Ronnie Wood

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Ronnie Wood Pencil Portrait
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Five years before The Rolling Stones cut their earliest demos at IBC studios, young Ronnie Wood had already experienced his first flirtation with fame. His precocious talent for drawing and painting was recognised by a sympathetic headmaster, who arranged his transfer to the Ruislip Manor Grammar School, whereupon he was enrolled in a three year course. Inside of a month, he had won an open art competition and romped home in pole position seven weeks running on the BBC Television show “Sketch Club”. In addition, his formative years involved growing up in a music mad family, so it’s little wonder his life has been devoted to these two grand passions. There’s been a third of course, but this pursuit has wrecked havoc on persons closest to him, destroyed two of his marriages and left his children on the point of helpless exasperation over their father.

Interviewed for the 27/11/11 edition of the British Sunday Telegraph, Wood described his ‘Perfect Sunday’:

‘Waking up at midday in my Holland Park home, I’d find myself totally alone and free to have a peaceful creative day. I’d start with a double expresso and a quick play on my snooker table: a couple of good shots gets me focused for the day. Then, after a breakfast of poached eggs on toast and a wrangle with the newspaper crossword, I’d have a dabble with my art. I’ve got a few exhibitions coming up so there’s plenty to work on, including the ten oli canvasses scattered around my house. They’re all wet as I tend to work on all of them at the same time’.

‘I also try to keep my musical hand in, in case the Stones do anything, so I’d probably have a tinkle on one of my acoustic guitars, before making a very special sunday roast. After lunch, it would be back to art. I love sketching on my iPhone and have started getting the finished sketches printed onto huge canvases so that I can then work on them with paint. It’s a totally new form of art. which I’m really excited about and I can’t wait to present it to the world’.

‘Finally, after doing a bit of planning for my radio show, I’d put my feet up in my tropical garden – a magical place full of chirping birds, exotic plants and beautiful smells – before moving inside to sit in front of an open fire. I have one on each floor of my house and I love watching them’.

‘Falling asleep in total silence in front of a roaring fire has to be the perfect way to end a perfectly peaceful day’.

Wood married his second wife Jo in 1977. Throughout their time together, she attended to his needs on every Stones tour, picking out his clothes and cooking him organic food. She was also pivotal in his business success, taking a controlling stake in the couple’s finances and acting as his personal management assistant on deals. She was also a joint director of his music empire Rockyarch and company secretary to his paintings business Scream Art.

The couple shared homes around the world, including a £12 million London mansion in Kingston-upon-Thames, crammed with valuable antiques and art. Their Co Kildare home was estimated to be worth £4.5 million and the couple also owned a £250,000 cottage in Devon.

The couple separated in 2011 after Wood had an affair with a Russian girl young enough to be his granddaughter. Two years later, Jo Wood published her autobiography ‘Hey Jo’, which chronicled her version of events in their marriage. Frankly, it was initially, about as much as I could do to skim through the excerpts widely available on the net, so suspect being the conversational tone of the text which purportedly recounted verbatim, each and every rancorous encounter. Nevertheless, I felt judgmental, eventually borrowing a copy for further digestion and possible insights into Wood’s mercurial character.

After several interludes with other young ladies, the guitarist announced that he was satiated with young women and henceforth would be re-focused on women in their thirties. In December 2012, he married Sally Humphreys, a theatrical production company director. The nuptials were preceded by a the usual whirlwind romance, a hefty pay cheque from ‘Hello’ magazine, presumably donated to one of the couples’ favourite charities, (or not as the case may be), and a declared interest from the couple in starting a family. Thereafter, having published her autobiography which ‘dished the dirt’, ex-wife Jo was reportedly happy the rocker had found love again, whilst warning his new partner that she would be in trouble if her reformed alcoholic husband started drinking again.

Press and public reaction to the union was at best, narrow minded, and at worst, vitriolic. The couple had, after all, known each other for the best part of a decade before their marriage and shared a lively interest in the arts. She had also put on an exhibition of his work in Drury Lane, in addition to producing two of his solo stage shows through her company Sally Humphreys Productions Limited. Nevertheless, the bride’s 66 year old father was reportedly at pains to stress that he was happy with his new 65 year old son-in-law whilst the bride gushed that she would have married her husband for his wit alone, even if he were a dustman. Any suggestion that a wealthy person lacks other appealing attributes borders on uncontrollable envy, whilst slavish acceptance of ‘the salient facts’ surrounding the marriage is at best naive. Ronnie’s first wife, the late Krissie Wood, offered an interesting insight into her husband’s personality, admitting that he could be very sympathetic when needed:

‘Brian Robertson (guitarist with 70’s band Thin Lizzy), once said to me that Ronnie had the ability to make you feel that you are the most important person in the room all the time he’s with you, but it’s a mistake to hold onto that moment. I thought wow! That’s it, that’s what was wrong, he can do that…and once you’ve moved omn, it’ll be someone else and you’re a fool top think otherwise. He never calls you back, he’s got that wonderful thing that allows him to live in the now, he doesn’t live for tomorrow or yesterday’.

‘People mistake it for innocence, but it’s not, it’s actually very calculated and intelligent. I was speaking to Pete Townsend just the other day and he agrees. There’s also a cutting side to Ronnie, he can really cut you down very quickly with a smile on his face. I think it was something he developed while being on the road all the time. He didn’t live a life like an ordinary person who sometimes [wakes] up with a hangover and [goes] down the pub to get over it. He woke up like that all the time, but he’d have to perform for people both on and off stage. So he learned to develop this way of dealing with people who are naturally drawn to him.’

Tellingly, she added:

‘In other words, people gravitate to Ronnie and receive what they think is his total support and interest which it is at the time’.

Wood’s father, Archie, was what he terms a “water gypsy” who worked on the barges in west London and the musician unapologetically offers this as a reason why he has largely hankered after the gypsy life for so many years.

In between career commitments Wood likes to watch episodes of the old US cop series Columbo, in which Peter Falk played a one-eyed detective in a dirty mac. For a time, after the breakup of his second marriage, he was involved with one Ana Araujo, a Brazilian model, artist and polo instructor in her early thirties. In 2010, Wood commented:_ “She’s only 31, but much more mature than the last one. I learn a lot from her. She’s got a wise old head on her shoulders.”_ Unfortunately, this wise old head hated ‘Columbo’, preferring instead to put on funky music and dance. Wood joked at the time: “I hate dancing but she makes me get up and bop ‘round the room. “It’s not good for an old man like me!” Needless to say the union did not last.

This dalliance – and all that followed the demise of his second marriage – has been well reported in the tabloid press. I cannot begin to discuss his thought processes, since relations with a woman thirty years my junior would never happen. For starters, I don’t believe I would be able to start a serious conversation for laughing at myself. So what’s going on here? Sufficient money and fame to invoke the interest of an impressionably young person, or perhaps simply a form of self gratification, and the means to invoke envy amongst men of a comparable age? God forbid the answer lies with a form of delusional thinking around the subject of love, and the recapturing of one’s youth.

I have skimmed through Wood’s 2007 autobiography ‘Ronnie,’ but it was never a contender for my music library no matter what the discounted price on offer. As a guitarist myself, I was hoping for some insights into the Richards-Wood musical relationship or as Keith is wont to say, ‘the ancient art of weaving.’ Wood acknowledges that it is Richards’s artistry that drives the band and not Jagger’s megalomania, yet any in-depth analysis of their interplay is abandoned after three pages. Instead the reader is regaled with monotonous details of sell out show dates and venues, cocaine stashes hidden amongst children’s bath toys and the ‘opulent yet functional family home’ in Surrey. I wonder if Wood really conceived of such a ‘bad boy confessional’ when he was interviewed for the book, (I’ve taken it as read that Jack Macdonald and Jeffrey Robinson really wrote the text), and maybe half the problem lies with my personality and age, but honestly, wasting time reading about the antics of individuals consistently stoned must be nearly as tiresome as actually being around them; little wonder therefore that so many of their entourage become hooked as well. It’s either addiction, or death by boredom.

A talented multi stringed instrumentalist, Wood has undoubtedly gone a long way by fitting in with the great and the good. Indeed he has done this for so long, that he has joined the pantheon of rock legends himself. Some illuminating background information to his fretboard development can be located at:

Recommended listening

I’ve got my own album to do (1974)

In no man’s land, between the collapse of The Faces and his eventual salaried recruitment to the Stones mink lined world, Wood cut his own album of ramshackle jams interspersed with the occasional quality song. Working with close friends, it’s a characteristically sloppy record, suitably embued with bonhomie and booze. There’s a rumbustious start to the proceedings with the Jagger duet on ‘I Can Feel the Fire’, but it’s the ballads that provide the most memorable moments; ‘Far East Man’, co-written with George Harrison, is a gorgeous exploration of major and minor seventh chords whilst “Mystifies Me”, on which Wood goes pipe to ravaged pipe with Rod Stewart, is a lovely, ragged, countrified love song. Stewart also steps in to give a little boost to the Chuck Berry-esque rocker “Take a Look at the Guy” and mask Wood’s drunkenly tuneless delivery on “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody”. It’s still Ronnie’s record and you have to smile.

I feel like playing (2010)

An all pervading smoky bar, bluesy, rock and roll feel inhabits every groove on Woody’s seventh solo outing. A warmly engaging mix of Ronnie’s bourbon on the rocks and nicotine stained vocals with kick ass drumming and grunge guitars, ‘I feel like playing’ is a timely reminder to Mick Jagger of what a Stones solo album should sound like.

The Ronnie Wood Radio Show (2010 – )

First broadcast on April 9, 2010, Woody’s show, which goes out on Absolute Radio from Monday to Thursday, is a testament to the man’s encyclopedic knowledge of the blues. To use Ronnie’s own words, “[He] opens his little cage once a week for an hour”, playing his personal favourite tracks, often by artists he has worked with. The shows also feature many of Ronnie’s great rock ‘n’ roll stories prompted by the tunes he plays and you can even hear the seasoned rocker strumming his guitar in the studio in-between tracks.

Wood was deservedly named 2011 Music Radio Personality of the Year at the Sony Radio Academy Awards. During the series, he has talked about many aspects of his life and career, including how his older brother Art would take him, resplendent in his short grey flannel pants, down to the Harrow and Wealdstone Hotel to listen to great exponents of British blues like Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner. He talks about his first group The Birds; The Jeff Beck Group; the Faces; Rod Stewart; Ronnie Lane and his snake venom treatment for the MS that would eventually kill him; his solo work; and of course his time with the Stones and his mate and drinking partner Keef ‘the human riff’ Richards. Along the way, Wood has also invited guests onto the shows including Slash, Kenney Jones, Bobby Womack, Glen Matlock, Andy Newmark, Mary Wilson, comedian Vic Reeves, his son Jesse and Paul McCartney – all of whom helped him select some of the sounds that “DJ Ronnie” played.

Recommended viewing

Ronnie Wood – South Bank Show (1994)

Recommended reading

Rock on Wood – The Origin of a Rock & roll face (Terry Rawlings) 2010

Ronnie’s world changes at breathneck speed and this volume is already way out of date. Nevertheless, its a highly informative and useful precis of his life up to the point of his mother’s sad passing, and the collapse of his beloved Harrington Club project with discloswed debts of £1m.

Written with the full cooperation of Wood and boasting hundreds of hours of new interviews with his family, friends and management, this is the full story of his vibrant life and his musical exploits with Rod Stewart’s legendary group The Faces, The Jeff Beck Group, cult icons The Creation and, of course, the Rolling Stones

Brimming with hedonistic stories from the music scene of the 60s and 70s, Ronnie emerges as a survivor, an affable pool partner and drinking buddy. Women may view him differently.

Hey Jo (Jo Wood) 2013

Borrowed from my local library and skimmed through at breakneck speed if only to gain some further insight into Mr Wood, the book is a rollercoaster ride through a hedonistic rock’n‘roll lifestyle where only the strongest constitutions survive. In chapter 26, she opines that “Ronnie is an extremely lovable guy and such a charmer – if he walked in the door now he’d charm the pants off you – and he was an extremely charming drunk, too. All his drinking buddies thought he was fantastic. They would never have believed he had a darker side. ‘Ronnie ever get angry? No way!’ But while he was Mr Charisma with everyone else, the booze could make him unbelievably nasty to me and to those closest to him”.

Recalling an incident dining out in Udaipur, India, in 2003, fellow patrons were regaled with the sound of four letter expletives as the guitarist, by now progressively worse for wear with prodigious vodka intake, rounded on his wife. Gently resting her hand on his arm, she had suggested some form of moderation, but her husband’s response was unfortunately overheard by many couples, some of whom had met the pair for the first time that evening. Enduring the ignominy of her husband’s very public venom, and fearing for a life outside the Stones inner sanctum, Jo quietly retracted to her own thoughts, an overwhelming sense of vicissitude now contrasting sharply with her earlier carefree drinking days with Ronnie.

When the marriage ultimately dissolved she recalls in chapter 29 how; ‘My Stones support network literally vanished overnight: I was completely on my own. Not only that, but it was now plainly obvious to me that I’d largely put my own passions and interests aside to devote my life to Ronnie. As the summer days stretched ahead of me, silent and empty, I realised I would have to build myself a completely new life. I was going to have to fend for myself, just as I had done at 16. And that was the really scary bit…’

Her autobiography includes her recollections of freebasing cocaine with Ronnie;

“I don’t regret doing freebase. But I do regret wasting 18 months in the bathroom when I should have been spending more time with my kids. A few months after I gave up, I was in New York with Ronnie, and Bobby Womack came over to freebase with him. They were badgering me to join them. I gave in. Some 12 hours later I was scrabbling around the floor looking for stray crumbs. And at that moment I decided: ‘I will never, ever do freebase again.’ And I never did.”

But even at the height of her freebasing frenzy in the early 1980s, Jo claims that she was still a good mother:_ “It was a crazy time, but I know I was always a good mum. We never did drugs in front of the kids, but sometimes we’d still be high when they woke up, and I would try to sneak off to bed so they didn’t see me.”_

I have sympathy for her marital breakup, despite my acute reservations about her introducing drugs to her children; a move undertaken to monitor the quality of illegal substances that she felt would inevitably come their way. She doesn’t pull punches in her book, and whilst a number of her unconscionable actions are rather shocking, ‘tweets’ and postings from the general public on various Reuters news agencies suggest my view is unshared by millions, many of whom believe such an opportunist ultimately received her just deserts. Yet just such a sentiment signifies pure envy, and conveniently ignores her contribution to a decades long marriage and the day to day problems of dealing with an alcoholic. It appears apparent to me, that characters like Wood, view others entering their orbit as ‘freeloaders’ by nature, their company to be enjoyed but their ultimate motives to be mistrusted. Worse still, in rejecting the obvious credentials of an exception to this general rule – and I do believe Jo truly loved him – they justify their wayward actions in the apparent and substantiated belief, that they can treat their partner in whatever cavalier fashion they see fit. Ignoring her intuition ‘from the off’, Jo’s life with Ronnie was one continuous round of self denial about his persistent womanising. Reclassifying every new dalliance as nothing more than a ‘drinking buddie’, she went about her life, travelling the world making sure her husband was comfortable ‘on the road’ with The Stones, raising their children, building a home life and partying with the best of them. In her own words, life on the road with the band between 1989 and 2006 was a disorientating blur of lights, dressing rooms and hotel foyers. I would wake up in the middle of the night in another hotel room and not have a clue which country I was in’.

Any natural inclination to hold the family unit together is both commendable and understandable, but Jo’s self denial established the template for her errant husband’s unending behaviour. Recalling the events following her 50th birthday, she writes;

‘…the following day, Ronnie looked at me and said, “I never thought I’d be married to a 50 year old”. It was the way he said it: not even with a smile and a chuckle, but a despondent shake of his head, as if I had somehow let him down by daring to get older. They were just throwaway comments, but they really hit home, making me feel increasingly insecure about the way I looked’.

There is little, if anything, to suggest she engendered jealousy or mistrust in him throughout their marriage. She maintains she was faithful to him. There is also little to suggest that she is both exceptionally and exasperatingly narcissistic. Wood’s hurtful comment was unfeeling, and to any casual observer, laughable in the extreme, bearing in mind his own extremely crumpled look – a vision no amount of ink black hair dye can disguise.

Tellingly, Jo confirms on page 313 that;

“Ronnie’s never apologised for what happened either to me or the kids – I don’t think he feels he has anything to apologise for – although he came close at the beginning of 2012. I was round at his house, dropping off some of his belongings, and he was talking about a new girl who was flying in to see him at the weekend. ‘I still haven’t found the one, Jo’, he said, wearily. ‘You won’t, Ronnie’, I said. ‘You had her and you lost her a few years ago. It was me’. He paused, took a drag on his cigarette. ‘You live and learn’, he said, eventually.”

Of course, at the end of the year, Wood tied the knot for the third time with his new bride Sally Humphries, who went on record as saying: ‘I would like children, but not yet. Ronnie is relaxed about it, but I want to have some time to ourselves’. Whether or not our resident Rolling Stone will be that relaxed about yet another wife’s diverted focus of attention when the time comes, is another matter. With Jo, there would have been a life with grandchildren, the garden variety type that any grandparent hands back when the time feels right. Now. heading inexorably towards 70, and a possible life with a new baby, one wonders just what on earth he’s really thinking. Perhaps the answer is that he’s doing nothing of the kind, in which case his actions with this unending array of women merely typifies that old Spanish proverb about men I was taught a zillion years ago : ‘Un par de senos tira más que un malacate’, which translates into English as follows – ‘a pair of breasts pulls harder than a winch’.


The official site.