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Ron Wood, Buddy Guy, and their dueling Strats paint a bloody good picture for the
crowd at last summer’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. Photo by Chris Kies
How did the new album come about?
It was a natural chain of events, really. I left home, like you do, and I had songs like “A Thing Like That” and “I Don’t Think So” and lots of phrases going through my mind. I started the whole thing off with [billionaire real estate developer and film producer] Steve Bing. He said to me, “Hey, Ronnie, I wanna hear you play—people want to hear you play. I hope you don’t mind, but I booked the House of Blues tonight for you. I’ve got [famed session drummer] Jim Keltner out there, and I’ve got Ivan Neville.” And then I said, “Well, I’ve got Flea, he’s in town, and I’m here with [session vocalist/ Stones backup singer] Bernard Fowler.” So I said, “Come on, let’s all go to the studio, then, and make a start.” So, we started with “Spoonful,” a number that goes down through the years and that I was inspired by—I was inspired by Howlin’ Wolf. Willie Dixon wrote it. That was a nice suggestion from Bernard. He said, “Why don’t we start with that one, man. You could really do that.” So we did that in a couple of takes, just live. And it had a good feel about it. And then I said, “Well, I’ve got these ideas to put around these words, like ‘What do you want to go and do a thing like that for?’”—to be said in a Southern accent. I think it would make a great country and western song, actually. It should be played on a country station, with Kris Kristofferson writing the words to the verses. He was at the House of Blues, and I just happened to bump into him and Don Was on the steps going in. Kris showed an interest, and I said, “I’ve got this chorus—I need some words for the verses. Come on, Kris, write something for me, would ya?” And he said [assumes John Wayne-like drawl], “Okay, Ronnie. But I can’t do it today. Give me ’til tomorrow and I’ll come back with a couple of verses for you.” And he did, and I loved it. Y’know, “I hear that old coyote howlin’ at the moon,” and things like, “Liberty is all I ever wanted, holy fire is what I need.” Yeah, really typical Kris, and really helpful.
And [Pearl Jam vocalist] Eddie Vedder was the same way with helping me on “Lucky Man” and “Catch You.” It was great to get Bobby Womack back out of the woodwork, as well, to kind of help me with some backgrounds. He was pleased with my singing, and so was Rod Stewart. He came in at one time and he said, “Oh, you’re singing really well.” He said, “I give you the stamp of approval now—you are a vocalist.” And, coming from Rod, that was great—and Womack and Bernard. But, I had great people in the studios nearby, like Slash and Billy Gibbons, coming through. He [Gibbons] said, “I’ve got a song for you, man. [Sings] I’ve got a thing about you.” And Slash is always easy to work with. He says, “What do you want me to play?” I said, “You know— just go out there and play.” And we played together, and he knows what I want.
What a great story. You mentioned Slash, Billy Gibbons, Flea—and Bob Rock played on it, too—and one of the interesting things when I listen to the album is that, on a lot of albums with star-studded lineups, you can really pick out the famous player because what they’re playing sounds like it’s coming from one of their own projects. But on this album, everyone really blends in.
Yeah, I sometimes don’t know which is me playing or which is Billy Gibbons or which is Slash. The great thing is, we have an understanding that it’s a front room, very casual kind of feel. It’s not like, “Okay, you’re featured here.” No, none of that. It’s just very natural.
It’s like everyone surrendered their egos and just contributed to the music.
I’ve always done my solo albums like that. There’s always been a very mutual understanding, and everyone’s just kind of, like you say, they drop whatever egos they have. Normally, I don’t work with people with egos . . .
And I don’t mean it in that way—but it’s just so cool because you listen to a track and you’re not thinking, “Oh, that’s Billy Gibbons right there,” because it’s got that Texas boogie groove.
On that song “Thing About You,” I don’t know which part he’s playing. The only bit that gives him away is when he goes doooooo. You know that’s him, his little signature.
Did you approach writing and recording for this album differently than you would for a Stones record?
Yeah. On a Stones album, for a start, you have to get it passed by “the board,” y’know. Jagger and Richards don’t accept a suggestion very easily, because they’ve already got it sewn up. So you’ve got to have a pretty good song to get it by the board—which I respect. And, in Stones downtime, we all pursue our own thing. Whether Mick does a film or Keith’s doing his pirate or making an album. Charlie’s got his jazz outfits or quintet or quartet or whatever—an orchestra. He has to keep his chops together. He loves to play. That’s what I love to do, I just love to keep playing. Y’know, keeping my fingers hard at the end—otherwise, you give it a few months and they start to go soft. It’s no good. You’ve got to keep working. Keep painting and keep playing.