he'd sit and watch Charley Patton play. Wolf had a great band behind him,
too, so for millions of kids watching TV, this was the first time they'd seen
anything like it.”
Although relationships with his old bandmates remain cordial - he sees
Charlie Watts regularly, and although Wyman disapproved of Keith's
“ludicrous” autobiography,
Life,
the guitarist often sends him “very nice,
thoughtful gifts of things he's turned up” - Wyman is happy he's moved on. His
regrets, if any, are the logistical challenges of taking his main band, the Rhythm
Kings, on the road.
It would be a terrible shame if Wyman didn't hit the boards again: anyone
who's seen both the Stones and the Rhythm Kings on tour recently would
testify that the Rhythm Kings enjoy their shows more than the Stones do, and
the audiences might well end up empathising. However well his solo album
sells, though, you're sadly unlikely to hear Bill play the songs live: “They want
me to promote it: we've had lots of offers and radio sessions. They wanted me
to do an acoustic session for Terry Wogan on Radio 2. But this is an electric
record, not one where you can do a little acoustic session with a piano.”
More of a problem is Bill's playing style: based on those subtle, busy runs,
usually five or seven frets up the neck, his lines come with one drawback. “I
can't sing at the same time that I play bass. Not playing those lines. It's OK for
guitarists who are playing on the off beat, but my lines are going right through
the bar. So no, I won't be playing them live!” ■■
BASSISTS
BILL W YMAN
always been about that bass, short scale, and 18-inch
speakers,” he says. Yet, in Britain's mostly primitive
recording studios, capturing that sound on tape
wasn't easy: “The one thing is that they didn't really
understand how to record bass and drums in the
studios we worked in then. So the record would come
out, and you couldn't hear the bass at all, and you
couldn't hear Charlie’s bass drum either,” he says. “It
bothered me, but I'd come to accept it, that it was about
the whole band and not just me. But finally, with some
of the remasters you can hear it properly!”
It was those 2002 Abkco masters that first revealed
the subtle sleaziness behind Wyman's playing,
especially the fluid creativity of classic sides like
'Under My Thumb. Of the original versions, it's
probably the band's first Top 20 hit, 'I Wanna Be Your
Man, that first revealed his potential - its intensity and
distortion, helped by the absence of manager and Phil
Spector wannabe Andrew Oldham for that session,
helped inspire American garage rock. “People go on
about that bass-line,” says Wyman, “but it's really just a
simple walking bass, except it's doubled up in tempo.”
By the time of the band's first American tour, the
Stones had already scored their first endorsement
deal, which saw Bill eventually bag his own
Vox V248 Wyman bass. Today, he reckons the
instrument “really wasn't very good” - but adds that
when the band first hit the States in 1964, he finally
had his sound down. “When we got Vox involved,
they supplied the bass and the amplification. I had a
100-watt top and two cabinets, about two feet high,
each with an 18-inch speaker. We'd split the lead
from the amplifier to the two cabinets, and placed one
on either side of the stage. Everyone used to wonder
how I got that sound, because it was better than
anything anyone else had.”
That first Stones US tour also revealed the gulf
between English and American recording techniques.
The whole band was enthused about recording at 2120
Michigan, the Chess studios, where so many of their
idols, from Chuck Berry to Muddy Waters, Howlin'
Wolf to Little Walter had recorded. They recorded the
hits 'Time Is On My Side' and 'It's All Over Now' at that
first session, which was a revelation: “Ron Malo [the
main Chess engineer] was terrific, he really knew how
to record. I remember him telling me, 'Plug in there.
It was a socket on the wall, and I was looking around
to see if it was connected to an amplifier by hidden
wires.” This was, of course, Wyman's first experience
of DIrecording.
Although Wyman's personal assistant occasionally
interrupts our conversation should your fearless
interviewer have the gall to ask about the 'old
days, it's obvious that Wyman feels a justifiable
pride in his band's role in pioneering the blues, and
alerting mainstream America to its own heritage.
They witnessed Howlin' Wolf's TV debut in May
1965, sitting down at the great man's feet for his
performance: “It was a very special moment, all
sitting there,” says Bill. “We were taking something
that America had, and introducing it to them. And it
was all the more amazing, in that Wolf introduced us
to this elderly gentleman who he said was a friend.
Brian and I went over and chatted to him, and it was
Son House - this fantastic legend, who told us how
Back To Basics
is out now on Proper Records. Info: www.billwyman.com
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