The history of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings – by Bill Wyman
Former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman reveals how the Rhythm Kings were formed, and the Rhythm Kings’ success over the years. In this exclusive interview, Bill reveals the story of his life after leaving the Rolling Stones, his earlier jamming sessions and the growth of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, from the first album to their annual tours.
“In the two years following my departure from the Rolling Stones in 1993, I hardly touched my bass guitar. During that time I was a busy man. I married Suzanne Accosta, and developed my Sticky Fingers restaurant business. I also found the time to work on a variety of diverse projects like books, archaeology and photography – things I had had no time to get into in a serious way while I was a member of the Rolling Stones,” says Bill.
“When I again became inspired by musical thoughts in late 1995, I did so without any very serious intentions. I just fancied playing a bit of music, but I knew I wanted to do things differently this time. I wasn’t interested in playing ‘commercial’ music, so I decided to try to get back into early traditional roots.
“I began jamming at home with Terry Taylor and we thought of calling ourselves the Dirt Boys – playing and singing old raunchy blues numbers. Then we began to concentrate on the more serious music of artists like Fats Waller, Louis Jordan and Billie Holiday, and thought it would be worthwhile taking the sessions a little further with other musicians. I put the word out and events snowballed.
“There were certain people I knew I wanted to work with, and I approached the brilliant vocalist and organ-player, Georgie Fame, and guitarist Albert Lee. I called Peter Frampton – an old friend who I’ve known since he was a fourteen-year old guitar prodigy. I got in touch with Andy Fairweather Low and Gary Brooker – both of whom had been involved in my ‘fun band’ of the late 1980′s – Willie and the Poor Boys. Everyone was full of enthusiasm about my idea and happy to be involved.
“I started looking for a pianist who could play early jazz and blues styles and found the extraordinary Dave Hartley. I asked around for a girl singer with a bit of soul and was introduced to Beverley Skeete, who had worked as backing vocalist for artists such as Chaka Khan, Jamiroquai, Elton John and Texas. She turned out to be my biggest find of all – putting another dimension into our songs. We then contacted Martin Taylor, a brilliant melodic jazz guitarist, who was ideal for anything that needed a 1930-40′s bluesy-jazzy style.
“We began to record anything that came to mind. The benefit of working in this way – apart form the spontaneous atmosphere we created, was that I could pick and chose musicians for the particular style I wanted for each track. The result of these early sessions Struttin’ Our Stuff became the first Rhythm Kings CD – released in October 1997 – which sold better than we had anticipated.
“We decided to play a few gigs in small clubs in Northern Europe, with audiences of around a thousand people. This was like going back to my early days with the Rolling Stones, when we played early Blues to sometimes unimpressed audiences in London’s traditional jazz clubs in 1962 and 1963.
“In October 1998 Anyway The Wind Blows, our second CD was released. We did a three-week Rhythm Kings tour of Northern Europe and Scandinavia to great audiences and rave reviews. In England Anyway The Wind Blows was in the Jazz and Blues chart for two months and reached the number 5 spot. Groovin’, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings third album, was met with rave reviews in the UK, where it was #1 on the Jazz and Blues charts for five weeks,” says Bill Wyman.
“In 2001, after the Rhythm Kings UK and European Tour we played America for the first time and had wonderful receptions wherever we went. In a couple of places we played in smaller venues, so for me it felt a bit like it did when I first went to America with the Rolling Stones in 1964! After the US tour ended in Memphis I spend some time promoting my book, ‘Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey’. The book launch was at Sun Studios – what an amazing place – after which I did a three week tour and book signing.
“Double Bill, which featured the late George Harrison on slide guitar, was next and the Rhythm Kings fifth studio album with Just For A Thrill, followed in 2004. To date we have now recorded five studio and five live albums.
“In a world where musicians are increasingly pigeon-holed and pushed in a musical direction that allows labels to tick all the marketing boxes, I’m lucky enough to be able to play music that I like best, with musicians who are a joy to play with. The music we like to play is like no one else’s in its breadth and range, which obviously appeals to us, whom love playing it, but most importantly to people who love music.
“The idea behind the Rhythm Kings was always that it should be a fluid group, allowing for different people to play together, both on record and on stage.
“It’s great to work with people I’ve known for so many years. Take Gary Brooker, we’ve gone all the way round in a circle. When I had my band The Cliftons, before the Rolling Stones, Gary had a band called The Paramounts and we used to play the same places. Most of us started that way, Georgie Fame did and so did Albert Lee. We’ve all come back to basics.
“Among my friends who have played with me are Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, Albert Lee, Martin Taylor, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton and Chris Rea… and that’s just the guitarists! The list continues; Georgie Fame, Andy Fairweather Low, Gary Brooker, Dave Hartley, Mike Sanchez, Chris Stainton – it’s a bit like a football team, the musicians and singers come and go so the line up changes slightly, but the musicianship is always second to none and the core players remain.
“One of the great things about this band is that we have in Gary, Georgie, Albert Lee and Beverley Skeete great singers who can tackle just about any style of song. Martin Taylor, the best jazz guitarist in Britain, is a perfect foil for Albert Lee’s wonderful country inspired picking. Move over Memphis Horns and make way for Frank Mead and Nick Payn. Without doubt, Georgie is the best Hammond player in the UK and Gary Brooker’s piano playing is hard to beat.
“On drums, Graham Broad is a great partner for me in the rhythm department. Geraint Watkins is a gifted piano and accordion playing and he was on the first Rhythm Kings album, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he was available to tour with the band. And of course there is my mate Terry Taylor who helped me write some of the songs and co-produced the album; he’s also a fine guitar player.
“In December 2007, at the Led Zeppelin concert at the 02, London, held in tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, we performed as the back-up band, supporting the likes of Paul Rogers, Paolo Nutini, Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, Sam Moore and Ben E King, among others. Earlier this year the Rhythm Kings completed a six-week tour of the UK, followed by shows in Holland, France and Monaco.
“Having been asked by H.R.H Prince Albert II of Monaco to support the 60th anniversary of the Red Cross, we performed at a charity gala concert in Monte Carlo in August.
“Having chosen as a theme ‘A celebration of the music of the 60′s’ I invited special guests Robin Gibb (The Bee Gees), Eddie Floyd (Knock on Wood), Mary Wilson (The Supremes), Donovan, Gary Brooker (Procal Harem) and French artist Louis Bertignac (Telephone) to perform. Georgie Fame and Albert Lee completed the all-star line up – along with the Rhythm Kings regulars, of course!
“The Rhythm Kings did a short tour in Holland and Germany at the beginning of the year, and have just announced European and UK dates for Autumn and Winter 2009, so the story continues.”
“For me, it’s a privilege to play with such real musicians. It gives me such a thrill to play our kind of music to audiences that appreciate real musicians, playing real instruments – with not a computer to be seen.
“I love being a Rhythm King.”