Happy Birthday to former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, who turns 76 today (October 24th). Wyman, who quit the Stones nearly 20 years ago, joined his former bandmates on Thursday night (October 18th) in London for the premiere of the new Stones doc, Crossfire Hurricane.
From the band's earliest days, 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. A while back, Wyman explained 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."
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."
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."
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. Wyman explained in the recent 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."
In 2006 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.
He 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.