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Ben Waters and Ronnie Wood Celebrate Chuck Berry

Ben talks to us about teaming up with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood to celebrate the music of Chuck Berry live and on records

Published on March 12, 2020
PLEASE NOTE - CORONOVIRUS NEWS: Ronnie Wood and The Ben Waters Band's concerts celebrating the music of Chuck Berry were planned for March 2020. The shows have been affected by the Coronovirus pandemic. The show at the Helix Theatre, Dublin, Ireland, has been cancelled in line with the Irish Government’s legislation while, in a statement posted on his web site, Ben Waters said this about the two shows at Under The Bridge, Chelsea, London:

“It's with great sadness that I have to announce the cancellation of the shows at Under The Bridge. I was immensely looking forward to playing with the band and, of course, the amazing Ronnie Wood. We have, however, decided that it's just not safe and it's not fair to gamble with people’s lives; I also just heard that the government is going to ban large gatherings next week in any case. “We are going to postpone the events and hope you will stick with us – several of you have asked if Ronnie will still do the rescheduled show – yes that’s the whole point, we couldn’t do it without him, the rescheduled events will definitely include him! The dates will be announced asap when things have calmed down a bit.”

Ben promises something really special for the rearranged shows “When this is over we will have the best party ever to say thank you!” He adds a final personal message that says it all “Please keep safe, please keep washing your hands and please look after the elderly, health is more important than anything.”

Go to www.benwaters.com for more information and tickets

So, on with the interview!

Thanks for your time Ben. We did an interview with you in 2018 before your London International Festival of Boogie Woogie, all about the boogie woogie genre (See Here). Now you are playing some special concerts to celebrate the music of Chuck Berry. Your Special Guest star for these gigs is Ronnie Wood. How did the two of you team up?

Ronnie Wood Ronnie Wood

I first met Ronnie Wood when I was making the Boogie4Stu album. I was in a band with Charlie Watts and decided to do a tribute to Ian Stewart. Charlie told me to call the Stones office and tell them what was planned. So I phoned my friend Sherry Daly who worked for them – and she was actually having lunch with Ronnie Wood at the time. I told Sherry that Charlie wouldn't be available for the weekend as he was recording with me and I heard a voice in the background saying “what’s he doing”. I said we're doing some blues songs as a tribute to Stu. Ronnie said “you don't want a guitarist too do you”... and that's how we met.

You released Boogie4Stu in 2011, which you recorded as a tribute to a friend, Ian Stewart, who was the Stones’ piano player and to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation. How far back do your Rolling Stones connections go?

I did meet Ian Stewart once - he played at my aunt and uncle’s 25th wedding anniversary. I didn't play then and I didn’t really know much about him. I started playing piano at the age of 14 after watching Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis play together at Fats Domino’s 60th birthday party. When I started learning piano my aunt and uncle told me they were friends with the Rolling Stones’ piano player and I should come round and check out all this video footage and cine footage… and I learnt to play by copying all that footage. There were some great videos of Ian Stewart playing, so I learnt to play by copying him. I then ended up playing with Chris Jagger because he liked Ian Stewart’s playing; then I ended up playing with Stu’s old band Rocket 88; and then I ended up playing with Charlie Watts and recording with the Stone. And then I ended up playing in a band with Ronnie Wood and also in a band with Mick Taylor….so really it was all more by luck than judgement. I just fell in love with that kind of music and everybody loved it, I loved it, and they respected me, God knows why, but they did. So I ended up playing with them and that's how far back my connections go!

Why are you doing these Chuck Berry concerts now?

I met up with Ronnie in Barcelona when the Stones were on tour and we both decided that we'd like to do some more work together. We both loved Chuck Berry, and I’d done some work with him as well, so we decided we’d do a Chuck Berry tribute album. We did a Chuck Berry show last year and that concert was recorded and released as an album, Mad Lad. We then did three shows in December to promote the album and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to do some shows around the anniversary of Chuck's death’... We all thought it was a good idea and, of course, it was a chance to play his amazing music again. Ronnie was about to go out with the Stones so he asked if I could put it together and if I could do that he would come and play too - so that's why it's my band with him a special guest.

People know that Chuck played guitar, but the piano was an integral part of his sound – what was his relationship with Johnnie Johnson – musical and personal?

Johnnie Johnson was an incredible piano player. it was his band, The Johnnie Johnson trio, that Chuck Berry joined and, just as Ian Stewart was a massive influence on the Stones’ sound, Johnnie Johnson was a big influence on Chuck Berry’s sound. I think these guys had a massive influence on rock and on the Stones. I don't know what their personal relationship was like but their musical one was beautiful.

How do Chuck Berry songs work as boogie woogie tunes?

If you listen to early boogie-woogie tunes they are really Chuck Berry tunes. 'Johnny B Goode', 'Roll Over Beethoven', 'You Never Can Tell' - all these songs are boogie woogie tunes. They’re just on guitar and piano and later it got called rock and roll. People just like to pidgeon hole boogie woogie really.

Have you and Ronnie changed them much to make them your own?

Not so much. We both love that kind of music. We both love Chuck Berry, we both love Johnnie Johnson, we love the whole band and it's a great sound so why spoil it. Having said that, we don't do it exactly as the record because what's the point of that. You want to do your own thing. A lot of it is having fun and if something is fantastic and really rocking out then why not do an elongated version and just really enjoy it. Also, vice versa, if it's not going so well cut it short and get on with the next one. We always have fun and that's the main thing and if we can convey Chuck’s music in our own way, but be respectful to his sound, then we're happy.

What’s your favorite Chuck Berry song to play?

That changes almost weekly. There's a great tune I love called 'Move It'; there's another one I love called 'It’s My Own Business' and, right now, I really love 'Talking About You'.

Did you ever see Chuck live? Or play with him?

Yes I did. I was very fortunate. I first saw Chuck when I was playing with Chris Jagger, Mick’s younger brother, and we played supporting Chuck Berry at a private party in London about 30 years ago. It was an amazing experience. I then did two nights opening up for Chuck Berry at the Hackney Empire, with Chris Jagger again. I opened up for Chuck Berry on a tour of Austria, I opened up for him at the 100 Club with Nine Below Zero and, years ago, I ended up having a jam with him. So I played with him a bit and I did speak to him a few times.

I believe you have something unusual at the bottom of your garden – can you tell us about The Stumble Inn?

10 years ago we bought this old farmhouse in Dorset. It was derelict with an old thatched roof that we could see through and a garden that was all overgrown. We had five acres in total and a lot of that was overgrown too. Then my Mum pointed out that there was a building in one of the overgrown areas so we went in and looked into it and it was an old blacksmith’s forge. My Dad did it up for me - it was great, with big beams and a cork board fireplace where the blacksmith’s forge used to be. So we we did it up and then we thought ‘what we going to do with it’ so we turned it into a pub. Now we actually have a licence for it and we have some great parties in there!

Finally, what’s the best thing about being Ben Waters?

I always have, and always will, enjoy my family more than anything. We are all very close, from my grandparents to my parents to my wife to my children… we have a great time all of us together. I love living in Dorset. I've been lucky enough to travel all over the world but there's nowhere I'm happier than when I'm back at home with my family.

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