Claim: Guitarist Ron Wood lost a chance to join the Rolling Stones in 1969 because he missed a phone call.
Origins: Many of us older folk who were around in the days before the proliferation of cell phones, voice mail, and answering machines can probably recall an instance when someone we know lost out on a great opportunity — a job interview, an eagerly-anticipated invitation for a date, a chance to attend a sold-out sporting event — because of a missed phone call. The opportunities for miscommunication were plentiful: one could miss
a phone call by not being home when it came through, because someone else took a message but failed to deliver it, or because the message-taker garbled crucial call-back information.
It's unlikely, though, that any of our personal tales of missed opportunities could compare in magnitude to the experience of musician Ron Wood, who legend claims lost a chance to join "the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band," the Rolling Stones, due to an unrelayed phone call.
In mid-1969, the Rolling Stones parted ways with original group member Brian Jones. Their need to find a replacement guitarist was somewhat pressing, as their plans for the immediate future included a free concert in London's Hyde Park and their first U.S. tour in three years, so they had already extended an invitation to 21-year-old Mick Taylor (formerly with John Mayall's Bluebreakers), who had successfully passed a short "audition" at a Rolling Stones recording session in May 1969. Taylor accepted the position as an honorary Stones guitarist, and after publicly announcing their split with Brian Jones on 9 June 1969, the Rolling Stones held a press conference on 13 June to introduce Mick Taylor as their newest member and to announce the upcoming free concert in Hyde Park scheduled for 5 July. (Brian Jones drowned in his swimming pool the evening of 3 July.)
Mick Taylor debuted with the Rolling Stones at their Hyde Park concert, and he remained with the band through subsequent tours and recording sessions before quitting the group at the end of 1974. But in later years a story began to circulate that Taylor had not been the Stones' first choice as a replacement for Brian Jones — that they had their eyes on Faces guitarist Ron Wood, who missed his opportunity to become a Rolling Stone because his bandmate, Faces bassist Ronnie Lane, failed to tell him about the Stones' invitational phone call.
This legend comes in two different forms. In the first version, Ronnie Lane takes a phone call from Mick Jagger (or Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart) asking if Ron Wood might be interested in joining the Rolling Stones, and — not wanting to lose a key member of his own group — simply replies in the negative without even giving Wood the chance to speak for himself:
Other names were mooted, including Ronnie Wood, a genial twenty-one-year-old smoker and drinker with a great laugh, pinprick eyes, and the right hair, black and scruffy like crow feathers. Recently fired as Jeff Beck's bass player, Woody had just hooked up with the rest of the Small Faces after Steve Marriott left the band. Ian Stewart loved the Faces and let them use the Stones' rehearsal room in Bermondsey, which is where Mick phoned to ask if Ronnie Wood might be interested in joining the Stones. Bassist Ronnie Lane took the call, said no thanks, and only told Woody about it five years later.1
In the second version, a mix-up occurs because Lane and Wood share the given name 'Ronnie.' Lane thinks he's the one being asked to join the Rolling Stones and politely declines the offer:
Other stories relate that Ian [Stewart] called the studio and asked to speak to 'Ronnie.' Ronnie Lane believed they meant him and said he did not feel he was suited [to be] the Stone's spare guitarist.2
Both of these scenarios seem to be based upon rather implausible circumstances — that either the Stones gave up on one of their replacement candidates without even having spoken to him, or that whoever placed the call failed to realize he was speaking to someone other than Ron Wood.
So, is this legend a true story or a humorous but fanciful tale? Unfortunately, Ron Wood himself isn't much help in clearing up the issue. In an interview for the 2003 book, According to the Rolling Stones, Wood affirms the first version of the legend:
I had been working the circuit up and down England and I'd bump into people like Jeff Beck. I also met Rod Stewart — our favourite band was the Small Faces and when Steve Marriott left them in the lurch, we thought, "That's a crime, we can't have that," and so we joined that band to keep them together. Ian Stewart gave us a rehearsal place in Bermondsey, which was the Stones' rehearsal studio. That's where Ronnie Lane took a phone call from Mick, who said, "Would Ronnie Wood join the Stones?" and Ronnie said, "No, he's quite happy where he is."3
But in the 1999 Ron Wood biography, Rock on Wood, author Terry Rawlings quotes Wood as saying that Mick Jagger did in fact call him directly, but he thought someone was "messing around" and therefore dismissively replied to Jagger that he was "busy." (It isn't clear whether Wood thought the call was a prank from someone pretending to be Mick Jagger, or whether he knew the caller was Jagger but thought the inquiry was just a joke.)
These contradictory explanations might be reconciled if we posit that more than one phone call was involved. Perhaps Ian Stewart (or Mick Jagger) attempted to contact Ron Wood at the studio in Bermondsey and failed to get in touch with him there (speaking to Ronnie Lane instead);
later, Mick Jagger placed another call and did indeed talk to Ron Wood himself. Under this scenario, Ronnie Lane's failure to tell Ron Wood about the first phone call until "five years later" would have been of no real consequence, which might explain why Ron Wood doesn't bear a permanent grudge against his former bandmate for selfishly screwing him out of the opportunity of a lifetime.
Still, this whole story is usually related in a joking, good-timey way that belies the seriousness with which it probably would have been taken if it were completely true. (Who could be so sanguine about being cheated out of his dream job?) A more likely explanation might be that even if someone associated with the Rolling Stones contacted Ron Wood about joining the group in 1969, it was only in the most preliminary, exploratory sense — he was only one of several guitarists mooted as a potential replacement for Brian Jones and was not really given serious consideration at the time. Under other circumstances he might have been a contender, but as things worked out he didn't lose anything by supposedly missing a phone call, because the Rolling Stones had already made their choice before he would have had a chance to audition for the group anyway.
This exegesis is borne out by the comments of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both of whom indicate that they didn't try out anyone other than Mick Taylor in mid-1969:
MICK: I just made a phone call to John Mayall. He said, "I've got this guitar player. You can have him, and he can come down right away." And he turned up with this guy Mick Taylor almost the next day. It worked and we thought, "Well, OK," and suddenly we had this gig at Hyde Park coming up, so we just went with him. There wasn't a big audition process, because he seemed to fit in really well and there was pressure to do the gig. Maybe if we'd not had a gig coming up for six months, we have tried lots of others, but we just had to get on with it. I'm sure that if he hadn't worked out, we'd have changed him, but he seemed to fit in really quickly.
KEITH: What prompted us [to part with Brian Jones] was the fact that we were going to do this concert in Hyde Park and so we had an urgent need for a new guitar player. Mick knew about Mick Taylor. He came in and played, and we said, "Well, that's it." We were going back on stage, Mick had come and played with us and we thought he was darned good and full of beans, why not keep him?3
Of course, no matter how things played out back in 1969, Ron Wood didn't miss much in the end, as he was tapped by the Stones to replace Mick Taylor in 1975 (although even then he was only one of several guitarists to audition for the position) and has remained with the group for almost thirty years now.
For another example of what can happen to a band when a phone call doesn't go through, check out our "No Answer" page.