William George Wyman (born 24 October 1936), born as William George Perks Jr., is an English musician, record producer, songwriter and singer. He was the bass guitarist for the English rock and roll band The Rolling Stones from 1962 until 1993. Since 1997, he has recorded and toured with his own band, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. He has worked producing both records and film, and has scored music for film in movies and television.
Wyman has kept a journal since he was a child after World War II. As an author, he has written seven books, which have sold two million copies.Wyman is also a photographer, and his works have displayed in galleries around the world. Wyman’s lack of funds in his early years led him to create and build his own fretless bass guitar. He became an amateur archaeologist and enjoys metal detecting; The Times published a letter about his hobby. He designed and marketed a patented “Bill Wyman signature metal detector”, which he has used to find relics in the English countryside dating back to the era of the Roman Empire. As a businessman he owns several establishments, including the Sticky Fingers Café, a rock and roll themed bistro serving American cuisine, which first opened in 1989 in Kensington.
Bill Wyman was born as William George Perks, Jr. in Lewisham Hospital in Lewisham, south London, the son of William Perks, a bricklayer, and his wife, Molly (née Jeffery). One of five children, Wyman spent most of his early life living in a terraced house in one of the roughest streets in Sydenham, southeast London. He describes his childhood as “scarred by poverty”.
He attended Beckenham and Penge County Grammar School from 1947 to Easter 1953, leaving before the GCE exams after his father found him a job working for a bookmaker and insisted that he take it.
Wyman took piano lessons from age 10 to 13. A year after his marriage on 24 October 1959 to Diane Cory, an 18-year-old bank clerk, he bought a Burns electric guitar for £52 (equivalent to £1,080 in 2015) on hire-purchase, but was not satisfied by his progress. He switched to bass guitar after hearing one at a Barron Knights concert. He created a fretless electric bass guitar by removing the frets from a cheap Japanese bass guitar he was reworking and played this in a south London band, the Cliftons, in 1961. He used the stage name Lee (later Bill) Wyman, taking the surname of a friend with whom he had done national service in the Royal Air Force from 1955 to 1957. He legally changed his surname to Wyman in August 1964.
The Rolling Stones and 1980s side projects
Wyman touring in 1975 with the Rolling Stones
When drummer Tony Chapman told him that a rhythm and blues band called the Rolling Stones needed a bass player, he auditioned and was hired on 7 December 1962 as a successor to Dick Taylor. The band was impressed by his instrument and amplifiers (one of which Wyman built himself), but because he was married, employed, and older, Wyman remained an outsider. Wyman was the oldest member of the group.
In addition to playing bass, Wyman frequently provided backing vocals on early records and through 1967 in concert as well. He sang lead on the track “In Another Land”, on the Their Satanic Majesties Request album and a single. The song is one of two Wyman compositions released by the Rolling Stones; the second is “Downtown Suzie” (sung by Mick Jagger), on Metamorphosis, a collection of Rolling Stones outtakes. The title “Downtown Suzie” was chosen by their erstwhile manager Allen Klein without consulting Wyman or the band. The original title was “Sweet Lisle Lucy”, named after Lisle Street, a street in the red light district in Soho, London.
Wyman kept a journal throughout his life, beginning when he was a child, and used it in writing his 1990 autobiography Stone Alone and his 2002 book Rolling with the Stones. In Stone Alone, Wyman claims to have composed the riff of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” with Brian Jones and drummer Charlie Watts. Wyman mentions that “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was released as a single only after a 3–2 vote within the band: Wyman, Watts and Jones voted for, Jagger and Keith Richards against, feeling it not sufficiently commercial. By the 1970s, Wyman, tired of the monopolisation of songwriting and production by Jagger and Richards, began solo projects. In the 1970s and early 1980s he made three solo albums, none commercially very successful but all well received by critics. In July 1981 his “(Si, Si) Je suis un rock star” became a top-20 hit in many countries.
Wyman also played on The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, released 1971, with Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts and Stevie Winwood, and on the album Jamming with Edward, released in 1972, with Ry Cooder, Nicky Hopkins, Jagger and Watts.
In 1981 Wyman composed the soundtrack album Green Ice for the Ryan O’Neal/Omar Sharif film of the same name.
In the mid-1980s he composed music for two films by Italian director Dario Argento: Phenomena (1985) and Terror at the Opera (1987).
In 1985, he was approached by producers working on a movie based on the Vietnam War, who asked him to provide the theme tune. He completed a demo cover version of the 1969 song Spirit in the Sky and sent it off to them for review. The producers’ feedback was highly positive, but they soon ran out of money and had to scrap the project. The demo tape was apparently lost, but on an audio CD included with Bill Wyman’s Scrapbook in 2013, he says that “somebody out there must have heard it because four months later – in the June of that year – Doctor and the Medics appeared with the release of their version of that song which eventually went to number one for three weeks. A coincidence perhaps? Still, such is life.”
He made a cameo appearance in the 1987 film Eat the Rich. He produced and played on a few albums of the group Tucky Buzzard.
Wyman was close to Brian Jones; he and Jones usually shared rooms together while they were on tour and often went to clubs together. He and Jones hung out together even when Jones was distancing himself from the band. Wyman was distraught when he heard the news of Jones’ death, being one of two members besides Watts to attend Jones’ funeral in July 1969. Wyman was also friends with guitarist Mick Taylor. Like the other Rolling Stones, he has worked with Taylor since Taylor’s departure from the band in 1974.
After the Rolling Stones’ 1989–90 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tours, Wyman left the group; his decision was announced in January 1993. The Rolling Stones have continued to record and tour with Darryl Jones on bass.
On 24 October 2012, the Stones announced that Wyman and Mick Taylor were expected to join them on stage at the upcoming shows in London (25 and 29 November) and Newark (13 and 15 December). Richards went on to say that the pair would strictly be guests, and Darryl Jones would continue to supply the bass for the majority of the show. He said, “Darryl doesn’t get enough recognition. He and Bill can talk about songs they want to step in and out of.” At the first London show on 25 November, Wyman played on two back-to-back tracks: “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” and “Honky Tonk Women”. He later stated that he was not interested in joining the band for further tour dates in 2013.
Wyman continues to tour with the Rhythm Kings, which has featured such musicians as Martin Taylor, Albert Lee, Gary Brooker, Terry Taylor (formerly with Tucky Buzzard), Mike Sanchez and Georgie Fame. Following his 70th birthday in October 2006, Wyman undertook another British tour.
On 10 December 2007, Wyman and his band appeared alongside a reunited Led Zeppelin at the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 in London.
Wyman was a judge for the 5th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers.
In 2009, ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor was invited as a guest performer with Wyman’s Rhythm Kings.
On 25 October 2009, Wyman performed a reunion show with Faces, filling in for the late Ronnie Lane as he had previously done in 1986 and 1993.
On 19 April 2011, pianist Ben Waters released an Ian Stewart tribute album titled Boogie 4 Stu. Wyman played on two tracks: “Rooming House Boogie” and “Watchin’ the River Flow”, the latter recorded with the Rolling Stones.
Wyman’s bass sound came not only from his homemade fretless bass, but the “walking bass” style he adopted, inspired by Willie Dixon and Ricky Fenson. Wyman has played a number of basses, including a Framus Star bass and a number of other Framus basses, a Vox Teardrop bass (issued as a Bill Wyman signature model), a Fender Mustang Bass, two Ampeg Dan Armstrong basses, a Gibson EB-3, and a Travis Bean bass. Since the late 1980s, Wyman has primarily played Steinberger basses. Wyman’s amplifiers over the years have included a Vox T-60, a piggyback Fender Bassman, a Hiwatt bass stack, and an Ampeg SVT. Wyman, especially in the early Stones’ years, had a distinctive way of holding his bass – almost vertically. He stated that the reason he held a bass in that position was simply because his hands were small.
Wyman, although moderate in his use of alcohol and drugs, has stated that he became “girl mad” as a psychological crutch. The June 2006 issue of Maxim magazine ranked Wyman at number 10 on its “Living Sex Legends” list, as he is reputed to have had sex with over 1,000 women.
Wyman married his first wife Diane in 1959 and their son Stephen Paul Wyman was born on 29 March 1962. They separated in 1967 and divorced in 1969.
On 2 June 1989, aged 52, Wyman married 18-year-old Mandy Smith, whom he had been dating since she was 13 and he was 47 years old. According to Smith, their relationship was sexually consummated when she was 14 years old. Their relationship was the subject of considerable media attention. The marriage ended in spring 1991, although the divorce was not finalized until 1993.
In April 1993, Wyman married Suzanne Accosta. The couple have three daughters.
Wyman lives in Gedding Hall, a country house near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and in St. Paul de Vence in the South of France; in St. Paul de Vence his friends include numerous artists. He is a cricket supporter and played in a celebrity match at the Oval against a former England XI taking a hat-trick. He is a lifelong Crystal Palace FC fan.
Wyman started selling metal detectors in 2007. Treasure detecting adventures in the British Isles are detailed in his 2005 illustrated book Treasure Islands co-written with Richard Havers.
Wyman is a keen photographer. He has taken photographs throughout his career and in June 2010 launched a retrospective of his work in an exhibition in St. Paul de Vence. The exhibition included images of his music acquaintances as well as famous artists from the South of France including Marc Chagall.
In 2009, Wyman quit smoking after 55 years.
In March 2016, it was announced that Wyman had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was expected to make a full recovery.
In popular culture
Wyman is namechecked in the 1986 Smithereens song “Behind the Wall of Sleep”.
- Monkey Grip (June 1974) UK No. 39 [1 wk], US No. 99 [11 wks]
- Stone Alone (March 1976) US No. 166 [5 wks]
- Bill Wyman (April 1982) UK No. 55 [6 wks]
- Stuff (October 1992 in Japan and Argentina only, 2000 UK)
- Back To Basics (June 22, 2015)
- Willie & The Poor Boys (May 1985) US No. 96 [12 wks] (with Mickey Gee, Andy Fairweather-Low, Geraint Watkins, and Charlie Watts)
- A Stone Alone: The Solo Anthology 1974–2002 (2002, UK)
Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings
- Struttin’ Our Stuff (October 1997)
- Anyway the Wind Blows (October 1998)
- Groovin’ (May 2000) UK No. 52 [3 wks]
- Double Bill (May 2001) UK No. 88 [2 wks]
- Just for a Thrill (May 2004) UK No. 149 [1 wk]
Also plays on
- I Can Tell, John Hammond, Jr., 1967
- The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, 1971
- Manassas, 1972
- Jamming with Edward!, 1972
- Drinkin’ TNT And Smokin’ Dynamite, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, 1977
- “In Another Land” (December 1967) Peaked US No. 87
- “Monkey Grip Glue” (June 1974)
- “White Lightnin'” (September 1974)
- “A Quarter to Three” (April 1976)
- “(Si, Si) Je suis un rock star” (July 1981) UK No. 14 [9 wks]
- “Visions” (1982)
- “Come Back Suzanne” (March 1982) Australia No. 14 [10 wks]
- “A New Fashion” (March 1982) UK No. 37 [4 wks]
- “Baby Please Don’t Go” (June 1985) US Mainstream Rock No. 35 [7 wks]
- “What & How & If & When & Why” (June 2015)
Bill Wyman has authored or co-authored the following titles:
- Bill Wyman’s Treasure Islands ISBN 0-7509-3967-2
The Rolling Stones
- Stone Alone ISBN 0-306-80783-1
- Rolling with the Stones ISBN 0-7513-4646-2.
- Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey ISBN 0-7513-3442-1
- The Stones – A History in Cartoons ISBN 0-7509-4248-7
The last three books and Bill Wyman’s Treasure Islands were all written in collaboration with Richard Havers.
- Wyman Shoots Chagall ISBN 0904351629