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book review

'Ronnie': Between rock and a hard place

Having moved beyond addiction, Ronnie Wood takes a clear look at being guitarist and peacemaker for the Rolling Stones. Having moved beyond addiction, Ronnie Wood takes a clear look at being guitarist and peacemaker for the Rolling Stones. (Getty Images)
Email|Print| Text size + By Steve Morse
December 13, 2007

Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood comes from an era when rock stars still trashed hotel rooms, partied until dawn, and consumed industrial quantities of drugs to the point where concerts became a blur and so did their personal lives.

Wood, now 60, has since been through rehab and has become focused enough to write his autobiography, "Ronnie," which is much better than we might expect. He wrote it himself, and while he dishes enough backstage dirt to keep the tabloids happy, he also emerges as a solid family man who gained control of his life and erased the financial debts that plagued him until just a few years ago.

Wood is now also a successful painter (former president Bill Clinton owns two of his works) and is credited as the calming influence between fellow Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Wood helped steer the Stones through some of their most turbulent times, especially in the 1980s, when the Jagger/Richards bond turned frosty (Mick was making solo albums and Keith wasn't happy about it), bringing the band to the verge of collapse.

Wood came originally from a family of "water gypsies," parents who were born on barges in the Paddington Basin of West London. He grew up in a small flat where his father hosted musical parties every weekend. Wood developed a raucous lifestyle even before joining the Stones in 1975. He went on hedonistic tours with the Jeff Beck Group (also featuring Rod Stewart) and the Faces (again with Stewart). The Faces, as he writes, became "the first band to ever have a bar on stage, complete with waiters in tuxedos so that we could drink our way through the set without ever having to go offstage."

Wood tells all, revealing affairs with Margaret Trudeau (wife of the former Canadian prime minister) and Pattie Boyd (George Harrison's wife at the time). He also partied with Bob Marley ("through a haze of herb smoke"), David Crosby, John Belushi (who called him the night he died), Tony Curtis, Cary Grant, Sly Stone (a neighbor who came over to use his freebase pipe), and, of course, Richards, who did heroin "for a solid ten years," Wood writes.

"The fact that Keith has survived," he adds, "is down to a bit of know-how, sure, but also a lot of really good luck, a few miracles, and some understanding high court judges."

The book starts a bit slowly as Wood meanders through his early years, which included stints as a potato picker and a butcher's boy. But it picks up dramatically when he becomes a world touring presence, having backed Bo Diddley and Bob Dylan.

Wood openly discusses his own failures, such as making bad investments in clubs in Miami and London (losing a small fortune in the process) and succumbing to a drug habit while needing to sedate himself after his teenage sweetheart was killed in a car crash. His life was finally straightened out by his wife, Jo, who has been with him for three decades. Wood, however, admits that he snorted coke with Richards at his and Jo's wedding, though he now says he has embraced sobriety.

Through it all, Wood remained an effective guitarist, and a sometimes unsung hero in the Stones. He adds, "Before, I was always too stoned to realize that what I was playing was any good, but now I understand and have the drive to keep playing and improving."

The fact that he had the drive to write this book is a good start.

Ronnie
By Ronnie Wood
St. Martin's, 357 pp., illustrated, $25.95


Steve Morse is a freelance writer living in Cambridge and can be reached at spmorse@gmail.com.

'Ronnie,' by Ronnie Wood

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Ronnie
By Ronnie Wood
St. Martin's, 357 pp., illustrated, $25.95

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