Personnel changes were nothing new to The Rolling Stones. In their first decade, the legendary blues rock giants experienced quite a bit of turbulent turnover, with pianist Ian Stewart being demoted to road manager and founding guitarist Brian Jones dying just a few days after leaving the band in 1969. Mick Taylor came on board that same year but also departed in 1974.
Once Ronnie Wood became the band’s permanent second guitarist, it seemed as though the Stones were set for life. As all five members aged, it seemed increasingly likely that the Stones would simply ride off into the sunset for however long they could. And then a bomb dropped: in 1993, after more than three decades playing in the band, bassist Bill Wyman announced that he had left The Rolling Stones.
In reality, Wyman had exited the band two years earlier, prior to their signing to Virgin Records. The rest of the band was reluctant to let Wyman go and even tried to get him to reconsider his decision. “They left the door open for me for two years,” Wyman recalled (via Louder Sound). “Charlie and Mick would phone and say, ‘You’re not really leaving are you? Have you re-thought it?’”
When it came time to start recording their 20th studio album Voodoo Lounge, Wyman was visited by Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger one final time. “Mick and Charlie came around in the evening and had a meal with me and said, ‘Have you left?’” Wyman explained to the Los Angeles Times in 2019. “I said, ‘I left two years ago!’ They weren’t very happy about it.”
“When I first left the Stones, it took a few months to rebuild that relationship with them,” Wyman told the Telegraph 2008. “It was quite stressful, and they didn’t want me to leave, so they became bitchy. Instead of being nice and saying, ‘great 30 years; cheers, mate,’ Mick would say the most absurd, stupid things with that spoiled attitude he had. He’d say things like, ‘Oh well, if anybody has to play bass, I’ll do it. It can’t be that hard.’”
“I think Bill’s kind of had enough of it all, really,” Mick Jagger explained at the time. “I guess he just doesn’t want to do any more. Bill has decided he doesn’t want to carry on for whatever reasons. You’d have to ask him why. I don’t think it will really faze us too much. We’ll miss Bill, but we’ll get someone good.”
Keith Richards wasn’t as sure as Jagger was. “A rhythm-section change in a band is a heavy-duty number,” he told MTV in 1994. “It’s totally up to Bill. If he doesn’t want to do it, it’s his decision. I don’t want a reluctant guy on the road.”
“Playing with the Stones, there was always such a lot of pressure,” Wyman added in his interview with the Telegraph. “The next album or single always had to be the best, or at least sell more. When we got together to play, it was a great moment. Working with Charlie was fantastic, and we’re still really close – but when I toured with the Stones, it would take a month to practice all these songs we’d been playing for 30 years.”
In the end, Wyman decided that the rock and roll life did indeed come with an expiration date. “None of us expected the Stones to last more than a couple of years,” Wyman concluded. “Neither did the Beatles. Neither did the Animals or the Hollies.”