Kubernik: Interview with Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones original bassist, Bill Wyman, recently auctioned items related to the band, collected by him during his long tenure with the group. The event took place in Beverly Hills Sept. 11-13.

The announcement, from Julien’s Auctions, read as follows:

“Property from Bill Wyman and his Rolling Stones archive, courtesy of Ripple Productions Limited, our spectacular two-day auction event, celebrated the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted English musician, record producer, songwriter and singer.

“The sale featured over 1,000 lots selected from Wyman’s renowned and vast archive. The archive contains not only an unprecedented collection of his instruments, stage-worn ensembles, awards, personal items and artifacts collected during his illustrious three-decade career as a founding member and bassist of the Rolling Stones, but also important instruments and artifacts from his ongoing solo career.

“As depicted in the 2019 documentary film about the life and career of Wyman, The Quiet One, this archive also includes a wide range of property including never-before-seen archival material, equipment, ephemera, merchandising, promotional materials, production artwork, photographs, correspondence, concert posters, records and other memorabilia.”

“Collecting and archiving has been one of the great pleasures of my life and will undoubtedly be one of my legacies,” remarked Bill Wyman. “It feels like the right time to share my archive with the world. I hope people will get as much joy from my collections as I have. It is easier to let these items go knowing that a portion of the proceeds from this sale will support three causes that are close to my heart: The Prince’s Trust, Macmillan Cancer Support and CCMI (Central Caribbean Marine Institute) who are at the forefront of restoring the health of the world’s reefs and oceans.”

Coming in October is a new photographic book from Reel Art Press Goin’ Home With The Rolling Stones ’66 by Gered Mankowitz.

The legendary photographer is the son of author and film writer Wolf Mankowitz and his wife, the Jungian psychotherapist Ann Mankowitz.

Gered was the Rolling Stones official 1965-1967 photographer. He first met the lads courtesy of their manager and record producer, Andrew Loog Oldham. Wordsmith Oldham penned the Foreword to this era-specific volume.

They were wonderful to work with … and very comfortable around me,” stressed Mankowitz in the Reel Art Press news release.  

By the start of 1966, the Rolling Stones were making serious money and splashing out on new homes and cars. Their official photographer and friend, Gered Mankowitz, was invited to shoot an “At Home” session with each band member.

“They hated the idea of unknown photographers visiting their private sanctuaries … If I did it then the press office would have a large selection of this type of image and could fulfil any magazine request without having to bother the band.”

Mankowitz kept these photographs in supermarket carrier bags stashed under his desk for several years, “getting in my way and frequently wondering why I continued to hold on to them”.

This is the first time his “At Home” sessions have been collated and published. The book includes iconic and unseen photographs: Mick in a kipper tie turning on his new television and posing outside with a new Aston Martin; Keith, Lord of the Manor-style, with his blue Bentley and antique sword at his East Sussex home; Charlie grinning next to lingerie drying in the garden; Brian in obligatory silk shirt in front of a hand-painted mural; Bill in the kitchen with his dog.

The photographs are relaxed, the band’s ease with Mankowitz evident. There are moments of contemplation, intimacy and wit, and Mankowitz manages to capture something of an amused innocence to the whole concept, as if the five of them can’t quite believe how far they have come. Goin’ Home With the Rolling Stones ‘66 is a beguiling collection of images, shot with incredible skill that offers that rare gem in Stones photography – a fresh perspective.

By the time Gered Mankowitz received the call asking him to photograph the Stones he had already established a name for himself as one of the most interesting and mould-breaking photographers in the music industry.

Only 18 when he first started working with the band, Mankowitz brought a youthful, gritty approach to his photographs. This coarse freshness led to his photographs being used on a number of their album covers, including Out Of Our Heads (December’s Children in the US) and Between The Buttons. He also photographed them extensively on their tour of America in 1965.

“At the end of ’65 we had got to know each other pretty well and I felt very at home with them all.”

Mankowitz went on to work with the most well-known names in the business, including Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Kate Bush, Duran Duran, and Oasis.

Gered is still working in the industry 50 years later, venerated as one of the best music photographers of his generation. His work has been exhibited worldwide and in 2016 he was awarded an honorary Fellowship to The Royal Photographic Society.

D.K. Publishing in late 2002 made shipped to retailers Rolling With The Stones, a definitive story of the Rolling Stones presented and explained by one man who was in the inside looking out at us, Bill Wyman, who co-authored the title with Richard Havers.

Havers and Wyman previously collaborated on the exquisite Blues Odyssey A Journey To Music’s Heart & Soul.

Rolling With The Stones is a stunning visual tour of Wyman’s personal archive of band memorabilia. Illustrated with more than 3,000 photographs taken by Bill and some of the world’s greatest photographers, this collection emerges as the one book all fans and casual followers of the Rolling Stones need to own.

It’s a large compilation, a complete all-access biography of the group that integrates manuscripts, press clippings, copious diaries, stage outfits, instruments, posters, set lists, private photographs and much more.

Wyman, a Stones’ member for over 30 years, picked from his unique collection items that fill three property barns, and seven million words on his computer.

Bill Wyman was born in Southwest London in October 1936 and joined the Rolling Stones in 1962.

When he became a Rolling Stone in ’62, Wyman kept a diary “so my son Stephen, then 1, would know I made two singles.”

He amicably left the band in 1993 with “no regrets,” and that year married Suzanne Acosta, a Los Angeles girl from Palisades High School. Wyman lives with his wife and three daughters in London.

During 2003 I interviewed Bill Wyman at the Hotel Oceana in Santa Monica, Ca.

Q: Bill, the materials displayed barely scratched the surface of your extensive archive.

A: We literally used 1% or 2% of what I have. It doesn’t mean we’re gonna do another nine books, though. (laughs). One was enough. Move on to something else.

Q: Where did the concept of this book come from, and describe the process working with Richard Havers?

A: Well, the idea came because of the success of The Blues Odyssey last year. We were so pleased with that, and the award I got from the Blues Foundation, and that I’d already spoken to Richard previously that I was going to do the follow up to Stone Alone, which I did in 1990, that covered the childhood and the ‘60s, basically. We we’re going to do the ‘70s into the ’80-81 tour this year.

I was so pleased with the way the blues book went, and so was DK, it was one of their best sellers of the year. They asked “Have you got another book for next year?” So, I said “I was going to do the second book on the Stones.” They said “We’d love to do a book on the Stones.” So, I thought, if we’re going to do a book on the Stones, it’s not going to be like Stone Alone which was all written with a few photos. ‘Cause that was a complaint I got from all the fans who said “There weren’t enough photos! We loved the book, but there weren’t enough photos.” So, I said “So we’ll do a book on the Stones, but we’ll do it like the blues book with maps, with information on the tours, and everything.”

And that’s why we did it. And DK was thrilled. “We’ll go for it!” And we did it in nine months. Which I thought was impossible. I said there was no way it can be done under two years because there was so much stuff to sift through. And analyze. What do you leave out? That was the problem. Not what to put in.

Q: What kind of blueprint did you utilize just to get this thing started?

A: Well, I didn’t give him seven million words. What I did, I’d already made for myself for the second book, a skeleton of the main events. When I say main events, it was “Mick flew to Paris on holiday with Marianne Faithfull for the weekend.” That was a main event for me. Next line, “Keith moved from that address to that address.” Then the next one was “we did a radio show.” And I got that chronology right away through from the beginning. And I gave Richard that, and from that he worked out, bless his heart, how many chapters, what we would cover per chapter, and all that. So we laid a skeleton out and then we started to fill it. So Richard would say, “All right, what you got on April 1964?” And I’d respond with “I’ve got 30,000 words.” “All right, we’ve got to get that down to four pages. Or six pages.” So I’ve give it all to Richard, and we’d go back and forth. Then he’d ask, “How many illustrations you got for April, 1964?” And I’d say “Well I’ve got about a thousand or two thousand scans.” So he and DK would go through them and choose the ones they thought were the most interesting, different, unusual and unknown. And then, we’d barter with them. “No, I’d rather have the picture of me playing the tambourine with the boot.” Or, “What about the picture I took of Keith in the dressing room with his spotty shirt lookin’ at his tie in the mirror?” ‘Cause all my photos have never been published, you see. I took 10,000 photos in my career with the Stones. And I’ve taken reels and reels of movies as well. We were doin’ it that way.

Q: The band always worked well in black and white photos. Who needs colour all the time?

A: Yea. Well, our first six years of TV was all black and white because we didn’t have colour in England until 1968. All the shows like Ready, Steady Go! were all shot in black and white. The band were a black and white band. They were a mono band sound wise so we always tried to mix in kind of a mono feel. We didn’t have things right out wide on the left and right. It was only the record companies that did that with fake stereo and stuff which sounded bloody horrible in the mid-‘60s. We always tried to mix our sound to sound monish because we liked that sound, that ballsy thing, and everybody else cleaned it up, didn’t they?

Q: I’m pleased that there are so many photos not of the Stones on stage or in concert.

A: I didn’t want it to be like the average Stones’ book. I’ve got like 300 on the Stones in my collection, and 90 per cent of them are crap, really. They just focus on scandal, gossip, heresay. Marianne Faithfull…Anita Pallenberg…Bianca’s marriage to Mick…All the drug busts, peeing in the garage. So it goes on. And that’s not the life I lived. They were just things that happened, and at the time were important.

Q: Let’s be realistic. It’s a book about a band from someone in the band. How refreshing.

A: Yes. And I could refer to my diaries and get the facts right. You know, you can talk to Mick, and Mick will remember bits and pieces. He won’t always remember if they are in the right years or the right tours, even. He’ll remember bits that I’ve forgotten, probably, and Charlie will as well, but they’re very few and far between.

Q: Your ability to weave in some correctional data in the writings and captions, sometimes contrary to some of your former band mates’ recollections well documented in a band authorized video documentary, and some album credits, is one of the strengths of this new book. I thought your detailing of the Stones’ visit to Chess Studios in Chicago was so accurate and different than even the way Keith Richards always paints it. This book sometimes is counter to some in-house Stones’ history.

Your memory has Willie Dixon trying to sell a song he wrote to the band at Chess studios, and that is certainly not the way Keith described the scene in the Stones 25 X 5 video documentary after seeing and meeting Muddy Waters for the first time. He mentioned Muddy was painting the walls around the Chess studio. And I talked to both Muddy, Willie and Marshall Chess about the Rolling Stones and that Chess studios booking over the years, too.

Marshall told me, “Keith Richards said this bullshit in a Stones history video about meeting Muddy for the first time seeing him painting Chess Records. I said ‘bullshit’ to his face. I was with Keith two months ago and shared a box at an Etta James concert at Carnegie Hall and we were laughing about Muddy painting. Keith believes it to this day. We laugh at each other. I said, ‘you motherfucker. What were you on? You’re hallucinating that shit.’ There might have been someone painting but it wasn’t Muddy.”

Your diaries detail the history of the band’s Chicago visit to Chess.

A: Willie Dixon, true. He thought we were naïve white kids who didn’t know these songs. At the same time, when I met Jimmy Reed, when I played with the Heard in South London, Wallington, and met Jimmy Reed. His manager came over and said “I’ve got a great song for your guys. It’s called ‘Big Boss Man.’”

We’d been listening and playing “Big Boss Man” for two years and he didn’t know that. He thought, “These white kids won’t know it.” And it was the same with Willie Dixon.

The Chess text you refer is different than the way Keith talks about how he saw Muddy painting the walls at Chess. It’s funny. It gets headlines and it gets a laugh. Willie tried to pawn a song on us and Muddy did help us in with the gear. It’s in my diary that day.

The greatest thing about Chess Records wasn’t the recording, or having Buddy Guy walk in, Muddy, and Chuck Berry coming and saying “Swing on, gentlemen, you are sounding most well, if I may say so,” and he knew he was going to make some money.

But it was being told we could go down in the cellar and pick some albums if we wanted. Racks of Little Walter albums we had never seen. That was the magic of Chess for us. And me plugging into a plug direct for the bass. Direct!

Q: In the Foreword to Rolling With The Stones, you begin with a quote from American novelist James Baldwin who lived near you in France in the 1970s. You mention his words “If you know where from whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” His words are fundamental to what this book is all about-history. And you write

“I’ve always understood where I came from and proud of what I achieved.”

A: Jimmy was lovely. Set the tone. Jimmy was a great guy and I knew him really well for many years. We had lovely evenings together in the south of France. I used to go ‘round his house and he’d come by my house and he’d just sit and play Ray Charles songs.

And Andrew Loog Oldham was a person I wanted to thank and offer a tribute to in the Foreword as well. He came around and saw my band last year and loved it. I’m just telling it like it is because that the way it was.

When I wrote Stone Alone I wasn’t particularly kind to anybody. I told the truth and some people in the band didn’t like it. They wanted to go through it with a black pen, right? I won’t mention names.

And I said, “No, this is my book and you can’t do that.” I wrote the way it was with Andrew and Andrew was the first person that phoned me up after Stone Alone was published, and said, “You weren’t too kind about me in the book, were you?” And I said “I told the truth Andrew.” “I know. I think it’s great.” And I’ve been friends with Andrew ever since. So Andrew didn’t take offense ‘cause it was the truth. I didn’t set out to tell prove a point or have an agenda. Just say it the way it really happened. And some people didn’t like that.

In the new book, Richard and I think the same way. We both grew up in South London. Very similar backgrounds. And he laughs at my jokes! Richard and I work very well together. We’ve done a lot of things over the years when we first met, charity things. Richard has done us some favours and we’d done him some favours, and we’d always ended up with a good rapport between us. It works very well. He writes great and always pleases me with the way he puts my words into a better way of reading them. That’s not what I’m good at. I’m good at research and analyzing.

Q: I also enjoyed the way you produced the pages and visuals on some physically departed members like Brian Jones, then Ian Stewart, and a bit on Jack Nitzsche.

A: There’s a two- page spread on Brian at the end. Because I do say, and do honestly believe, that if there wasn’t a Brian Jones there wouldn’t have been a Rolling Stones. There would have been another band from Dartford which I wouldn’t have been in and Charlie probably wouldn’t have been in. But there wouldn’t have been the Rolling Stones, because that was Brian Jones.

He named the band and he enlisted the members one by one. He decided what style of music we would play. He phoned and wrote to agents, bookers and NME, Jazz News, Disc, letters about R&B and blues and all of that. I mean it was his band. So I have to acknowledge that or it wouldn’t be there without him. And he’s been kind of glossed over and pushed aside by most people.

And Stew was the second person to join the band. Stew was the first person who joined Brian, before Mick and Keith.

Q: As someone who grew up in downtown Los Angeles, Crenshaw Village, Culver City and then LA right near Hollywood, and frequented some of the clothing shops, I was very impressed seeing the Beau Gentry store receipt ‘cause the reproduction was so spot on you could read the tiny print that always proclaimed “Continental Style With A Flair.”

Who would have thought you were grabbing and collecting fashion artifacts and items in 1964 and 1965?

A: Well, the publisher and everyone else were shocked when I bought my ration book and identity card from 1953!

Q: Both your books, demonstrate how vital Hollywood and Los Angeles was in the live shows and location recording endeavors of the Rolling Stones. And the city always welcomed the band. You also married an LA girl.

Stone Alone points to former Teddy Bear Marshall Leib having the band brought your pal Joey Paige to his Malibu pad for a party. Phil Spector’s involvements with the group early in your career. Bassist Joey and guitarist Don Peake were with the Everly Brothers on their 1963 tour of England where the Stones supported the Everly Brothers.

Rolling With The Stones underlines how Hollywood and the Los Angeles area informed the band. Your book acknowledges how essential Southern California and the Hollywood of the sixties were to you and the Rolling Stones.

A: Hollywood and Los Angeles, very important.

Q: You, Brian Jones and Jack Nitzsche even used to go to a Nazi memorabilia shop on Hollywood Blvd. called Hell Bent For Leather. Nitzsche told me stories about the place. Your autograph was displayed in the window. My mother wasn’t really thrilled about that store…

A: Yea! I bought stuff there. And I used to go to Marshall Leib’s house for breakfast with Joey. They took us on to the beach for the first time.

Q: Tell me about RCA studios on Sunset Blvd. and recording albums like Out of Our Heads, Aftermath and Between the Buttons.

A: We had recorded at Chess for a couple of dates, a few times. When we came into L.A. we went to RCA. We walked into the studio and it was too big. We were really worried. We were intimidated. We were used to recording in little places like Regent Sound. The studio was like this hotel room. And Chess wasn’t very big either. Suddenly we’re at RCA and it’s enormous. It was like Olympic in England later. But we solved that same problem. We thought “God, we can’t record in here. We’re gonna get the wrong sound.”

But Andrew had this brain wave and he put us all in the corner of one room, turned all the lights down, and just tucked us all around in a little small circle. And we forgot about the rest of the room and the height of the ceiling. And we just did it in this little corner.

Like even today, when I play with my ten- piece band the Rhythm Kings we go onto these big stages and we all get in the middle and we put stools up, and we play like a family get together. It personalizes it much more, and as soon as the Stones did that, and got into this little area and started playing, it worked.

And Dave Hassinger the engineer got all the sounds we wanted. Brian picked up all the instruments in the studio. The dulcimers, the glockenspiel, the marimbas. And I played some of that stuff as well. The organ where I laid on the floor and pumped the rhythm for “Paint It, Black.”

We just experimented in there. Brian brought in electric dulcimers, autoharps. He just did so much to those songs from 1964-1966 in RCA. Brian created so many new sounds. Then he got the sitar together, just so he could play a riff. He wasn’t as good as George Harrison on it. George really learned the sitar and studied it. Brian didn’t, he just picked it up and worked out a little riff for one song. He did it with flutes. And he was brilliant at that. Dave Hassinger helped us do those things and he was always…We never had one bad word with Dave.

At the time we didn’t know the R&B heritage of the RCA studios. All we knew was here was this engineer and on the same thing as we were. Dave used to say we’d just come in and do it. And Nitzsche said it was the first time in his life that he saw a band just come in with no thought or no preparation or anything. He said it in books before. We’d just do it and it sorta blew his mind. Because we had no pre-plans and just do it in three takes. “Let’s do that one.”

RCA engineer Dave Hassinger was lovely. Hassinger was one of the pro-voters for “Satisfaction” being a single. RCA was our first studio that had four tracks. We were on two and three tracks before that. Jack Nitzsche was a sweet man.

Q: The Rolling Stones in concert.

A: The band was always great live. The Stones were a better live band then any other band at that time. I’m not saying they were the greatest songwriters or the greatest recording artists, but they were the best live band wherever you went. You could go up on stage and blow everybody away no matter who they were.

Q: What did you attribute the live concert abilities of the Rolling Stones, other than the obvious chemistry you had?

A: Practice. Doin’ them little clubs in the beginning. Going through all of that learning process, that apprenticeship. Starting off not thinking about being rich and famous and having a career and making a record or going on TV or touring America. Our going out in a limousine like kids think now when they go into a band. None of that. It was let’s play this music and if people like it, that’s a bonus. And if we got a bit of change in our pockets, that was a bigger bonus. And it was that simple. That’s why when we played in the clubs at the beginning we sat on stools, we drank beer, we had no uniforms, smoked in between songs. It was ridiculous. We had our backs to the audience some times.

Nobody did that, in a little circle on stage. You can see those early pictures we were all close together.

Bill Wyman (right) and Harvey Kubernik (left). Photo by Heather Harris.

Q: I remember talking to you once before, and I seem to think it’s in Stone Alone as well, that when the Stones recorded a cover of “ My Girl,” which ended up on Flowers, you had a tough time playing bass on that song.

A: It was just the wrong way around for me. And if I listen now to “Smokestack Lightnin’” by Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon plays the bass backwards on that. And I’ve only noticed that in the last ten years.

In 2003 I interviewed Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and Rolling With The Stones co-writer Richard Havers and we discussed on collaborating with Bill.

Q: What is Bill’s greatest strength working with him on the books?.

A: He’s an endless researcher. He’s into the truth and the facts. It’s very important to Bill. I think it’s a line in the introduction. Brian Jones described Bill in an interview as “rather matter of fact.” Well, the truth is the facts matter to Bill.

Q: It was an undertaking as you approached this new book, partially due to the vastness of his archives.

A: Yes. Bill ended up giving me three and a half million words in all from his computer. It comes down to about 270,000 in the book I think. Something like that.

Bill is meticulous. Everything with Bill is meticulous. Probably one of the most meticulous individuals I have ever met. From his dress to the way his desk is laid out.

Q: Is it an advantage that a musician was in charge of his own legacy?

A: I would like to think so. We actually had a conversation back in the ‘90s at some point and I said to Bill, ‘you’ve got all this stuff, and this is before we did Blues Odyssey even. “You’ve gotta do something with your stuff Bill. You can’t just leave it. Because nobody cares about it as much as you care about it. And you need to sort it out and deal with it, do something with it.” I had no idea what it was particularly.

Q: The process of constructing the book.

A: We were always going to go chronological. The process was an interesting one. The publisher said, “Right. We need a flat plan.” So we had to say pretty much what was going to go on the 512 pages, which is a bit of a daunting prospect when you haven’t begun to write it. On page 468…I mean, we had to divide the chapters up and work out so much time for each period. Bill had given me his outline and diary, and that enabled me to work that through. And again, having grown up with the Stones, and having lived through the ‘60s, ‘70s, you kind of know intuitively what is important and what isn’t. And in the back of the mind you don’t want to replicate most of the stuff that’s been out. And one of the things I would say is that if you haven’t grown up with the period it’s more difficult I think to know what’s important, and what isn’t.

One of the conversations Bill and I had early on was that he lived his life in the gold fish bowl looking out and he who by his own take can’t be objective about much of the stuff. He knows what went on but it’s difficult to be objective about it. What have you got to compare it to? He never went to concerts in the same way the way that the people did because he was busy giving them. And when he wasn’ giving them he certainly wasn’t going.

Q: Personally, again, I was delighted to see a well-balanced portrayal of the Stones geographically. It’s not a book that is exclusively the London or the New York trips of the band.

A: We wanted to make sure that not everything had equal weight and everything in its place, and everything in its time.

Q: I dug the Chess Records text and including the oral history of their visit to Chess.

A: That was an easy one because we talked about it so often and because we’ve been friends for many years, Bill gets irked by mistruths. As I said before, the facts matter to Bill. It’s important to tell the truth of things.

It isn’t to say sometimes like Andrew Oldham’s book. There’s no one who evokes the period better. I like his writing. He does it brilliantly. That’s something Bill would not profess to be. He doesn’t write in that style and we weren’t setting out to do a book like Andrew is an evocative read. Bill is a more factual. Andrew created some great slogans about the band.

Q: I’m pleased Andrew contributions on behalf of the band are receiving a re-evaluation these days. He had to do some stunts to get the band out there. You know how tough it was for anyone to get some action in the early ‘60s English rock world. It was a stubborn period in UK history and a tough scene for a band to crack in the charts and in media coverage.

A: Absolutely. I grew up in it. I can well remember sitting at the dinner table, and my parents saying, “Those disgusting dirty long hair Rolling Stones. They don’t wash you know.” It was the talk of every home in Britain.

We have used throughout contemporary comment by the other band members which has never been done in the same way in any other book about the Stones. No new stuff. We deliberately did that.

Looking back through the telescope through 40 years, it’s inevitable that those stories become embellished and the language changes. If you go back to the early part of the book and read Mick and Keith’s quotes, and Charlie, Brian and Bill, they are wonderfully evocatively of the times. They were actually nice young men and when you hear them talk about those times now, the language changes into a more modern idiom. Keith didn’t used to say “cat” and “man.”

Q: Bill was very open to addressing Brian Jones’ role in the Rolling Stones as well as Ian Stewart. And think that they were the first two to be in the band and the first two to leave, be re-positioned or forced out. And they didn’t get preferential treatment in your book with Bill. They got balanced treatment. 

A: The total drive for that comes from Bill. The positioning of Brian in the story of the Rolling Stones, the positioning of Ian Stewart in the Rolling Stones, Bill feels very strongly about. That’s why they are given their little eulogies, even looking at the visuals to present Brian.

Q: He was a telegenic.

A: Absolutely. And the fact that every picture of Brian is a black and white picture in his tribute. Brian was a very black and white person too. A bastard and in many ways he was gentle, and in other ways he was dangerous. He was black and white. And as Bill says in that piece, he was a difficult person to be around. But nevertheless, it was Brian that named them. It was Brian that chose what they played initially and it was Brian that got them together. And without Brian there would not have been a Rolling Stones.

Q: How do you even edit or construct a book like this?

A: I don’t know how many times I stayed with Bill for a week or so, four or five days at a time, and we’d be up until 4:00 a.m. pulling out things. “Get that book!” “Use that!”

Q: I’ve come to the conclusion that he didn’t have to write the material or songs, so he had extra time for girls and collecting. He had a pretty good time in the band.

A: Bill had a great time. And if he wrote songs with them, the archive would have suffered. As I’ve heard Bill say before, “you can’t be the front man as Mick was, shouldering all that responsibility, and have time to do the things that Bill did.” You hit it on the head Harvey about the songwriting. Keith and Mick spent a lot of time writing songs.

Q: How important was the chronology as far as the book developing and moving?

A: Chronology was never a hindrance because it is a story that unfolded. That’s why we took this idea doing spreads on the tours, and we’d do the single pages and the album spreads, because that helped us to get together to get that information and put that all in one place. One of the problems I find with a lot of books is you start getting too many facts brought in that get in the way of the story at times. So our view was to get the facts into another place. And it allows the story space to breathe. Again, there are places in the actual text about specific songs but generally speaking it’s keeping those facts.

Q: How do you take something so visual, sexual, like rock and roll, and in this case, the Rolling Stones, and put it in a book and make it work. I know specific documentation and time period accuracy help the situation.

A: I can’t stress how much time Bill committed to this. When we did Blues Odyssey, there were people who said, “Bill didn’t really do that, did he? He just puts his name on the front.” Nothing could have been farther from the truth. And with this book, this wasn’t a ghostwriting job. Bill’s heart and soul, and his passion are there.

Q: What did you learn about yourself, rock and roll. The Rolling Stones and Bill Wyman from working on this book?

A: Rock and roll is incredible hard work, and certainly in the early days of the Stones there can be no band that worked harder for their success. Rock and roll is as much about image as it is about music. Fashion is really important. Image in the case of the Stones is very important. They were as much as much about fashion in those early days and their whole look, and everything about them, as it was about the music. Their early singles were not that good.

Q: The Stones’ rhythm section of Bill and Charlie were essential. I think a lot of us took Bill a little for granted.

A: I think a lot of people took Bill and Charlie in that sense. The Rolling Stones were very much a sum of their parts. And that more perhaps then almost any other band in history. The sum of the parts.

About Bill, the book reinforced to me how hard he works. I’ve always known it. He worked incredibly hard on this. It reinforced how incredibly generous he is. He’s a kind and generous man. Something perhaps again people might not see. The last thing I learned about Bill was about how a good collaborator he was. We discuss things. He never ran it as his book.

The visuals made me respond as a writer. The band works in black and white extremely well. There’s a great picture of the Stones at Altamont. A picture from Hyde Park where the butterflies are being led off. And there’s another photo in the book, early on where it’s the five of them against an orange wall, and the five of them look like The Wild Bunch. Except Mick has his hands on his hips and can’t just stop himself from being the front man. The other four look mean, moody and magnificent. And Mick is being Mr. Front Man. It’s a lovely picture. DK was terrific. They could have not been more wonderful to work with, committed to this project and allowed us to redefine in their words, “what rock books are about.”

Q: You had the major advantage that your collaborator had his materials and archive so well laid out and available. It had to have helped in time management and assembling the book.

A: It is incredible. Every picture has a number. Every item has a number. Bill cross references everything.

(Harvey Kubernik is the author of 19 books, including Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972.   Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. For 2021 they are writing a multi-narrative book on Jimi Hendrix for the same publisher.

Otherworld Cottage Industries in July 2020 has just published Harvey’s 508-page book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring Kubernik interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Andrew Loog Oldham, John Ridley, Curtis Hanson, Dick Clark, Travis Pike, Allan Arkush, and David Leaf, among others.    

Kubernik’s 1995 interview, Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown appears in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett published in 2019 by Oxford University Press. Brackett is a Professor of Musicology in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Canada. Harvey joined a distinguished lineup which includes LeRoi Jones, Johnny Otis, Ellen Willis, Nat Hentoff, Jerry Wexler, Jim Delehant, Ralph J. Gleason, Greil Marcus, and Cameron Crowe.

This century Harvey wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, most notably The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. He was the project coordinator of the recording set The Jack Kerouac Collection.

Harvey Kubernik’s 1996 interview with poet/author Allen Ginsberg was published in Conversations With Allen Ginsberg, edited by David Stephen Calonne for the University Press of Mississippi in their 2019 Literary Conversations Series.

In 2020 Harvey served as Consultant on Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time documentary directed by Alison Ellwood which debuted om May 2020 on the EPIX/MGM television channel. It was just nominated for three Emmy nominations).

Cover photo by Henry Diltz.