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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Rolling Stones never have to worry about fading away as long as Ron Wood is around to keep them in the tabloids.
The 63-year-old guitarist has been adding a dose of hilarity to the band since 1975, the fan-friendly clown prince who defuses occasional tensions between the prickly pair of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
But with the band off the road for the past three years, Wood has been putting his talents to use in other areas: he squired a Russian teenager, got divorced by his second wife, suffered a drug and alcohol relapse, and went through a few more nubile gal pals.
His exploits were dutifully recorded in the media, rendering almost quaint the international incident he stirred up in 1977 after a dalliance with the estranged wife of Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
But Wood has also found time to record his seventh solo album, one more than the combined outings of Jagger and Richards. "I Feel Like Playing," his first release in nine years, comes out on Tuesday through Eagle Entertainment.
Needless to say, the recording sessions provided a welcome distraction as well as an emotional outlet.
"I didn't quite know what it was I wanted to say, but I knew that I had to not weaken under the strain of leaving home and starting a new life, really, at such a late age," he told Reuters with a wry laugh during a recent interview.
He considers the album a celebration of what he called his "newfound freedom" as a single man.
"I think freedom is the operational word there," he said. "I'd been so much under the cosh (slang for "under pressure") for so many years that I wasn't really doing my own thinking. I was having all my thinking done for me."
That's probably because his career has often been waylaid by alcoholism and poor financial judgment, which obligated his wives and handlers to clean up the mess.
As he did with his other efforts, dating back to 1974's "I've Got My Own Album To Do," which he recorded while still a member of the Faces, the gregarious Wood recruited some high-powered friends for various tracks. Among the players: ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and Guns N' Roses veteran Slash on guitar, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and his former Faces bandmate Ian McLagan on keyboards. Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder helped write two songs. The uncredited producer is Bob Rock, best known for handling Metallica's big releases.
But the album is clearly a vehicle for Wood's singing and playing abilities, as well as a rare chance to display his songwriting chops. He wrote or co-wrote all the songs apart from a cover of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful," the first song recorded at the sessions in Los Angeles.
In a professional career dating back to the early '60s, Wood has written and played on songs with the Birds ("You're On My Mind"), the Creation ("The Girls Are Naked"), the Jeff Beck Group ("Plynth"), Rod Stewart ("Every Picture Tells a Story") and the Faces ("Stay With Me").
He also chipped in on about 10 album tracks with the Rolling Stones, but has not written anything in about 25 years. His musical contributions on the last few albums were limited to guitar overdubs after the songs were largely completed. Once again, he blames drugs and alcohol for fueling his insecurity.
What? Ronnie Wood insecure? On stage, he has never betrayed any such weakness. In between blistering guitar solos on songs like "Tumbling Dice" and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," Wood would always pal around with his bandmates and smile hello at regular fans in the front rows. On the last tour he picked up a lot of the slack from a subpar Richards.
"I think with the new me that's emerged, the new comfortable sober me, I think they'll readdress things and go, 'Hey! We got Ronnie back. Let's see what he can do. Again,'" he said, referring to main songwriters Jagger and Richards.
Wood, of course, hopes there will be another Stones album and tour. These matters will be decided at the band's annual summit in London later this year. In the meantime, he will play a one-off theater show in London on October 19, with more dates being eyed. He will also be the main guest on NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" on Friday.
Editing by Jill Serjeant