Thursday, July 12, 2007

An R.A.F. Stone Gathers No Moss

I am permitting myself to meander today. My two passions are aviation history and music, and today's entry covers both.

I still own a record player (three in fact) and several hundred records that have been with me for years, including most of the Beatles records (even the 45s) and all but a few of the Rolling Stones records.

For years, I've been a big fan of the Rolling Stones. Last October, I drove 850 miles round-trip from Idaho to Montana to see them in concert (and got caffeine poisoning from the all-night, coffee-fueled drive). My only regret was that my favorite Stone had long since departed Rolling Stones, Inc. and forged out on his own with independent projects.

Bill Wyman, who laid down the meanest bass licks in the business and formed, with Charlie Watts, the greatest rhythm section in the history of rock and roll, has the distinction of being one of the last of the Sixties rock and rollers to do national service in Britain. The only American who became as famous after serving time as a draftee is Jimmie Hendrix.

Wyman was drafted into the Royal Air Force in 1955. The photo shows Wyman in the summer of 1955 in Hereford.

In the fall of 1955, Wyman signed on for an additional year, and ended up posted at an RAF base at Oldenburg, West Germany, where he worked in the motor transport section.

Wyman writes: "The camp was comprised of 3 Hawker Hunter squadrons - 23 Squadron, 26 Squadron & 33 Squadron, & included 1,000 RAF Regiment members – the whole camp comprised 4,000 military personnel. The camp was on a 4-hour (evacuate the camp) alert for most of the time I was there, being only 100 miles from the Russian border."

"The Suez Crisis occurred while I was on leave in England, and I was obliged to return to base immediately. It was here that I heard the beginnings of Rock ‘n’ Roll on AFN Radio (American Forces Network), and took up guitar playing for the first time. In 1957 I formed a skiffle group on camp. I was demobbed in January 1958."

(For more on Wyman's military history, click on this link:

When Wyman first joined the Stones, he still had a full-time job, and he treaded a fine line on his hair length and hip-ness. Of course, once the Rolling Stones took off, he could do as he pleased. After retiring from the Stones, Wyman has written a number of books on various subjects, from the Stones to blues to archealogy. He also continues to lay down his licks in various blues bands and still makes records. One of my favorite tunes, 'Stuff', is a Bill Wyman composition.

As Tom Wolfe once wrote: "The Beatles just want to hold your hand--the Stones want to burn down your town". The Stones and the Beatles are the two greatest bands of the Sixties, and of course the Stones are still rolling, but it ain't the Stones without Bill.

Today, I salute Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones for his role in defending the free world back in the scary days of the Cold War.


Les said...

Very interesting Rob. I didn't know that about Bill Wyman. That is not even mentioned in Wikipedia!

Have you ever seen Rock-n-Roll Circus? I have it on DVD. It is a must watch for any Stones fan and there are some other legendary appearances (including the late John Lennon performing with Eric Clapton).

I'm also thinking of picking up a copy of "Gimme Shelter". The late 60s/early 70s is my favorite musical era and I love those legendary concerts.

Also highly recommended: "The Isle of Wight Festival" on DVD. There is a rare appearance by "Free" on that and also one of my favorite artists Joni Mitchell.

I am a huge fan of British Rock, especially their guitarists. I love Clapton, Page, Townshend, Richards, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Alvin Lee, Paul Kossoff, et al.

One of my all time favorite bands is Cream and was delighted to see them reunite in 2005 (sadly I didn't see it in person, only on DVD)

I salute Britain, it's contribution in maintaining a free world and the amazing musical contributions that great country has made!

r morris said...

You and I have similar musical tastes, Les. Sounds like you're a Stones fan, too.

I don't have the older DVDs like Rock and Roll Circus, but I have all their concert DVDs and a very good video history called 25 times 5.

I'll have to check out 'Isle of Wight'.

Your list of Brit guitarist would be nearly an exact match of mine. I was a big fan of Mick Taylor when he was a Stone, and have his post-Stone solo work. One of the Stones loveliest ballads "Time Waits for No One" has an awesome guitar solo by Mick.

Keith Richards plays a different kind of guitar playing, more of what he likes to call 'the ancient art of weaving' where he and Ronnie Wood interplay their lines.

Clapton, who can argue with his greatness. 'Disraeli Gears' is an amazing album.

The WHO, again, WHO in their right mind could argue about their virtuosity?

I like Led Zep, too. Jimmy Page plays like a banshee, and Robert Plant has one of the most distinctive voices in rock--though he's very hard to watch in his older, skin-tight jeans and air guitar performance (he'd probably agree.

I'd also add Jeff Beck to your list.

Ah, you got me going. Thanks! I need that. --Rob

Les said...

On the way into work this morning, I thought to myself: I can't believe I forgot to mention Jeff Beck!

The Stones didn't play at the Isle of Wight festival, but there is some great footage of other acts of the day, including a great performance by Rory Gallagher.

My one and only complaint against Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Keith Richards is that they, along with the late great Jewish American guitarist Mike Bloomfield and others have caused the value of an original 1958 or 1959 Les Paul to soar to roughly $400,000! Unless I win the lottery, my dreams of owning one shall never be realized. (sniff)

Richard Havers said...

Great post Rob.

This is my favourite quote abut the Stones, it's from the Radio Times here in the UK.

“Perverted, outrageous, violent, repulsive, ugly, tasteful, incoherent. A travesty. That's what's good about them."

Richard Havers said...

Les, I'm with you too on Mike Bloomfield. Just a truly great player.

Another Lee who should get a mention is Albert Lee, not hard rock player but still a brilliant guitarist.