A fun opportunity to catch up with Bill Wyman’s old-school R&B and blues revue arrives in the form of this sweeping five-disc retrospective focusing on the former Rolling Stones bassist’s subsequent Rhythm Kings band.
You’re to be forgiven, even as the biggest fan of his old group, for not knowing much about what became of Wyman. He’s led the lowest of low key existences since leaving the Stones in the mid-1990s. Wyman’s Rhythm Kings have made consistent appearances over the years, but never more than a bus, train or ferry ride away. Wyman, who says he left the Stones after three decades because he had tired of the globe-trotting lifestyle, never travels any further from his English home base than eastern Europe.
Yet, this forthcoming Collectors’ Edition Box Set, set for release Nov. 22 from Ripple-Proper American Records, underscores just how revved up this low-key band can get. Comprised of each of the Rhythm Kings’ albums (from 1998’s Struttin’ Our Stuff through 2001’s Double Bill), the set works like a pocket history of 20th century roots music.
“It’s almost like an archeological dig into music,” Wyman says in pre-release materials, “but there are very few bands that have the depth and versatility of my band in doing a total mixture of music. We play blues, reggae, soul music, gospel-y stuff, jump music, early rock ’n’ roll, we do ’70s stuff — it’s a whole mixture. We can do anything.”
Those looking for a more direct connection to Wyman’s days with the Rolling Stones will find a fun cover of the Jagger-Richards composition “Melody” (originally a jazzy aside with Billy Preston on 1976’s Black and Blue), as well as guest turns by former Stones associates Mick Taylor on “A True Romance” and “Can’t Get My Rest At Night,” and Nicky Hopkins on “Gonna Find a New Love.” Wyman also references the 1960s rock era from which his former band emerged with leaping updates of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River,” Classics IV’s “Spooky,” the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” and the Rascals’ “Groovin.'” The deep-blues influences that clearly informed Wyman as a youngster show up in cuts like “Turn On Your Love Light,” the Bobby “Blue” Bland vehicle; J.B. Lenoir’s “Mojo Boogie”; and a pair of Willie Dixon covers (“Down in the Bottom,” “Too Late”).
A few famous guitar-carrying friends swing by, too, including Peter Frampton (“Tobacco Road,” “Any Way the Wind Blows”), Eric Clapton (“Melody,” “Gee Baby Ain’t I Been Good To You”), Albert Lee (“Working on My Own,” “Walking One and Only,” “Mojo Boogie,” others) and George Harrison (“Love Letters”). Other key contributors include Georgie Fame, Gary Brooker, Paul Carrack, Andy Fairweather-Low (who’d been part of Wyman’s ’80s group Willie and the Poor Boys, a stylistic forerunner of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings), Jerry Portnoy, Martin Taylor, Ray Cooper, Tommy Emmanuel, and Chris Rea. The primary vocalist is Beverley Skeete, while guitarist Terry Taylor works as Wyman’s principal musical collaborator.
Yet, Collectors’ Edition Box Set never turns into the kind of guest star-laden project that subsumes the headliner. Make no mistake, the Rhythm Kings’ creative engine is Wyman himself, who — though never known as a composer during his lengthy stint with the Rolling Stones — wrote or co-wrote 23 of the 66 tunes here. He handled arrangements on a pair of traditional tracks and, of course, plays plays bass throughout.
The result is a new testament both to Wyman’s continuing vitality as a musician, and to the lasting joys of the music that informed his youth. Wyman, semi-retired but still rocking, doesn’t get around much any more — but that doesn’t mean he’s lost the ability to move us.