingly-tasty-lamb 'Tatoo You'. There are less Stones appearances now, with just Charlie taking part from the main line-up, although many 'surrogate Stones' are here including Nicky Hopkins and Bobby Keyes. The result is still probably Ronnie's most Stonesy album, heavy on the Chuck Berry and good time boogie, mixed with more big band jazz/blues. It might well have been Ronnie's best album were it not for it for the fact that his voice is completely shot on this one, his usual nasal falsetto getting more and more raspy with age and a cocktail of booze and drugs, in stark contrast to Keith's who just gets deeper in this same period for much the same reasons. Sadly that makes this album the hardest Stones LP to listen to since 'Jammig With Edward'. If Ronnie ever releases an instrumental mix of it, though, I'll be first in the queue. By the way, this record also wins the not-that-prestigious 'weirdest Stones front cover' award, with a shot of a wasted looking Ronnie on a camel in an Indian wig in front of the 'Hollywood' sign while a lear jet flies past. No, me neither. It also comes second to 'Rolling Stones no 2' in the 'weirdest sleeve notes' category with Andy Johns' plea that everyone seeing this message buy the album because the record label really needs the money. Given the fact that Ronnie is at last on a big name label (his first as a solo act) this must surely be a joke, unless the guitarist knew something about Columbia's finances we didn't?...  Three tracks to download: 'Fountain Of Love' has that very early 80s post-disco, pre-new wave feel that suits Ronnie's style of writing, if not his voice. In a parallel universe 'Wind Runnin' Through', which recycles the usual Stones riff heard since 'Satisfaction' would be a stunning high octane rocker because the song is certainly there - just not the performance. 'Down To The Ground' finally features some passion as Ronnie laments life knocking him about again. Adjective: Off-key (again, both meanings)

6) Live At The Ritz (With Bo Diddley) (Victor Records, April 1988)
Road Runner/I'm A Man/Crackin' Up/Hey Bo Diddley!/Plynth (Water Down The Drain)/Ooh La La/Outlaws/Honkly Tonk Women/Money To Ronnie/Who Do You Love? Mick seems like a more likely pairing with one of the early 1960s' greatest R and B practitioners, but Ronnie was influenced by Ellas McDaniel (Bo's real name) too and clearly knows the man's songs well. Ronnie is a fine guitarist who works better solo than in the Stones art of guitar weaving so it's no surprise that the guitarwork is the best thing about this album as Ronnie turns the clock back some thirty years. Bo Diddley sounds a little strained, without his usual confidence and sounds particular at sea during Wood's moments in the middle of the set including a nobly wrong version of 'Honky Tonk Woman', a Stones track Ronnie didn't even play on (if the pair are going back to the past then 'Not Fade Away' or 'Little Red Rooster' would have been a more fitting pair of tracks to cover - or how about 'Down In The Hole', a bluesy song Ronnie did appear on?) As you'd expect from an album with 'Ritz' in the title (with this set recorded in the grounds of the New York Hotel) the set is big on sparkles and glamour and sudden flashes of virtuosity, but somehow there isn't the emotional connection with the pair and each other or with their audience and too many of these songs drift into noodling jams. A bit of a waste of two talents, to be honest. Three tracks to download: A fierce 'Bo Diddley!', the one moment in the set when the pair sound like their younger selves. A pity it fades on the album though (did they mess up the ending?) There's a respectable version of The Faces' 'Ooh La La', not often played by Ronnie since leaving the band and in fact not often played live at all given that The Faces broke up soon after recording it. Silly and superfluous as it is, Bo's seemingly made up on the spot tribute 'Money To Ronnie' is, erm, funny with Diddley paying sarcastic tribute to his partner ('I asked her where's my money and she said see Ronnie and he just laughed, meanwhile he's driving round in a Cadillac he bought brand new...')  Adjective: Sparkly

7) Slide On This! (Continuum Records, September 1992)
Somebody Else Might/Testify/Ain't Rock and Roll/Jospehine/Knock Yer Teeth Out/Ragtime Annie/Must Be Love/Fear For Your Future/Show Me/Always Wanted More/Thinkin'/Like It/Breathe On Me Ronnie's big return was released in the long wait between 'Steel Wheels' and 'Voodoo Lounge' and you could have forgiven Ronnie for taking his bandmates' lethargy as a good launching pad for his own socking-it-to-ya! solo album. Instead this is Ronnie at his most muted, from the near plain black cover of his face shot in the dark to the largely guilty batch of songs full of regrets and worries. Of course, this being a Ronnie Wood album, this is the sort of record that has a party while it's doing it, but it's on that teetering edge of drunk where it's just in the switchover comedown between happy and sad. It's also Ronnie's most adventurous record, with more R and B and ballads within the rock and a fierce country hoe-down instrumental on 'Ragtime Annie' that may well have been in tribute to Ronnie Lane's similar style, the former Face having passed away from M.S. in 1991. This album's special guests include Charlie once again and 'honorary' Stone and pianist Chuck Leavell who also co-writes many of the songs with Ronnie. An improvement of sorts, with Ronnie's vocals in better shape, though it still doesn't match the 1970s pair of albums. The best thing about this album may well be the packaging, which in contrast to the front cover features some bright and cheerful and rather good portraits of Ronnie's nearest and dearest including some priceless drawings of his fellow Stones (a glum looking Charlie being best). Three tracks to download: The Jagger-swagger style 'Josephine' really stands out on an album usually much quieter than this, while the 'you make me moan, you make me scream' sounds suspiciously close to what became 'You Got Me Rocking' on 'Voodoo Lounge' two years later. Ronnie, of course, didn't get a credit on that one. 'Fear For Your Future' uses the old 'Between The Buttons' trick of saying something while diverting our ear by sounding like something else. A tearful heartstring-tugging ballad about saying goodbye, it's given the most contemporary dance makeover on the album. 'Always Wanted More' is a self-deprecating song about wanting too much and things never being perfect enough tied up to a love song to wife Jo that's amongst Ronnie's most moving and mature. 'You been flying too high, you got shot from the sky' sighs Ronnie before adding what's surely another dig at his band with the line about 'Milking blood from a 'stone'. Adjective: Moody

8) Slide On Live - Plugged In and Standing (Continuum Records, September 1993)
Testify/Josephine/Pretty Beat Up/Am I Grooving You?/Flying/Breathe On Me/Silicone Grown/Seven Days/Show Me/Show Me (Groove Reprise)/I Can Feel The Fire/Slide Instr/Stay With Me Ronnie wittily puts down his old partner Rod Stewart's best selling album 'Unplugged - and Seated!' with his title riposte. That's about the best thing to say about this record, sadly, which seems to exist mainly so Ronnie can use that name. Recorded during the short tour to promote the 'Slide On This Album', it features lots of tracks from that albums with a couple of oddities including the obscure Stones song 'Pretty Beat Up' (almost the only Stones song with a Ronnie co-credit) and some rarer than usual choices from the Faces catalogue. It's not bad and Ronnie's voice is in better shape than his last two songs, but none of the arrangements are all that different to the studio ones and you can't really hear the audience, so you might as well own the originals. The one new 'song', 'Slide Instrumental', is about as generic as it sounds (even though it's not strictly an instrumental, with a brief chorus about wanting to go home), while the song's worst cover 'Show Me' gets pointlessly extended via a reprise/false ending that's as long as the whole thing. You had to be there for this one, I think. Three tracks to download: It perhaps doesn't say much that the lacklustre Stones song 'Pretty Beat Up' is the best thing here, but then Ronnie has altered it the most, turning it into a slow blues jam that may have been closer to his original concept before Jagger went all 'disco'. 'Am I Grooving You?' sounds rather good with The Faces' Ian McLagan adding some soulful keyboard work and some lovely harmonies on the chorus. The closest thing to a hit played all night is 'Stay With Me' which turns into a nice singalong with the band on sparking form.  Adjective: Live and Moody

9) Live and Eclectic (Pilot Records, April 2000)
Show Me/Flying/Testify/Pretty Beat Up/Always Wanted More/Breathe On Me/Silicone Grown/Black Limousine/Little Red Rooster/Stay With Me/Josephine/I'm Losing You/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll//Flying/Silicone Grown/Stay With Me/Somebody Else Might/I Can Feel The Fire Recorded on the same tour as 'Slide On Live' but left in the vaults for another seven years, this is actually a much better set with the band sharper and Ronnie sounding more involved. It may well be the best of all his solo releases in fact, with a tightness and power few of his other recordings manage in such bulk. I'm not sure the 'eclectic' part of the title quite works - this is the usual mix of rockers, with a few little extras thrown in like the Stones' bluesy 'Black Limousine' and 'Little Red Rooster' as well as a re-claiming of 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll'. The 'live' part sounds about right though, with this set fair crackling with energy throughout. All editions came with a 'bonus' disc featuring three songs taken from a different date on the tour and two others added later to the set lists, though none are amazingly different or impressive enough to stand out much. Three tracks to download: The Faces' 'Flying' sounds fabulous, with Ronnie doing some soul singing as the song builds and builds to an epic climax. 'Breathe On Me' from 'Slide' sounds particularly good tonight, with a finger-picking guitar a neat accompaniment to Ronnie's next-morning worries. Somewhere out there Brian Jones' ghost is grooving to 'Little Red Rooster', one of the most authentic blues performances by a Stone since he was in the band.  Adjective: Live and Eclectic and Moody

10) Not For Beginners (SPV, November 2001)
Wayside/So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?/Whaddya Think?/This Little Heart/Living Here/Hypershine/R U Behaving Yourself?/Be beautiful/Wake Up You Beauty/Intefere/Real Hard Rocker/Heart Soul and Body/King Of Kings Ronnie returns to the format of his first record, with some straight-ahead pub rock and lots of guest stars, though of a more modern variety (including The Stereophonics' Kelly Jones, Bob Dylan and Ian McLagan once again). The unusual cover of the unusual Byrds song 'So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?' rather sets the tone - is Ronnie laughing at us for buying this stuff? Or laughing at the rock industry the way only an insider can? The good news is there's a bit more experimentation going on here than normal - the bad is that the experiments don't always work, with some really peculiar ideas such as a slowed down cover of Motown classic 'Leaving Here' (whose best element is the sheer power of the attack) and 'Real Hard Rocker', which is the bluesiest and one of the slowest things on the album, Ronnie turning his voice into an earth-shaking low note of doom. In fact Ronnie sounds suddenly much deeper all round, his voice having 'matured' into a gravelly roar that's not unlike Keith's of recent years. It's just a shame he doesn't have better material to do things with it, with this album lacking the depth of his most recent work. Definitely not for beginners, though it's not the worst Ronnie Wood album either. Three tracks to download: 'Whaddya Think?' is one of Ronnie's all-time strongest tracks, a slow folky harmony ballad Ronnie Lane would have loved with Jones' strident lead going well with Ronnie's now growly harmonies. 'Hypershine' fills the usual Stones archetypal ballads slot with aplomb. 'Heart Soul and Body' sounds like a long lost Faces outtake with a slide guitar riff to die for and some puffing folk harmonica.  Adjective: Raucous

11) The First Barbarians (Wooden Records, October 2007)
Intro/Am I Grooving You?/Cancel Everything/Mystifies Me/Take A Look At The Guy/Act Together/Shirley/Forever/Sure The One You Need/Can't Stand The Rain/Crotch Music/I Can Feel The Fire Or 'I've Got My Own Concert To Do'. Taped back in 1974 as part of the two-concert appearance plugging 'I've Got My Own Album To Do', this is a fascinating historical package for a band named in honour of The New Barbarians, the nickname Ronnie gave op his 1979 touring band. The show included cameo spots for Rod Stewart and Keith Richards, who steals the show on a delightfully ragged 'Sure The One You Need', with Ronnie all but drowned out at times. It's not really an essential album with the band so raw in a Faces kind of way that you wonder whether they wasted anytime on rehearsal or deciding what the set was before they played and almost every song feels in danger of turning into a formless jam. It is, however, good to hear Keith playing back-up to Ronnie for once and to hear Wood right on the boundaries between being a part of two great bands who both collide here (Keith's left the stage by the time Rod comes on though, sadly, so we don't a bigger Stoney Faces supergroup). Worth buying if you loved the first album - I'd give it a miss if you didn't. A DVD also came with the set, although it's just as scrappy as the CD, seemingly taped more for personal record than mainstream release. Three tracks to download: 'Mystifies Me' works well as the first 'slowie' in the set with some more lovely McLagan organ. 'Act Together' needs to have the band play more together, but it's exciting in a will-they-get-to-the-end? type way as Ronnie pleads 'let's get our shit together!' Against all odds, the band makes it. Willie Weeks' funky bass brightens up 'I can't Stand The Rain' no end, with a much longer opening than what ended up on record. Adjective: Barbaric and Raucous

12) I Feel Like Playing (Eagle Rock, September 2010)
Why You Gonna Go And Do A Thing Like That For?/Sweetness My Weakness/Lucky Man/I Gotta See/Thing About You/Catch You/Spoonful/I Don't Think So/100%/Fancy Pants/Tell Me Something/Forever. CD Bonus Tracks: early session mixes of 'I Don't Think So' and 'Tell Me Something' Ronnie might feel like playing, but I'm not sure that I feel like paying. No, sorry, that's not actually true I just wanted to use the line - this is a sweet and consistent album, up there with 'Slide On This' as the most moving and deep of Ronnie's career. By 2010 Ronnie's autobiography has caused so many upheavals in his life (not least his quotes on his band members, especially poor Mick Taylor and the breakup of his marriage to Jo Wood) and his drug taking has led to so many binges-rehab cycles that the world has become a distinctly darker and more serious place. This set could just as well have been subtitled '...because I sure don't feel like partying anymore' with Ronnie rather down in the dumps. For the first time since the Bo Diddley album there are no Stones appearances, although regular backing singer/Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin stands out on backing vocals  and there are cameos by The red Hot Chilli Peppers, Bobby Womack, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, blues legend Willie Dixon who was weathered even when the Stones were covering his songs in the 1960s (who'd have guessed he'd have outlived Brian Jones by so many decades?) and Bill's bass replacement Darryl Jones. Impressive stuff almost back to the level of the early years. Three tracks to download: 'I've got up from the darkest road - but it's so hard to get the devil off your clothes!' snarls Ronnie on a career best couplet as he laughs at himself for being a 'Lucky Man' and not realising it. An unusual song for the usually straightforward Woody but a good one. The aggressive 'I Don't Think So' which puts a jagged guitar riff to good use. Finally, the poppy blues 'Tell Me Something' which both longs for and is afraid for the 'truth' from a loved one. Adjective: Dark and Brooding

BILL WYMAN'S RHYTHM KINGS:

1) Struttin' Our Stuff (BMG, October 1997)
Green River/Walking On My Own/Melody/Stuff (Can't Get Enough)/Bad To Be Alone/I'm Mad/Down In The Bottom/Motervatin' Momma/Jitterbug Baby/Goin' Crazy Overnight/Hole In My Soul/Tobacco Road This is, you suspect, the sort of thing the Rolling Stones would have gone on to make in middle age had Brian stayed the 'star' and Mick and Keef not discovered a talent for writing. Bill had himself dropped out of music by the mid-1990s, hanging up his instrument for 'two years' or so after leaving the Stones while the busy bassist got married (again), wrote one book and the basis of a second, created the 'Sticky Fingers' rock restaurant and spent lots of time gold-digging. Funnily enough gold-digging is the right way to treat the Rhythm Kings albums which always promise more than they deliver given the talent involved: Bill didn't audition or nag anyone into playing in the first line up, he just went through his phone book inviting people to get together for some informal sessions. Being a Stone his phonebook included the likes of Georgie Fame, Albert Lee, Peter Frampton, Andy Fairweather-Low...virtually a Whose Who of guitarists. Bill had already started playing with close pal Terry Taylor on drums so the Keith and Charlie roles were filled easily enough - however finding someone to 'replace' Jagger was always the band's achilles heel and a problem they never did quite get round. Instead the band went for 'guest' vocals, some of which work - especially on this first and possibly best album which features Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Procul Harum's Gary Brooker and Ten Years After's Albert Lee - and some of which don't. The result is a likeable but slightly anonymous set of groove albums that are more or less interchangeable and despite the billing all suffer from, ironically enough, a lack of 'Bill'. This debut album wins by a nose thanks to possessing the most authentically rockabilly sound - the others defer a little too much to R and B and blues, for my tastes at least. I could have done without the female chorus who add an oddly glossy layer to what works best as a set of funky down-home recordings, but this is the most enthusiastic album we've had from Bill since about 1964. For good reason too for the most part: this is music as joyful informal fun which must have made a nice change after a quarter century of being told what to do as a Rolling Stone. The album also includes Billy Preston revisiting his Stones track 'Melody', although he must have grimaced to have to still credit Jagger-Richards alone for it on the back sleeve. Bill also revisits 'Stuff' in better, more 'human' form than his 1992 recording. Three tracks to download: Opener 'Green River' is one of the better Credence Clearwater Revival songs given a nicely elaborate arrangement and Bill's 'whispering' vocals against the brassy glare of the female chorus works best here. 'Bad To Be Alone', as sung by Beverley Skeete, is an excellent Wyman blues original with real pathos and authenticity. I'm half surprised Charlie didn't quit the Stones too just to play on this track so dear to his own tastes. Georgie Fame's comedy take on 'Hole In My Soul' (best summed up by the punchline 'and what do you know? His shoe fell off!') is also very funny and very in keeping with the humour of Bill's earlier parody albums. Adjective: Grooving

2) Anyway The Wind Blows (BMG, February 1999)
Anyway The Wind Blows/Spooky/Walking One and Only/Mojo Boogie/Too Late/Every Sixty Seconds/Ring My Bell/Days Like This/He's A Real Gone Guy/Trtue Romance/Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You?/When Hollywood Goes Black and Tan/Crazy He Calls Me/Struttin' Our Stuff. CD Re-issue Bonus Tracks: Sugar Babe/Gonna Find Me A New Love Bill's Stones version of the Ringo All-Starrs continues with a second album much like the first, only longer and with a slightly tweaked line-up. In this time as guests are Paul Carrack, Chris Rea and no less than two Mick Taylor making his first return alongside a bandmate in twenty-four years. Georgie Fame has graduated to become the band's chief vocalist by now, with Bill even quieter on this second record. Though much longer are far fewer first-class amongst this line-up with lots of R and B and blues material which, though heartfelt, come in danger of sounding like the pastiche Bill albums of earlier years. Perhaps surprisingly, given that there are now two Stones in the band, there are no Rolling covers this time around, although Bill does revive 'Every Sixty Seconds' from his solo catalogue. Three tracks to download: J J Cale's 'Anyway The Wind Blows' has a nice Dire Straits quality about it. New Bill 'n' Terry original 'Ring My Bell' is rather good, a nice retro rock number about a telephone switchboard and wires getting crossed. Closer 'Gonna Find Me A New Love' with Geoff Grange on vocals and some tasty harmonica playing with a reasonable Stax-style horn riff propelling the song along. Adjective: Moving

3) Groovin' (Roadrunner Records, May 2000)
Tell You A Secret/Groovin'/Rough Cut Diamond/Mood Swing/Hole In The Wall/Can't Get My Rest At Night/I Put A Spell On You/Tomorrow Night/I Want To Be Evil/Rhythm King/Daydream/Oh! Baby/Streamline Woman/Yesterdays Made almost back to back with the second album and with almost an identical cast (with Georgie Fame still lead vocalist and Mick Taylor still lead guitarist), this third album is also identical in terms of quality with a handful of cooking tracks and a few not so hot moments in there too. There are no Stones links on this one though and less Taylor guitar if that helps sway your decision which to get. Three tracks to download: Beverley Skeete's return on Nina Simone's 'I Put A Spell On You' is magnificent. At last The Rhythm Kings cover the song that partly gave them their name: J Russel Robinson's 'Rhythm King' with the band message: 'Strutting down the street with my fellow kings and the world is fine!' 'Streamline Women' features Bill adapting a Muddy Waters song, which is the first time any of the Stones have done one of the songs by the man who named them in years. Adjective: A-Reeling

4) Live In Europe (Ripple Records, '2000')

Let The Good Times Roll/Stagger Lee/Mystery Train/Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu/Hit The Road Jack-Fever/Georgia On My Mind/Land Of 1000 Dances-Tequila!/Lawdy Miss Clawdy/Good Golly Miss Molly/Tear It Up Bill bootlegs himself! Surprised to see how well home tapes of the 1998 Rhythm Kings tour was doing amongst fans, Bill went back to the original tapes for some 'outtakes' from the gigs. Most of them are up to anything the band released on their earlier LPs and feature the original line-up of Gary Brooker and Albert Lee, thoughy not sadly Eric Clapton who didn't make the tour. The sound is a little more big band,m though, with the brass section playing more of a role and there's more jazz swing than rockabilly. Though it looks deliberately like a bootleg, it doesn't sound like one with excellent sound quality throughout. The album didn't sell that well (many fans really did think it was a bootleg, especially as Bill used a smaller label to release it on, and steered clear) but several of the tracks, billed to 'The Bootleg Rhythm Kings', re-appeared on the Wyman anthology 'Stone Alone'. Three tracks to download: Georgie's on the speakers as 'Georgia On My Mind' plays with some nice blues strumming  from Albert Lee (though, as far as I can hear, no Bill at all!) 'Land Of A 1000 Dances' rocks quite nicely - one of the few things here that really does have some urgency to it - and comes complete with a sneaky snatch of 'Tequila!' at the end. 'Tear It Up' sounds so paper-thin it won't tear anything that heavy up at all, but there's some great guitar interplay during the lengthy solo so all is forgiven. Just about.  Adjective: And a Rockin'

5) Double Bill (Ripple Records, '2001')
Long Walk To DC/Hot Foot Blues/Hit That Jive Jack/Love Letters/Love's Down The Drain/I Can't Dance/Snap Your Fingers-What A Friend We Have In Jesus/Get In The Kitchen/Boogie Woogie All Night Long/Do You Or Don't You?-I Wanna Know/Trust In Me/Turn On Your Lovelight//The Joint Is Jumping/Brown Skin Girl/Tired and Sleepy/Lonely Blue Boy/Bye Bye Blues/Where's The Money/Jellyroll Fool/Jealous Girl/My Handyman/Rollin' and Stumblin'/Keep On Truckin'/Breakin' Up The House Well, blimey: twenty-four tracks of Rhythm Kings that seem to be here to justify the rather clever title rather than because this set is full to bursting with big ideas. Released on the smaller 'Ripple' label again as the fuss about the Stones began to die down and sales fell a bit low, the guest spots have been cut down now with Georgie Fame and Beverley Skeete dominating the vocals. There is however a great guest spot from no less a figure than George Harrison who helps his fellow 'quiet one' buddy out with some great Mick Taylor-ish slide on slow blues 'Love Letters' and a few appearances by singer Keely Smith, whose presence understandably brings out even more of a jazz influence across this album (seriously, where is Charlie? The Stones weren't doing anything this year!) The good news is that Bill is back to writing and writing actual pop songs again, with songs closer to the style of his earlier solo work than on any previous Rhythm Kings album. Georgie Fame also gets to do a 'greatest hits' melody as a sort of reward for staying loyal to the band. Three tracks to download: Strangely, despite there being double the usual number of tracks, it's even harder than usual to find three tracks because they all sound so similar and are of such similar quality: lifeless, but not awful. 'Hit That Jive Jack' wins for it's playfulness, 'Trust In Me' features a nice horn part and closer 'Breakin' Up The House' sounds like fun, but there's very little in it.  Adjective: Like A Rolling Stone

6) On The Road Again (Ripple Records, '2003')
Down In The Bottom/SOS/Too Late/Trust In Me/Jump Jive and Wail/Days Like This/He's A Real Gone Guy/Kiddio/Midnight Special/Lights Out/Chantilly Lace. CD Re-Issue Bonus Tracks: Melody/Johnny and Frankie This second 'official' bootleg is actually one of the best Rhythm Kings albums, perhaps after the first one. As with 'Live In Europe' it's rather hard to find and not much to look at, but about a third of the album is included in the Bill retrospective 'Stone Alone'. The band always tended to sound better live than they ever did on album and are on particularly strong form on this 2002 tour with a disciplined group playing on many of their best songs. More than deserves a re-issue although it shares many similarities with the almost-as-good 'Just For A Thrill' released a year later. Andy Fairweather Low joined the group for this album, though Georgie Fame and Gary Brooker both left halfway through the tour to play with their own bands. Billy Preston, once a key part of the Stones touring band, turns up once more to sing his Stones signature song 'Melody' on the bonus tracks added to the second pressings of the album. Three tracks to download: 'SOS' is a delightful Motown song by Edwin Starr that really suits the Rhythm King's laidback groove and everyone sounds like they get something to do from the horn players to the backing singers. 'Midnight Special' is Georgie Fame's great leaving present, a rollicking country-rock-blues that's slower than most versions but has a lovely informal charm. Louis Prima, he of 'I Wanna Be Like You' from the Jungle Book, supplies the oh so Rhythm Kings 'Jump Jive and Wail', with a skiffle band practicing in their back gardens before meeting up to make one heck of a racket on stage! Adjective: A-Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Bop-A-Wop-Bam-Bill

7) Just For A Thrill (Ripple Records, '2004')
Disappearing Nightly/Roll 'Em Pete/Down Home Girl/Mississippi Flyer/That's How Heartaches Are Made/Booty Ooty/Cadillac Woman/This Ain't United Nations/Memphis Woman/Taxman/Just For A Thrill/Crybaby/You Don't Know A compilation made up of the best recordings from the 1998-2001 tour that weren't out yet, 'Just For A Thrill' is surprisingly good for an album made up of odds and ends. With the line-ups of the band coming and going there's not much consistency of sound, but these albums are best heard in small doses anyway and include some excellent moments, such as Mark Knopfler fitting right at home with the band's style (so similar to his own 'Notting Hillbillies' from a decade earlier). The song selection is a bit more adventurous than normal, with more recent classics like The Beatles' Taxman and Eddie Floyd's soulful 'You Don't Know' amongst the track listing, although in truth everything is given the same Rhythm Kings sheen so that nothing really stands out for good or bad. Worth buying if you liked one of the others but not really what you might call essential. Three tracks to download: The Stones covered 'Down Home Girl' for their second album almost forty years earlier. It was always one of their best covers, well suited to Mick's sarcastic vocals and while this more 'straight' version isn't quite as impressive it's still a strong version. 'That's How Heartaches Are Made' is Bill Haley's song, beating 'Rock Around The Clock' by hours, even if Beverley Skeete is not necessarily the right person to be singing it. 'Town Living' is a pretty new Bill Wyman song about wanting to go back to the country that suits his deeper husky tones and the huge volume of talented slide guitarists he had in the band at the time. Adjective: But was it Bill? Or was it a Georgie Fame album with a Rolling Stones bassist?

8) Live (Dixie Frog, '2005')
I Got A Woman/Jump Jive and Wail/Baby Workout/If I Can't Have You/Jitterbug Boogie/Bright Lights Big City/Muleskinner Blues/You Never Can Tell/Taxman/Race With The Devil/I Shall Not Be Moved/Disappearing Nightly/Flatfoot Sam/I Will Be Satisfied/Let's Talk It Over/Wild One/Roll 'Em Pete More non-stop rocking, which is effectively a more modern re-recording of most of the set list released in 'bootleg' form as 'On The Road Again'. There's more of a crowd atmosphere here but for once the band sound stiff and unrehearsed alongside what sounds like their biggest audience yet. There are some good moments still, but for once the crowd seem to have inhibited rather than enhanced the music. To date, it's the last party for the Rhythm Kings, though knowing the way the Stones works anything could happen to the band during the next decade or so... Three tracks to download: There's an even better 'Jumpin' Jivin' and Wailin' taken at an even more manic pace. 'You Never Can Tell' is the only time Bill's band cover a Chuck Berry song, to results that might not match the 1960s but matches period Stones Chuck Berry-ish numbers at least. Against all odds 'I Shall Not Be Moved' comes across as authentic heartfelt protest, most at odds with the usual Rhythm Kings party style. Adjective: Bill! Bill! You're Sounding ill! Where are mother's helping little ole pills? 

That's all for now! We'll be back with more Stones articles than you can throw a stone at next year, after a couple of week's gap catching up with other posts and our AAA review of the year!

Other Stones reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:


'No 2' (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-rolling-stones-no-2-1965.html
'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-rolling-stones-its-only-rock-and.html
'Black and Blue' (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-rolling-stones-black-and-blue-1976.html

'Some Girls' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-30-rolling.html
'Emotional Rescue' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/the-rolling-stones-emotional-rescue-1980.html
'Undercover' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/rolling-stones-undercover-1983-album.html

'Steel Wheels' (1989)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-113-rolling.html
'Bridges To Babylon' (1998) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-rolling-stones-bridges-to-babylon.html

Rolling Stones: Unreleased Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/another-journey-through-past-darkly.html




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