Band members, love them or hate them at times, become family. Even when break-ups, retirements, or even deaths threaten the group’s structure, many times those familial bonds hold. When it comes to a band like the Rolling Stones, a group in which famed guitarist Keith Richards said “No one leaves this band unless they’re in a wooden box,” the mates are still a family.
“We all send each other birthday and Christmas presents,” said the band’s former bassist Bill Wyman in a recent sit down with Classic Rock. He said Richards still sends him scented candles for the holidays. “It’s still a family thing, social, not business, and it works really well. It’s like distant relatives – you’ve got an Auntie Elsie and an Uncle Fred who are really charming but you don’t want to see them all the time.”
When Wyman retired from the Stones in 1992, it wasn’t easy on him or the band. “When I first left the Stones it took a few months to rebuild that relationship with them,” he explained. “It was quite stressful and they didn’t want me to leave. So they became bitchy. Instead of being nice and saying: ‘Great 30 years. Cheers mate,’ Mick [Jagger] would say the most absurd, stupid things, with that spoiled attitude he had. He’d say things like: ‘Oh well, if anybody has to play bass I’ll do it. It can’t be that hard.'”
He continued, “Anyway, they left the door open for me for two years. Charlie [Watts] and Mick would phone and say, ‘You’re not really leaving are you? Have you re-thought it?’ Then when it came time for them to do the ’94/’95 tour they had to make a final decision. Mick and Charlie came over and spent the evening with me, trying to talk me into staying.” The band went through a lot to find Wyman’s replacement, but they eventually found it in the great Darryl Jones.
“Have I had any regrets about not going back? None whatsoever,” Wyman added.
Of past bandmates, the ex-Stone continued to tell all. “Whenever the Stones would go on tour, me and Brian would always share a room,” he said of the band’s founding member and multi-instrumentalist, the late Brian Jones. “He could be really sweet and lovely and was more intelligent than any of the others. He was very articulate. But he could also be a little bastard sometimes.”
Wyman explained, “He had an evil streak which a lot of people only remember him for. Brian would do nasty things, like steal my girl or something one night. So he’d do the dirty, then you’d end up forgiving him because he’d have that little innocent, angelic smile, ‘Sorry, man. I didn’t mean it.’ So you’d love him and hate him.”
In conversation with Classic Rock, the bassist also dished on fellow bands and musicians who came into prevalence alongside the Rolling Stones. Quips about Jimi Hendrix, Peter Frampton, The Yardbirds, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison did not go untold.
“I used to stay at Moonie’s house a lot,” Wyman said of The Who’s late drummer Keith Moon. “Keith was a wonderful guy, but God he did overindulge.” He spoke of the drummer’s addictions and habits, detailing, “There’d be Valium 10s, sleeping pills, wake-up pills, and speeding pills, and he would just down them all the time. And there’d be champagne in the mornings, with brandy. I used to watch him in disbelief.”
Wyman continued to recount run-ins with Moon, saying the drummer would meet up with him dressed in full hunting attire or mention the time he bought fellow-Who member, John Entwistle, a cemetery as a birthday present. Wyman also told of a violent occurrence between Moon and his girlfriend. “Once I was making a cup of tea in the morning and his lovely Swedish girlfriend [Annette Walter-Lax] came down – I’d heard them fighting upstairs – and she had scratches down each side of her face, with blood. I said: ‘Annette, what happened?’ And she went: ‘Oh, nothing. Keith just threw the cat at me.’
“He’d do the maddest things,” Wyman dismissed.
Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns