Written in 1965, when he was just 17, Ronnie Wood’s diary is a magnificent thing. The tattered old book has been sumptuously reproduced in a highly collectable volume, its handwritten pages now illustrated with pencil drawings and perfectly capturing the moment the young guitarist and his rhythm-and-blues band The Birds lumbered round the club circuit in their unreliable van, ten years before he joined The Rolling Stones.
Its ever-sprightly author bowled into the Stones’ office in Chelsea to discuss it with Mark Ellen.
Mark Ellen: Your diary is a charming time capsule of life in a young band in the mid-Sixties, with entries such as, “Played bar billiards in The Archer, Trowbridge”, “fan belt broke” and “fed the budgie”. Another talks about playing blind man’s bluff –making your own entertainment before TV had really arrived - which is hard to imagine for a member of the Stones in the making.
Ronnie Wood: I wonder what warped version we played. I wonder who had the pin – or was that ‘pin the tail on the donkey’? We probably had a pin for blind man’s bluff [feigns sharp pain in the bum from imaginary assailant]. But, yeah, it’s funny to think of all that now. One day I put, ‘Did wallpapering with Dad.’ People don’t really do that these days.
ME: At the beginning, you mention your first-ever live performance, at the school assembly singing When a Maiden Takes Your Fancy.
RW: [starts singing] ‘When a maiden takes your fancy and you want her for your oooown/Be a hero in your wooing, always kissing always cooing/Never leave a girl alone, never leeeave a girl alone!’
I sang it in front of the whole school on my own, I was about 16, and I suddenly realised all the girls I fancied were looking at me. All the best-looking girls at school carried records around by the Everly Brothers but I could never quite manage that look somehow. I was more like Ted Ray than an Everly!
There’s tons, later, though, about after-show parties and all the girls you meet on the road. It’s low-level Beatlemania.
They used to write all over our van in lipstick. If the gig went well, they’d absolutely cover it – you couldn’t see out of the windows. There’s a bit about Salisbury where they nicked our windscreen wipers and the petrol cap, which I thought was going a bit far. They came at us with scissors – they wanted a bit of our hair or our clothing. That was really dangerous; we had no one to protect us.
ME: It’s fitting that you talk fondly in the diary about the band you eventually end up playing with…
RW: I first saw the Stones in ’63 when I was 15, at the Ricky-Tick Club in Windsor, and I remember someone opening the back door of their van and they all sort of fell out. They had their stage gear on, matching orange tab-collar shirts, which I thought was a bit overdressed actually, but not as bad as The Beatles, who wore ties.
And then I saw them at the Richmond Jazz & Blues Festival in ’64 playing in a big tent. The tent was moving – it was like watching a big elephant – and I was drawn to it. I’d never heard music like it. And the girls! I thought, ‘What a good job this is!’ I’d cut my leg on a tent peg and it was bleeding and everything, but I didn’t even realise.
ME: Did you think to yourself, ‘This is the band I have to join’?
RW: I did! I’m going to be in the Rolling Stones, it’s just a matter of how to get there! I thought, ‘I won’t worry about that now, but I’ll make it’.
They rang up The Faces’ office when Brian Jones died, but Ronnie Lane answered the phone and turned me down. ‘Ronnie Wood? He’s quite happy where he is, thank you.’ He didn’t tell me for five years. So my first gig with the Stones was in Baton Rouge in ’75, on my birthday.
Exclusive soundbite: hear Ronnie Wood sing his school assembly song.
How Can It Be? A Rock & Roll Diary is a signed limited-edition book by Ronnie Wood and Genesis Publications, £295. Only 1,965 copies worldwide, from RonnieWoodBook.com.
Watch The Stones' official tribute to Ronnie