Happy Birthday to former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, who turns 83 today (October 24th). Wyman, who quit the Stones in 1991, was on hand for the band’s 2012 London shows as part of their 50 & Counting Tour. Both Wyman and longtime fans were disappointed that he was relegated to only two songs during the shows, sitting with the band during “It’s Only Rock N’ Roll” and “Honky Tonk Women.” April 2018 saw the release of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings‘ latest album, Studio Time.
The recent documentary on Wyman, titled The Quiet One, is now available on demand. The Quiet One spotlights never before seen footage and stills from Wyman’s massive personal archive and features testimony from Eric Clapton, early-Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, Bob Geldof, Stones engineer Glyn Johns, and the Supremes‘ Mary Wilson.
Bill Wyman, who has recently battled prostate cancer, explained to Variety why he finally allowed his story to be documented: “My life has been an extraordinary adventure. The time feels right to delve into the archive and tell my story before I croak.”
On October 28th, 2016 Wyman performed at the “Bill Wyman 80th Birthday Gala” at London’s Indigo at The O2. Among the performers saluting the Stones bassist were: Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Mark Nobler, Simply Red‘s Mick Hucknall, Bob Geldof, and Steve Van Zandt.
From the band’s earliest days, Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts provided the solid rhythm section behind band leaders Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the late Brian Jones. Wyman, whose real name is William Perks, was several years older than the rest of the band and caught the music bug much earlier than his bandmates, who were first smitten by the early Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran singles. By the time Wyman joined the band, he was already a father and a veteran of Britain’s Royal Air Force.
Wyman, who was also a songwriter, was all but barred from incorporating his own music into the band’s repertoire. In the three decades Wyman was with the Stones, he was only able to get two of his songs onto the band’s albums: 1967’s “In Another Land” on Their Satanic Majesties Request, and “Downtown Suzie,” an outtake from 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet that was eventually included on the 1975 Metamorphosis compilation. Wyman has also gone on record saying that he composed the Stones’ signature opening riff to 1968’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” yet never received credit.
He released several critically acclaimed and musically diverse solo albums throughout the ’70s and ’80s, including Monkey Grip and Stone Alone, and even scored a surprise 1981 Top 20 UK hit with “(Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star.”
Although Wyman’s bass playing was always solid, he was affectionately dubbed the “invisible bassist,” in contrast to his contemporaries Paul McCartney of the Beatles and the late John Entwistle of the Who, both of whom were considered more distinctive and innovative.
Among the many up-and-coming musicians Wyman discovered was the 14-year-old guitarist Peter Frampton.
Shortly after the band’s successful 1989-1990 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour, Wyman officially quit the Stones, although the formal announcement wasn’t made until 1993. Wyman explained at the time that he had gotten to a point where he wanted his time to be completely his own: [“One of the main reasons I left the Stones was I didn’t really want to tour anymore, and I didn’t want to spend six months in a studio cutting a record. I didn’t want to be that much away from my family. I do have a little family now — of three little girls of 6, and 5, and nearly 3. I do like to be at home.”] SOUNDCUE (:14 OC: . . . be at home)
Following Wyman’s departure, drummer Charlie Watts admitted that apart from making music with his old friend, he missed hanging out with him on the road: [“Personally, it’s devastating, ’cause I like Bill Wyman a lot. I used to go and sit in his room and he’s a very amusing man. I mean, whether he’s being serious to me — when Bill’s being serious, he’s totally very amusing. So, I’m used to him. It’s part of being on the road is, I’d go and knock on Bill’s door — whatever’s going on. We’d laugh, or something.”] SOUNDCUE (:22 OC: . . . laugh or something)
Bill German, the author of Under Their Thumb — How A Nice Boy From Brooklyn Got Mixed Up With The Rolling Stones And Lived To Tell About It, and the editor of the legendary Stones fanzine Beggars Banquet, told us that Mick Jagger has always been hell bent on doing whatever was necessary to change and modernize his musical approach — even if it meant chucking Wyman out of the band: [“1981 — Mick goes to the Ritz to see a bass played named Busta ‘Cherry’ Jones, who winds up playing with David Byrne eventually. What happened was; Mick was going to see Busta ‘Cherry’ Jones with the possibility of installing him into (laughs) the Rolling Stones! And I didn’t know that until a few years later when I’m sitting with Bill Wyman in London, and he reveals to me that Mick has tried to throw him out of the band (laughs) a few times and Mick would do this behind Bill’s back, but he would get talked down by the other band members.”] SOUNDCUE (:32 OC: . . . other band members)
In 1990, Wyman published his memoir of his time with the Stones, titled Stone Alone. He followed that in 2003 with a lavish 500-plus page oversized coffee table book, Rolling With The Stones. After that he published Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey, chronicling the history of blues music in the south, and most recently The Stones – A History in Cartoons, which includes Wyman’s doodles from over the years.
A book based on his recent photo exhibit, titled Wyman Shoots, is currently in the works. Wyman says that because his musician friends had such complete trust in him behind the lens, he’s careful about what photos of them he chooses: [“There’s one or two dodgy (laughs) ones of Keith (Richards), y’know, in various forms of misbehavior, but that’s about it really. I’ve got a great one of Jimmy Page sleeping on a plane with a cigarette (laughs) hanging out of his mouth, but I don’t think I’ll show it because it’s not complimentary to him. There are a few things like that I wouldn’t show.”] SOUNDCUE (:18 OC: . . . I wouldn’t show)
Although Wyman is no longer a partner in the Stones franchise, he is considered the band’s primary in-house historian and still contributes to their archival projects, including the recent Crossfire Hurricane documentary. Wyman explained in the 2010 Stones In Exile DVD that although Exile On Main Street proved to be among the greatest of the Stones’ ’70s albums, the sessions were far from being the most productive or professional of the era: [“I suppose we had the band there — the whole band there — probably 30 percent, 40 percent of the time. The rest of the time it was just bits. Me and Charlie (Watts) and Mick didn’t come — Mick Taylor didn’t come — and me Charlie and Keith (Richards), so we’d work on something. ‘Next day Keith wouldn’t come because Mick (Jagger) wasn’t there, so then Mick’d come and he’d see that Keith wasn’t there and the next day he wouldn’t come. And sometimes we’d all get there to a session and Keith wouldn’t even come! He was upstairs sleeping! Charlie’d come five hours, y’know, me and Mick Taylor had come two hours, Mick had come an hour and Keith is upstairs, and he didn’t come down to the session! And it was like, madness.”] SOUNDCUE (:34 OC: . . was like madness)
In 2006 Bill Wyman released a two-disc retrospective, Stoned Alone: The Solo Anthology 1974-2001.
In 2009 Wyman broke his 55-year smoking addiction — which at times had him smoking up to five packs a day.
Bill Wyman performs frequently with his solo band the Rhythm Kings, who backed Paul Rodgers in December 2007 when he opened for Led Zeppelin at their reunion gig at London’s O2 Arena.
Bill Wyman was on hand for the Rolling Stones’ 2012 London shows as part of their 50 & Counting Tour. Wyman told us he felt as though his appearance was treated as almost an afterthought: [“They wouldn’t let me do anymore. I think maybe they were punishing me for leaving (laughs). I thought I’d be playing a lot more, y’know? And they said, ‘Y’know, we only want you for two numbers.’ And I said, ‘I haven’t even done a rehearsal — I did one rehearsal’ — I said, ‘I haven’t done a soundcheck, or anything.’ They said, ‘You know ’em! You know ’em!’ Y’know, I just did the two — what was it, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘It’s Only Rock N’ Roll.'”