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Keith Richards (right) wields a then-recent Tele while Wood rocks
a trusty Strat on February 22, 1999, at the Stones’ No Security tour stop at the Palace
of Auburn Hills in Michigan. Photo by Ken Settle
So, even though it sounds like you’re really hooked on old classic gear, do you ever try out new boutique stuff? There are so many companies trying to recapture the old handwired amp sound.
And they do a damn good job. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between a valve amp and a modern job, y’know. But, you just put it to the test. I mean, if it can survive a tour—a heavy beating on a tour—then it’s the sign of a good amp.
Off the top of your head, what were some of the highlights of the sessions with these big-name guitarists? Let’s start with Billy Gibbons.
Well, Billy Gibbons is very bossy for a start. He went like, “We’ve got this riff, right.” [Sings short ascending lick.] And I’d go [sings descending melody]. “No, not that! No, just play the lick. Play that.” And I’d go, “Okay, Billy.” So we’d play that together. And then when it comes time to let it rip, he’d go, “You take it your way and I’ll take it mine, and I’ll meet you in the middle.” He was just great fun, and he’s a very enthusiastic, creative person. And I love to bounce off that creativity.
And he played on two songs right?
Yeah. When we finished “Thing About You,” I said, “Oh, I’m working on this other song called ‘I Gotta See.’ How about I play it to you.” And when he heard it he went, “Oh! [Sings rhythm line.] It needs that kind of approach.” I said, “Yeah, perfect! Go for it.” He just did that in one take.
How about the most memorable moments with Slash?
Well, every time he’s there, he’s always in the same mood. He’s never upset. He’s never over-the-top happy or sad. He’s always like [in quiet, ultra-laidback voice], “Hey, awesome, man.” He’s like, “Hey, man, I really enjoyed that.” That’s the most he ever gets worked up, like, “Hey, that’s really good, man.” I just had him on my radio show. We filmed that, as well, when he was in the studio for this program for Absolute [UK radio station Absolute Classic Rock], which is really great. We do 52 programs, one for each week of the year. I go through archive stuff. I play everything from the first rock ’n’ roll song right through a bit of Mozart, bit of Marley, and up to people like Regina Spektor and a little of what’s happening now. It’s a great exercise for me, and it is a very educational program.
How about Flea? He’s obviously a monster bass player, and half the bass-playing kids in the world worship him, but on the songs he’s on he’s just rock-solid—no showing off whatsoever.
I just like to let him take it his way. I didn’t have to tell him what to play. I was just happy to see that he was happy with his groove, and it was great to see him working with someone like Keltner. They really got along well. And then you would get people like [longtime Stones bassist] Darryl Jones juxtaposed against people like [session drummer] Steve Ferrone. There were some nice, interesting things happening. And [bassist] Rick Rosas, you know, he’s a good old solid from the Neil Young days. Good people. Good teamwork.
Bob Rock also played on two songs, and he’s known for his production work with huge bands like Metallica. What was it like having him on there?
He’s a real gentleman, and he’s a real fan. I didn’t realize he grew up listening to what I played, y’know, when he was in short pants. He knows more about what I did than I do. [Laughs.] It was great to work with him being a fan and a creative person. And he was only too happy to say, “Ronnie, I’ve got these songs [Rock co-wrote “Lucky Man” and “Catch You”]. I’d love to hear the way you would interpret them.”
As a musician, as a guitarist, and as an artist you’ve conquered the creative world several times over.
I’m not finished yet—you’ve gotta be ambitious. [Laughs.]
What motivates you to pick up a guitar these days?
Is playing guitar in a band different now from how it was 30 years ago?
No, except I’m that much older now. I’m a bit wiser. But some of the things don’t work like they used to—I tore the arse out of ’em years ago. [Laughs.] But I’m lucky to still be alive, I suppose, to have survived everything. I’m really grateful. I’m a lucky man.