WE WERE instructed by his people not to ask any questions about the Rolling Stones or Sally Humphreys, his new, younger-by-three-decades girlfriend. But hey, those subjects were not why Ronnie Wood agreed to chat up the Daily News in the first place.
Instead, the veteran guitarist, who just last weekend was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the British rock band Faces, called to gab about his Saturday-night set at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
The show is notable for a couple of reasons: It is not part of a tour, but a one-off performance by a guy who seldom goes out on his own. In fact, the Nugget show is his first solo gig in the U.S.
And considering his 37-year tenure as a member of the Rolling Stones (thereby making him the royalist of rock royalty), one would expect him to plug in his guitar at the Borgata or Revel, which these days all but have the AyCee monopoly on cooler-than-cool musical bookings. But Woody, as he is known far and wide, is playing Golden Nugget because he was asked to by pals.
"Some good friends of ours [including casino owner Tilman Fertitta] operate the place," explained Wood, in a voice burnished by decades of cigarettes and whiskey (think an intelligible Keith Richards). Wood has been bunking in the penthouse of a luxe Manhattan hotel while promoting his paintings (check out his work at ronniewood.com), so geography wasn't an issue.
"They said, 'While you're doing your artwork, how about playing Golden Nugget?' I [figured], why not? If I like it, maybe I'll play [the Golden Nugget] in Vegas, too. I'm just putting my toe in the water."
According to Wood, who first appeared on the rock-music radar as guitar hero Jeff Beck's bassist on the latter's 1968 album "Beck-Ola" (which featured vocals by Wood's future Faces teammate Rod Stewart), his repertoire will feature a "potpourri" of numbers representing the various stages of his career. He mentioned by name the Faces signature "Stay With Me," a couple of relatively obscure Stone's numbers — "Black Limousine" and "Pretty Beat Up" — and the thrilling cover of Bob Dylan's "Seven Days" from his underrated 1979 LP, "Gimme Some Neck."
Wood also will handle lead vocal chores, but he won't be a "Stone alone" when he hits the Nugget stage. He has assembled an impressive backing unit that includes drummer Steve Jordan (Richards' X-pensive Winos, "Saturday Night Live" studio band); bassist Willie Weeks (David Bowie, George Harrison, Billy Joel); pianist Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers Band, Stones) and singer Bernard Fowler (Herbie Hancock, Stones). To answer the most obvious question, Wood's dear friend Richards is not expected.
"If he was at home [in Connecticut], he'd be in my band," said Wood. "But he's down in the islands."
As unexpected as Wood's Nugget show may be, there are those who would argue it is even more surprising that Wood is still around in 2012 to play there. Although Richards was always celebrated as the Rolling Stones' partier-in-chief, Wood's decades-long battles with drink and drugs have been well-chronicled. He's been sober for roughly two years.
"It's been great," he enthused. "Every day is full of adventure. There were things I used to think of while using [drugs] as threats. Now I can focus on them." The only drawback to living the straight-and-narrow life is a lack of adequate time to engage everything that comes his way.
"I've hardly had three hours off since I straightened up," he lamented. "There's not enough hours in the day."
The reason the Stones' plans for this, their 50th anniversary year, were declared out-of-bounds for the interview stems from a dustup that began last week. It seems Mick Jagger got his knickers in a knot after Wood was quoted in the media saying the band was heading into the recording studio.
Earlier this week, Wood told Billboard magazine: "I heard from Jagger; he's going, 'What the hell?! We don't know anything yet!' And I said, 'You know what [the media] are like. I just expressed my personal view; I would love to go into the studio.' Then they took it all wrong."
So instead of asking Wood flat out about the Stones' plans, we took a roundabout route, suggesting he merely tell readers anything he can about what's on the docket for the "World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band."
Although there will apparently be no new album or tour this year, Wood acknowledged the Stones will hardly be out of sight and mind: "We got exhibitions. We got documentaries. We got books. We'll see what happens after that." n
Golden Nugget, Huron Avenue at Brigantine Boulevard, 9 p.m. Saturday, $50, $75, $100, $150 (VIP), 866-746-5336, goldennugget.com/atlanticcity.