Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey
Renee Montagne's report on Wyman's blues project.
A Former Rolling Stone Explores the Roots of Rock 'n' Roll
View a photo gallery from Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey.
Dec. 13, 2001 -- Bill Wyman is the first to admit that he owes a debt of graditude to blues artists like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Wyman is the former bassist for the Rolling Stones. And the Stones, who took their name from a Muddy Waters tune, were famous for recording their own versions of blues tunes like Slim Harpo's "King Bee" and Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster."
Wyman discusses Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey, a Journey to Music's Heart & Soul, a book and accompanying CD set he complied that sets out the history of the blues, with NPR's Renee Montagne on Morning Edition.
In the book's foreword, the British rocker says the project "is an opportunity for me to acknowledge my debt" to the blues artists who so influenced the Stones and other rock 'n' roll bands.
Wyman's reverence for those bluesmen and women is evident when he recalls first hearing John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen," one of the songs he included in the 46-track collection:
"I was picturing him, sitting... with a piece of plywood on the floor, stomping his foot on it," producing a sound somewhere between clapping and drums, Wyman says. "He just did it stamping with his foot and just sitting very proudly and playing that rhythm that influenced so many bands afterwards like Canned Heat. And many bands just took that on and created careers for themselves with the rhythms he created. He wasn't a great musician as such. He tuned his guitar in a special way, but he had this wonderful voice and when he sang... you really believed what he was saying."
Wyman, now 65, says he became aware of the blues in the mid-1950s when he heard Lonnie Donegan's skiffle hit "Rock Island Line," which was based on the country blues music of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. A few years later, when he was forming a band with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, Wyman rediscovered the blues.
"There were a few people in London who swapped (blues) records, borrowed from each other," Wyman says. "They were like gold dust. You had to import them from America. You couldn't buy them in the shops... "
There was a special appeal in the blues for young musicians like Wyman. "It was always called the devil's music and it was... sort of naughty. Some of it was very tongue-in-cheek (laced with) double entendre, double meanings. They were talking about 'my limousine' and it was actually his girlfriend... So it was a different kind of music. It was much more interesting than the music that was being played on the pop charts, like 'Lipstick on Your Collar' and all those kind of silly songs... which were hits in those days.
"When you heard the blues records... when you heard Elmore James singing 'The Sky is Crying,' you know it's like poetry."
Previous NPR Coverage
Listen to an NPR 100 feature about Robert Johnson's song "Hellhound on my Trail."
Listen to an NPR 100 feature about Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man."
Listen to an All Things Considered feature about Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied."
Listen to an NPR 100 feature about Bessie Smith's version of "St. Louis Blues."
Listen to an Weekend Edition Sunday feature about blues legend Buddy Guy.
Listen to John Lee Hooker's obituary on Morning Edition.
Listen to a Weekend Edition Sunday feature about the blues label Chess Records.
• See a track listing for the Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey CD.
• Read an excerpt from Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey, the book.
• Watch videos of Wyman discussing the book.
• Visit Bill Wyman's official Web site.
• Learn more about the blues at The Blue Highway Web site.