At age 62, Bill Wyman is a walking, talking marvel. Just ask his doctor.
The former Rolling Stones bassist is a heavy smoker – has been all his adult life – doesn’t exercise and enjoys a good bottle of wine every now and then, and yet he looks younger than time-worn ex-band mates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
What keeps him so buoyant? It helps that his wife, Mandy, is more than half his age, and that they have three girls, ages 4, 3 and 9 months. That and rock ‘n’ roll will keep anyone young.
Wyman’s also too busy to be bothered with wrinkles and gray hair: “Anyway the Wind Blows,” his second album with his R&B-flavored band the Rhythm Kings, was released Feb. 23 on Velvel; he’s working on three books, including a sequel to the autobiographical “Stone Alone,” and he runs three Sticky Fingers restaurants in Britain.
Who has the time to be a Rolling Stone?
“People tell me I don’t look or act my age, and my response is always, ‘Well, I’ve been ill,’ ” he said recently with a hearty laugh. “They usually don’t get that joke. Seriously, I’ve always been pretty healthy; I’ve never been sick in my life, never been in a hospital, never broke a bone. I’ve been lucky in a way.
“I do all the things that the health people tell you not to do. I don’t exercise or take vitamins or go on diets. I don’t do any of that. It’s all about whether your body is built to take it or not. It’s down to genes. I have a checkup every year and my doctor always gives me a complete bill of health. I’ve been smoking since I was 17, about 30 a day, and my chest is clear. He says my blood pressure is as good as a teenager’s and I’ve got nothing to worry about. So far so good. That’s the way it is, you’re either lucky or you ain’t.
“Doctors have come out to say that certain people build a resistance or they have something within their body that builds a resistance against nicotine problems and cancerous things. Maybe I’m one of them, because my grandmother on my father’s side, she was a chain smoker until she died. She was the oldest surviving grandparent and died at 93 or something. She would light a cigarette one after another all her life. And the others weren’t really smokers and died much before her, in their 60s or early 70s.”
Wyman recounts how he and the other Stones reacted when a then-unknown Tom Jones opened for them in 1964, a year before he had his first hit, “It’s Not Unusual.”
“It was revealed what his age was,” Wyman said, “and we were in our late teens and early 20s, and he was like 31 (actually he was 25; Wyman deftly overlooks he’s nearly three years older than Jones) and he had a 9-year-old son (Jones married at age 16) and we thought he was ancient. We really thought he was so old, it was a joke.
“Then, here we are the Stones in our late 50s playing concerts still and now me still doing music at 62. You still feel young, but god knows what we appear to be to young teenagers now. We must seem like grandparents.”
The Backstreet Boys, Brandy and Britney Spears couldn’t muster the kind of supporting cast Wyman assembled for “Anyway the Wind Blows”: Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Chris Rea, Andy Fairweather-Low, Paul Carrack, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, British keyboard legend Georgie Fame, guitarist Albert Lee and former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor.
With his seasoned main lineup of singer Beverly Skeete, guitarist Terry Taylor, pianist Dave Hartley and drummer Graham Broad, Wyman leads the band and all-stars through several original songs and skillful versions of Willie Dixon’s “Too Late,” Mose Allison’s “Days Like This,” the Classics IV’s “Spooky” and Dan Hicks’ “Walking One & Only.”
Wyman is having the time of his life.
“It’s 100 percent fun,” he said, “because it’s done for the love of the music. It sounds very corny, but it’s the absolute truth. It’s done for the reasons we started out in the early ’60s. I go back with Gary Brooker before the Stones when he was in a band called the Paramounts and I was in a band called the Cliftons. And I’ve known Peter Frampton since he was 13 years old; he would knock on my door and ask if I had any Beatles boots he could borrow.
“I go back a long way with these people. They’re all still working musicians, still gigging, but they can’t play this type of music in their careers. Frampton can’t, Georgie can’t, Gary can’t, none of them, but they all love this music because it’s the roots music of where we all came from, stuff we listened to as kids. I’m like an escape valve for them, I suppose; I just ring them up and say, ‘Do you want to do something?’ and they say, ‘Yeah.’ They’re really up for it.
“We don’t have to worry about being a big success or making videos. You’re really doing it for the love of the music and a little bit of cash in the pocket. And I think that comes over in the music, both on the record and onstage, because we sell out wherever we play. It has surpassed all of our hopes because it’s done much, much better – in Europe, particularly – than either us or the record company ever anticipated. It’s very pleasing. There’s a market out there for it.”
Wyman left the Stones after 30 years in March 1992 primarily to fulfill many of his personal ambitions.
“It was time to move on to other things,” he said. “I was always interested in many other things, but I didn’t have time to do them when I was in the band. I was the first one to produce other bands in the ’60s; I was the first one to do solo recordings in the ’70s and onward; I was the first one to do movie scores in the early ’80s and a photo book and so on. So I’ve always had those interests outside the band.
“My post-Stones life has been wonderful. I’ve been involved in half-a-dozen on-running projects; as soon as one ends, another one comes along. And it’s a complete variety as well, not just music. I’m doing books on archaeology and one on Medieval English history and I did a book of my photos; I’m working on the second Stones book (this one chronicling the 1970s) and a satire book on a Spinal Tap-like thing. It’s a very funny, small book about rock ‘n’ roll in the ’60s.
“I’m doing a script and research for a TV series on the history of the blues. I’ve got three restaurants going, and I’ve got my family. I’ve got loads of things going on, and it’s a very creative time in my life and it’s very satisfying because it’s what I want to do. It’s not just the money; it’s nice to achieve something. When these projects end, even if only a handful of people see them or hear them, I’m really proud of them.”
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