"The new kid" in the global juggernaut known as the Rolling Stones, guitarist Ron Wood actually played with the British rock group for over three decades, longer than any of his predecessors, including group co-founder Brian Jones. His lasting power was due in part to his enormous versatility as a performer and songwriter, which included stints in the 1960s-era outfits The Birds and The Creation, as well as chart-topping success as a member of the Jeff Beck Group and the Faces, both in collaboration with Rod Stewart. However, most of these efforts - which also included a critically acclaimed side career as an artist - were overshadowed by his work with the Rolling Stones, which toured ceaselessly throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, reaping millions for its players.
Ronald David Wood was born into a family of river barge operators in the borough of Hillingdon, in Middlsex, England, on June 1, 1947. He and his older brothers, Art and Ted, were raised in the parish of Yiewsley, where Wood showed enormous promise as an artist; even having some of his early work featured on a BBC television show. Though he trained for a career in art at the Ealing Art College, music eventually claimed the teenager's interest when he played guitar for a hard R&B group called The Thunderbirds. The outfit, which soon shortened their name to The Birds, scored a smattering of chart hits, including the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "Leaving Here" and "You Don't Love Me," which was penned by Wood. Shortly after filming a performance for the low-budget horror film "The Deadly Bees (1967), the group fell apart in 1967, and Wood followed his Birds bandmate to The Creation, a powerful Mod rock group that drew comparison to The Who. Wood's tenure with the band lasted only a handful of singles before it too imploded in 1968. He then switched to bass for the formidable Jeff Beck Group, which also featured an up-and-coming singer with astonishing soul chops named Rod Stewart. The group scored two massive hit albums with 1968's Truth, featuring the epic instrumental "Beck's Bolero," and 1969's Beck-Ola before infighting forced Beck to break up the group on the eve of the Woodstock Music Festival, where they were slated to perform.
In 1970, Wood and Stewart began working with bassist Ronnie Lane, drummer Kenny Jones and keyboardist Ian McLagen, whose group, the influential psychedelic outfit The Small Faces, had come to a halt with the departure of guitarist Steve Marriot in 1968 to form Humble Pie. Initially, the group, which also featured Wood's brother Art, billed themselves as Quiet Melon, but record executives wanted them to capitalize on Small Faces' past successes. The decision irked the band, which eventually compromised by allowing their first album, 1970's First Step to be credited to the Small Faces, after which they were simply billed as The Faces. The group scored a handful of hits with such rollicking, blues- and country-influenced tracks as 1971's "Stay with Me" and 1972's "Ooh La La," which featured a rare lead vocal by Wood. The Faces also garnered a reputation as one of the hardest partying bands on the rock circuit, which led to outrageous behavior both on stage and off. However, tensions between Stewart, who had launched a successful solo career, and Lane, who had been the driving force of the Small Faces, eventually capsized the group in 1975.
However, Wood had remained remarkably active during this period, bouncing between a modest solo career of his own as well as work with both sides of the fractured Faces. In 1974, he released I've Got My Own Album To Do, which featured contributions by George Harrison and the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who would further lean on Wood's versatility in the coming months. He also collaborated with McLagen on 1975's Now Look, and teamed with Lane, Jones and Pete Townshend for the soundtrack to the obscure film "Mahoney's Last Stand" (1972). He then moved to the Stewart camp to co-write several significant singles, including "Gasoline Alley" and "Every Picture Tells a Story." Wood also appeared briefly in Martin Scorcese's documentary "The Last Waltz" (1974), which chronicled the final performance of The Band. Wood joined the group and Ringo Starr for a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."
During this remarkably fecund period, Wood was also one of several top guitarists, including Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott, to audition for the rhythm guitar spot in the Rolling Stones, which had been vacated by Mick Taylor. Wood was eventually tapped to provide guitar on several tracks for the band's album Black and Blue (1976) and toured with them during their 1975 Tour of the Americas, despite still being employed by the Faces. When that group came to a bitter end, Wood was quickly signed up as a fulltime Rolling Stone, with whom he would remain for the next three-plus decades. Wood's role in the Stones was ostensibly rhythm guitar, as well as providing lap and pedal steel licks and the occasional bass line. But his interplay with Richards exceeded the boundaries of the traditional lead guitar-rhythm guitar relationship; both men had enormous respect for each other's talents, and Richards frequently gave Wood the opportunity to play lead in a song. He was also credited as co-writer on several songs including "Had It With You," "(One Hit) To the Body," and "Black Limousine." Such credits were hard-won: Jagger and Richards were reluctant to share songwriting duties (and royalties) with others, forcing Wood to square off with both men for his rightful cut.
While performing and recording with the Stones through the late 1970s and early '80s, Wood also kept up his own solo career, releasing Gimme Some Neck (1979), which featured most of his bandmates as well as Mick Taylor and Ian McLagen. To promote the album, he formed an all-star band, the New Barbarians, featuring Richards, McLagen, jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and Joseph Modeliste of the Meters on drums. The group had initially debuted in support of the Rolling Stones in 1978, when both bands played two benefit shows in Canada as part of the terms of Richards' 1979 conviction for heroin possession, and later played several major shows that year, including one with Led Zeppelin. The turbulent relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards came to a head in the 1980s, when their inability to work together forced the band to quit touring. Wood seized the opportunity to focus on his solo career, which included the 1981 album 1234 and a collaboration with rock legend Bo Diddley on Live at the Ritz. Wood also made significant guest appearances during this period, including an appearance with Bob Dylan and Richards at Live Aid and on singles by Aretha Franklin, David Bowie and Eric Clapton. He also released his book, The Works, a collection of sketches and anecdotes in 1988.
Jagger and Richards eventually patched up their differences in the early 1990s, and the Rolling Stones rebounded with a slew of well-received if not particularly impressive studio and concert albums, as well as their frequent and enormously lucrative world tours. Around the same time, Wood's prolific work as an artist yielded a limited-edition art book called Wood on Canvas (1998), and he co-owned a London art gallery with his sons, Jamie and Tyrone. Wood was finally made a full-fledged partner in the Rolling Stones' financial business, which allowed him to reap considerable returns for his many years of work with the band. However, his hard-partying ways soon made him a liability, and Wood repeatedly checked into rehabilitation facilities during the new millennium. In 2007, he released his autobiography, Ronnie, which detailed his life, as well as harrowing stories about life as a Rolling Stone. Occasionally, his misadventures landed him in hot water, such as his dalliance with a teenaged Russian named Ekaterina Ivanova in 2008, which brought an end to his 23-year marriage to former model, Jo Wood. The following year, Wood was arrested for domestic assault, which resulted in a torrent of negative publicity, mostly from Ivanova, who told the press that Wood frequently binged on cocaine and alcohol.
Despite these setbacks, Wood maintained his tireless pace of performing and recording, which included collaborations with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, as well as a reunion with most of the surviving members of The Faces in 2009. Wood had previously reunited and toured with Rod Stewart in 2002 and 2003. In 2010, he launched his own radio show on Absolute Radio.