For almost 30 years bassist Bill Wyman, along with drummer Charlie Watts, formed the rhythm section of the Rolling Stones. By the early ‘90s Wyman left the band, tired of the commercial and physical grind. A couple of years later he formed his own group, Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings, focusing on roots music, including rockabilly, blues, and swing. On November 22, four of their CDs (Anywhere the Wind Blows, Struttin’ Our Stuff, Groovin’, Double Bill), spanning the years 1998 to 2001, will be re-released in a five-disc set. Wyman sat down for a discussion that covered the formation of the Rhythm Kings, the material he chooses, and his approach to playing bass. In conversation he came across as gregarious and enthusiastic about the Kings and their music.
A lot of people aren’t familiar with how the Rhythm Kings were created. Can you talk about that, and how this project is different than some of your previous solo projects?
Yeah, absolutely. When I left the Stones in ’93 — well, ’91, but they didn’t believe me for two years — I stayed away from music for a couple of years. I just focused on my restaurant. I was writing book on archaeology, opening events for the museums and things like that. And getting married, of course. I’m now married 18 years and have three beautiful teenage daughters, so that was a good one. Then I thought maybe I’d love to play some more music, but in a different way. Not worried about charts or record companies and all the bunk that goes with it, all the pressures. Just do anything and have a bit of fun.
So I just started to call up a few mates and just started to record anything whether it came from the 1920s to the 1970s; I didn’t care. I’d do a Fats Waller song and then we’d do an Ethel Waters song from the '20s and then we’d do a Creedence Clearwater song or J.J. Cale, just whatever grabbed me at the time which I thought was a good song, a Jackie Wilson song or Sam Cooke or Ray Charles. We’ve got a lot of singers in the band, six singers all with different styles, so we were able to experiment with learning very quickly any kind of music. It took a while to get our record deal because it wasn’t commercial music. People didn’t know how to sell it. I got lots of great compliments about it, but they said, “We can’t sign you because we don’t know how to work on this kind of stuff. We don’t know how good the market is out there.”