This article is part of a series of reviews of Rolling Stones books that were published in 2013.
There’s an old saying about love, sex and relationships: “How you get them is how you lose them.” In other words, if you get a romantic partner because that person cheated on someone else, then chances are that partner will cheat on you too. It seems as if Jo Wood (the second ex-wife of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood) couldn’t grasp that concept until it was too late.
In her memoir “It’s Only Rock’N’Roll: 30 Years Married to a Rolling Stone,” Jo admits to behavior that won’t win her any Mother of the Year awards, but at least she takes responsibility in making those bad decisions instead of trying to shift the blame on others. In other areas of telling her life story, she seems to be deep in denial about how a relationship built on adultery and damaged by addiction doesn’t have much of a chance of surviving.
Many Rolling Stones fans already know the story about Ronnie and Jo’s relationship: They started their affair in 1977, while he was still married his first wife, Krissy, whom he eventually divorced. Jo became pregnant with daughter Leah a few months after dating Ronnie. Leah was born in 1978. Ronnie and Jo lived together and had another child (a son named Tyrone) in 1983 before getting married in 1985.
In 2008, Ronnie left Jo for Ekaterina “Katia” Ivanova, who was an 18-year-old cocktail waitress at the time. Jo filed for divorce in 2009, and a divorce settlement was reached in 2011. Ronnie and Ivanova broke up in 2009. He dated several women young enough to be his daughter before marrying his third wife, Sally Humphreys (a theater producer), in 2012.
What most people don’t know about are Jo’s family background (including having a biracial mother from South Africa) and the details of her first marriage to clothing manufacturer Peter Greene, the father of Jo’s first child: a son named Jamie, who was born in 1974. Her maiden name is Karslake, but shortly after she became a model, she created the stage surname Howard when she had an unpleasant experience with a stalker who tracked her down at her home because he knew her real last name.
Jo describes her family (including two younger brothers and a younger sister) as middle-class, fairly stable and loving, except she sometimes feared her father, whom she describes as a strict and domineering man. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to figure out why Jo rushed into her first doomed marriage with a much older man (Greene) when she was only 18. The marriage eventually ended in divorce when she was 21.
By then, Jo had begun a career in modeling (Twiggy was her idol), and in her book she describes how she began to feel resentment and boredom toward Greene, so she cheated on him, usually with men she met in the fashion industry.
It was during the beginning of the “party girl” phase in Jo’s life that she met Ronnie, whom Jo says pursued her vigorously until she gave in to his charms. At the beginning of the relationship, Jo was battling Greene over custody issues about Jamie (she eventually won full custody of Jamie), while Ronnie was married to his first wife, Krissy, with whom he had a son named Jesse. According to Jo, Krissy essentially told Jo that she was welcome to have Ronnie because Krissy confessed to being in love with Jimmy Page.
Ronnie’s self-titled 2007 memoir already detailed many of the drug excesses (especially with cocaine) that he and Jo had during their relationship. Jo confirms many of these tales of debauchery, and she claims that she was one of the few people who could keep up with Ronnie and his hard-partying ways.
If Ronnie and Jo’s relationship could be described as “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll,” especially during their “honeymoon phase,” you won’t find much description in Jo’s memoir of the “rock’n’roll” side of the Rolling Stones in the book. Although Jo mentions that she spent a lot of time in the studio with the Stones during the making of the 1978 album “Some Girls,” she barely describes the recording process. She was probably so wasted that she can’t remember all the details.
And although she describes the thrills she got from watching the Stones on stage from privileged vantage points (Jo says the best Rolling Stones concert she ever saw was in Buenos Aires in 1995), her perspective of a Rolling Stones tour was as a girlfriend/wife and mother who was often partying with Ronnie while trying to keep groupies away.
Not surprisingly, since Keith Richards is the Rolling Stones member who is closest to Ronnie, Richards gets the most vivid and warmest descriptions in Jo’s book, compared to the other members of the band besides Ronnie. Jo gives readers brief glimpses of what it was like to party and vacation with Richards during the years that she was in the Stones’ inner circle. Jo also says that while she and Ronnie were outgoing while on tour, Richards preferred to stay in his hotel room. She also said that even when they were in remote places while on vacation, extrovert Ronnie would always be very pleased if he was recognized by a fan.
Jo describes Mick Jagger as someone who tried to seduce her shortly after they met, even though she was “Ronnie’s girl.” When she rejected his advances, Jagger basically acted like he didn’t have much use for her. Jo says that in all the years that she was with Ronnie, she never wanted to be with anyone else.
As for Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, Jo describes him as a gentleman but emotionally distant from her. She doesn’t have much to say about Bill Wyman (who was the Rolling Stones’ bass player from 1962 to 1992) except to mention that even though he was a chronic womanizer, he never tried to make any moves on her and always treated her well.
Jerry Hall (the mother of four of Jagger’s children) and Patti Hansen (Richards’ wife and the mother of two of his children) are described with fondness in Jo’s memoir. Jo says that after her divorce from Ronnie, she and Jerry strengthened their friendship, which isn’t too surprising, since they both went through similar things regarding infidelity with their Rolling Stones men.
Many of the other Rolling Stones’ wives and girlfriends had lives and careers outside of the Rolling Stones, so a recurring theme in Jo’s memoir is her regret over sacrificing so many of her own interests and career ambitions to take care of Ronnie and their family. She says that for several years, she was Ronnie’s personal assistant until Jagger decided she could officially have that job as a paid member of the Stones organization.
When Jo became “obsessed” (her word) with organic foods and organic products, she started the company Jo Wood Organics, which was the one of the few things that she had in establishing an identity outside of her marriage to Ronnie. Sadly for Jo, the company went out of business after her divorce from Ronnie. One of the best parts of the book is her description of how she built the business and how it boosted her self-esteem.
Because Jo and Ronnie’s relationship began because of his cheating on his first wife, it’s not surprising that Jo admits that she was often insecure about all the groupies and other women who showed an interest in hooking up with Ronnie. Jo says she usually chose to believe Ronnie when he told her that women who were obviously his mistresses (including actress Kelly LeBrock) were just his “drinking buddies.” Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that Ronnie was cheating on her on a regular basis, Jo stayed with him because she said she genuinely loved him.
Another problem in the Woods’ marriage was addiction to alcohol and drugs. The part of the book that is the hardest to believe is Jo’s claim that she was able to be an excellent mother while essentially admitting that she spent at least 18 months being addicted to freebasing cocaine in the early 1980s. (Richards, who has had notorious drug addictions of his own, thought freebasing cocaine was disgusting, and he thought Ronnie was out of control with this addiction. Ronnie said that in his memoir, and Jo confirmed it in her book.)
The way she describes her addiction in the book, she and Ronnie would basically shut themselves in rooms and ignored everything else except getting high, which she admits was her biggest priority at the time. Of course, it’s easy to delude yourself into thinking you’re a great mother while having this type of addiction if you can afford to have nannies and/or assistants to help raise your kids while those kids are being neglected by parents who are freebasing cocaine.
In 1989, Jo was misdiagnosed with Crohn’s disease, but later found out that she really had a perforated appendix. To correct the problem, she had a surgery and drastically changed her diet to organic food only. Jo also said that her health scare was a wake-up call to clean up her drug-fueled lifestyle. She believes her excessive substance abuse was a big reason for why she had health problems.
So then why did Jo give her cocaine to her son Tyrone or marijuana to her daughter Leah when they were underage teenagers, even though they didn’t ask for it? (She says that her kids were appalled that she offered them drugs.) Because Jo said she felt it was better that they got the drugs from her rather than someone on the street. She admits in the book that her behavior was irresponsible.
However, it doesn’t excuse how shameful it is that she would give illegal drugs to her underage kids, knowing that they could possibly become addicted, and especially seeing first-hand how addiction was negatively affecting their family. Jo says that her son Jamie became a heroin addict. So it’s mind-boggling why she would deliberately do things that would put her other kids at risk of becoming addicted to drugs too.
If Jo doesn’t seem to be the brightest bulb in the drawer, that’s because she isn’t. One small example: Even though she brags in her memoir about all the fabulous places in the world that she traveled to as part of the Rolling Stones’ inner circle, she said that after she was invited to a trip for charity to Bangladesh after her split from Ronnie, she said she didn’t even know where Bangladesh was.
When it comes to describing the fun and glamorous side of being married to a Rolling Stone, Jo definitely delivers in her memoir. There’s no doubt that she had a lot of fun with Ronnie during their best years. But she also doesn’t shy away from describing the bad times either: Ronnie’s dark moods and emotional cruelty (which she blames largely on his addictions to drugs and alcohol); financial disasters due to overspending and bad investments; and betrayals from shady business managers and other former associates.
Jo also goes into detail about the ordeal she went through after she and Ronnie were arrested in 1980 for drug smuggling in St. Maarten’s, after some drug dealers they had partied with were caught with cocaine in the Woods’ rented car. Ronnie and Jo spent almost a week in jail before being cleared of the charges. Jo admits that they lied to authorities about their drug use in order to get out of jail and be cleared of the charges.
Jo also describes what it was like when she found out about the affair that led to the end of her marriage to Ronnie, how Ronnie left her, and her recovery from the destruction of her marriage. But if you think Ronnie leaving her was something that happened out of the blue, think again. Years after she had her appendix health crisis, Jo says that Ronnie admitted to her that he thought about leaving her at the time she was gravely ill.
Not surprisingly, when Jo decided to lead a healthier lifestyle and Ronnie continued to indulge in his addictions to drugs and alcohol, it was a rift between them that continued to grow until the marriage reached its breaking point. When Jo and Ronnie’s daughter Leah got married in 2008, she said she knew her marriage to Ronnie was ending, but she put on a happy face so as not to ruin the wedding.
Jo is a classic case of a co-dependent. And although Ronnie is fully responsible for his own actions, being married to someone who enabled his self-destructive behavior for so long certainly did not help their marriage. Jo says she stuck by Ronnie through his many trips to rehab and relapses, so on one level, she could be commended for her loyalty. However, maybe it’s not a coincidence that Ronnie says he’s been clean and sober since 2010, after his marriage to Jo ended.
Jo Wood is not the first person to tell behind-the-scenes tales of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll when it comes to the Rolling Stones. Therefore, what she has to say about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll isn’t shocking.
What may be the most shocking thing of all in Jo’s memoir is her claim that Ronnie never made an apology to her or expressed remorse to her for the emotional pain and humiliation that he caused when he left her for another woman. Jo’s description of Ronnie as cold and uncaring goes against the warm and bubbly personality that’s been a major part of his image. It also contradicts what Ronnie has said in interviews about how he made amends with Jo and his kids for his actions that destroyed his marriage to Jo.
Ronnie is a veteran of rehab, where patients often have to apologize to people whom they’ve hurt. These apologies are a crucial part of “graduating” from rehab, but according to Jo, Ronnie never bothered to make these apologies to her. This may be a case of “he said/she said.”
If you could sum up how Jo describes her many years with Ronnie, she essentially says that he is a rock star who can be the life of the party but he often acts like a selfish child. Considering how Jo and Ronnie got together in the first place, she should have known that their relationship, which started in chaos and infidelity, would most likely to end in chaos and infidelity.