Bill Wyman brought his 31 year membership in the Rolling Stones to a conclusion during 1991. He had been a part of one of the great rhythm sections in music history and a stalwart in what has been called the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. Little did he realize at the time that he would be embarking upon another long-term career as the leader of his own band.
He formed The Rhythm Kings as a low key project to fill in the time after his high pressure existence in the Rolling Stones. It provided him with a vehicle to play, write, and produce music on his own terms. The Rhythm Kings have had an ever changing array of superstars lending a hand to assist him. It was a credit to his stature and talent that he has been able to attract such musicians as Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Nicky Hopkins, Paul Carrack, Peter Frampton, Gary Brooker, Mick Taylor, Albert Lee, Andy Fairweather-Low, and a host of others to create his music.
The five-disc Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings Collector’s Edition Box Set gathers together four studio albums released 1998-2001. The 66 tracks give a complete look into the musical vision of Bill Wyman that had been buried in the Rolling Stones juggernaut, plus contains some stunning performances by some of rock music’s elite.
Struttin’ Our Stuff was the band’s debut album and in many regards his most hands on in the creation of the music. He wrote or co-wrote 6 of the 12 tracks and then just selected the songs he wanted for the other six tracks. His voice has always been an acquired taste, and here he provides the vocals on a number of tracks including his own “Stuff (Can’t Get Enough),” and “Going Crazy Overnight.” Some of the other vocalists included Paul Carrack, Beverly Skeete, Gary Brooker, and Georgie Fame. It is a good introduction to his music and remains the simplest of his releases as it presents good-time rock ‘n’ roll.
Anyway The Wind Blows is fast paced, fun, and the best of the four albums for sheer enjoyment. He backed off providing the lead vocals and left that chore in the capable hands of Fame, Skeete, and Carrack. The title song by JJ Cale, “Spooky,” Willie Dixon’s “Too Late,” Mose Allison’s “Days Like This,” and “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You” were all part of a well thought out but eclectic group of cover songs and the likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Gary Brooker, Albert Lee, and Mick Taylor help bring them to life with a great degree of spontaneity.
Oddly, the title track and old Rascals tune, “Groovin’” was this album’s weakest track. The release went in a lot of directions musically as rockabilly, pop, rock, and jazz shared the stage together. Many of the tracks are excellent but the album never gets into a consistent groove as the title suggests. “Mood Swing” was a rare lead vocal by Albert King, “Hole In The Wall,” written by Wyman and his long-time sidekick Terry Taylor, is a nice rock-romp, and Brooker leads the band through a good cover of the old Lovin’ Spoonful tune, “Daydream.”
Double Bill was a long and sprawling album that covers two discs and 24 tracks. It probably could have been divided into two releases as again there was a variety of styles. There was a lot of blues including Delta and Chicago, plus some swing music and a little gospel. George Harrison’s slide guitar on “Love Letters” was a poignant reminder of his talent as a guitarist.
The Rhythm Kings have achieved a fair amount of success but have sort of peaked commercially. This is partly due to Wyman’s aversion to extensive travel. He travels only by bus, train, or ferry and confines himself to Europe. He seems fine with this steady but sure career path.
Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings Collector’s Edition Box Set does not contain music that has changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll, but it is a loose affair that is a lot of fun and that seems to be enough for Bill Wyman at this stage of his career.