The Rolling Stones and Chicago fit like a hand in glove.
Throughout the band’s career, starting in the early 1960s when a visit Chicago to experience the blues firsthand would become the foundation of their rock and roll, the Stones have brought their world tours to the Windy City. Such is the case for next year’s 14-city No Filter stadium trek, which includes shows on June 21 and 25 at Soldier Field. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood are coming home.
Wood, 74, who is now the proud papa to 2 1/2-year-old twins Gracie and Alice with wife Sally Humphreys, talked about the upcoming tour and more, during a recent chat. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Q. What’s the secret to the Rolling Stones? A lot of bands your age are calling it quits for the umpteenth time with “farewell” tours.
A. [Laughs] We just can’t resist playing Soldier Field! The secret is we keep raising the bar. Every time we go into rehearsal a new high is being created and a new bar is being raised. By the time we get on stage in front of that audience again all your aches and pains go out the window. You’ve got to be in top form. You’ve go to step out there and get it together. I love it. It keeps you young.
Q. The band has settled in to these 14- or 15-show tours. Do you like it better this way, as opposed to those historically massive, and seemingly endless tours where you’ were traveling almost every day to get to the next show?
A. 14 shows is a lot of work! [Laughs] We’e been in this kind of mode since 2014, doing 14 shows and such. We’ve got Christmas coming up and pretty soon it will be April [when the new tour kicks off]. Yeah, we’re not getting any younger! It’s quite demanding to do this every three or four days considering all the traveling and hotels and wardrobe [fittings] and interviews and moving around the family, and meet-and-greets. But its great. I love it.
Q. How are you feeling these days after your recent cancer scare?
A. I really feel good and really feel blessed to have had all the bad bits removed from my left lung. And it didn’t spread anywhere else in my body. And I feel really blessed to have these twins who are so beautiful. They’re brilliant and so funny. They’re 2 1/2 going on 10.
Q. How does it feel to have tiny tots in the house again?
A. [Laughing] They’re not tiny anymore. They’re everywhere. They are so mischievous and so funny. So it’s good. All my other kids — I’m great with them, too. So it’s all good.
Q. Have the twins heard Rolling Stones music yet?
A. Oh yeah! They come to sound check and they have their little earphones on and they just boogie. They just love it.
Q. What kinds of things are you guys hoping to change up on this particular tour?
A. I think at rehearsals, that’s where we get the scope of what’s to come. We’ll get out the big, big book that [Stones music director and keyboardist] Chuck Leavell has where it shows what songs and what territories we’ve played and what year it was and what the musical climate was at the time, and do we want to introduce a new phase of songs into that particular area. The New York area or Chicago area or L.A., wherever we are, there’s a different flavor we’re going to convey. We’re gonna raise the bar, which I think we’ve been doing over the last few years. I’m sure the playing got better and I’m just enjoying it even more.
Q. The Stones won their latest Grammy Award for the full-on blues album “Blue & Lonesome,” which is no surprise really considering the band’s history with incorporating blues into rock and roll. What did it feel like to get a Grammy for this particular project?
A. It was amazing. It was a genuine surprise, and wow, we didn’t see that coming. It was just something that was so spontaneous for us in the studio. We play the blues, but to revisit it like that was a perfect coming full-circle. Especially for me, to come back around to play songs I used to play before I was in the band. … When Mick suggested some of the songs that we did on “Blue &Lonesome,” I actually hadn’t heard them before! I love the element of surprise and risk and the whole freshness of playing an established kind of music. … I thought I had heard everything Howlin’ Wolf had done, so I was more than pleased to be surprised by [Wolf’s “Commit a Crime”], and all of it, really.
Q. Your art book, “The Rolling Stones Set Lists” featuring over 100 of the band’s set lists that you’ve documented over the years, is a treasure trove of Rolling Stones history. Why did you decide to start painting the lists?
A. It’s our traveling diary, really. It’s the history of rehearsals and tours going back for about 15 years on canvas. But I had been doing them for years before that. … One of our road crew members came up to me and said, Ronnie why don’t you do set lists on canvas because you’re always doing them on paper or cards. He got me canvases and an easel at one rehearsal as a surprise, and I was like OK, let’s go! It was just a natural progression for me. … I’ve been doing art since I was a kid in school.
Q. What does painting do for you that music doesn’t?
A. Painting keeps my creative juices on kickover. I’m in my studio today North of London. I’m actually painting until we’e back in rehearsals. I did a Chuck Berry tribute last week and it allows me to keep my fingers in check. [Laughs] Because I don’t want them to shut down.
Q. If you hadn’t gone into music would you have gone into art?
A. For sure. Painting is my daily diet. I have to do it. I can take or leave playing but I gotta paint.
Q. You paint every day. Do you pick up the guitar every day?
A. Oh no. Me and Keith always say, “Oh now, we’re going on tour? I better pick up a guitar again.” [Laughs]. The great thing is we don’t leave it that long. We chat and we’re like, hey my fingers didn’t hurt to much today. As long as we don’t leave it too many months then it’s always pretty easy to get back into the playing action again.
Q. You say in your book that you learn about 80 new songs for each tour. Are you merely reintroducing yourselves to them?
A. Yeah, but we have to play them again as a unit. We have to get the arrangements right otherwise they wouldn’t go anywhere. Some of them are natural progressions. But others take some work. People always say it must be so easy for you to do these songs. But some of the songs in the set are like stepping stones: They’re solid and you get your footing on them. Things like “All Down the Line,” “Tumbling Dice.” But then a song will come along that’s a risk, like “Out of Control” or something that Mick will put in, and he’s like let’s play “Beasts of Burden” — just a song out of left field.
Q. Can you pick a couple of songs that became your favorites over the years?
A. “Gimme Shelter” live is always a really beautiful, moving song. And so is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” That takes on a sort of different atmosphere all the time. People love those atmospheric songs.
Q. What is the message, musically, of the Rolling Stones in 2018?
A. Unity for the enjoyment of the people, because this world is so full of bad news. We just want to put a smile on people’s faces. Come out, bring your kids and have a great time. Just get lost in the music. [Laughs] we have at least three generations of fans out there now!