Chesher Cat is a rock’n’roll photographer and the author of two books – Starart, featuring the fine art of musicians Joni Mitchell, John Mayall, Klaus Voormann, Ron Wood, Cat Stevens and Commander Cody; and Everybody I Shot Is Dead, honoring the musicians she photographed that have passed away. Here, Chesher tells the story of one wild weekend in Paris getting Ron Wood’s final approval for the chapter on him & his artwork in Starart. Chesher is also a screenwriter and filmmaker and will be unleashing her cameras on Paris this summer, creating photographs, a book and a film.
My first book was Starart, a coffee table book of artwork done by six accomplished musicians. I picked musicians who I thought would have made a living as an artist if they weren’t successful in music.
Ron Wood was the sixth and final musician invited to have a chapter of thirty-six pages in the book. Working with Ronnie was great, other than dealing with his schedule packed with solo projects, being a member of The Rolling Stones, and having kids under the age of five.
There was a lot of rescheduling. Then he’d invariably call me at two in the morning, “Hey, can you come over now?” Eventually, I finished taking photos of all his works of art, then editing them with him and taping several interviews for the biographical introduction and the comments on each piece that might end up in the book.
Then I was on my own putting together the mock-up of his chapter. Transcribing the tapes, sizing the snapshots and pasting everything onto pages. Once that was done, I was off to London to finish off Cat Stevens’ chapter with him, and get proper shots of the doorknobs Klaus Voormann had made for George and Ringo’s manors. I was also figuring out how I was going to meet up with Ronnie to get approval on his chapter.
Story sidebar: As I’m writing this now, I really can’t believe my own words. Did this really happen? I was a kid with an idea and somehow convinced a bunch of rock stars that they should be in my book. What was I thinking? How the hell did I do this?
As usual, I was having trouble getting hold of Ron Wood. We didn’t have cell phones and internet back then, but somehow I found out he was in Paris recording a Rolling Stones album. When I finally got through to him, he suggested I come to Paris. FYI, I had no book deal so I begged, borrowed and stole my way around the world to get this book done. Of course my answer to him was, “Sure. I’m on my way to Amsterdam to check out a printer, and I’ll come to you on July 12th.”
Ronnie had no off-time, so he suggested we meet at the recording studio. I was very young when the Stones hit it big and, while I was in love with the Beach Boys, it didn’t take long for me to fall for the Bad Boys. “Sure, Ronnie, no problem. What time and how do I get there?” It was pushing midnight when Ronnie met in the lobby and took a quick look through the mock-up. He was so excited about it, he ushered me into the studio to show it off to the rest of the band. I was politely introduced to Mick as Michael Jagger, then Keith, Charlie and Bill. The only other people in the room were a few girls, including Jerry Hall, and some recording guys.
Once all the boys had a good look through the mock-up – commenting and laughing about the various drawings that brought up memories – I was invited to stick around while they recorded. Not in the control room. In the actual studio! I found an anvil case against a wall to sit on and soaked up every moment. I took out a pad and wrote a play-by-play letter to my friend, musician Michael Georgiades. Strangely, I just saw him in LA a couple of months ago and asked him if he still had that letter. He thinks it’s in storage so I’m hoping to get a copy of it sooner than later.
I sat on that anvil case for hours. During that time they didn’t record anything. Not one song to be on an album. Instead they jammed the blues non-stop. Incredible. When it winded down at dawn, we were all enlisted in a ruse to get Jagger out of the studio without the paparazzi attacking him. This was during the Mick/Bianca split. I ended up going back to Paris in a car with Ronnie, Keith and their girls. As we were speeding through one of the tunnels I thinking, ‘If I’m going to die in a car crash, it might as well be now.’
We ended up back at Ronnie’s flat on Avenue Victor Hugo. We all piled into the elevator, except Keith. He wanted to race us to the third floor. When the elevator opened, there was Keith, in a lump on the floor at Ronnie’s door. That’s when I opened my big mouth and couldn’t believe these words flew out… “Hey Ronnie, couldn’t you afford a place without riff-raff sleeping on your doorstep?” A deafening silence seemed to go on forever, Keith not moving and the rest of them staring at me with a look of, “Don’t you know who that is?” Actually it was probably just a nanosecond before Keith jumped up and said “Yeah, Ronnie, why are you doing living in a dump like this?” I loved Keith from that moment on.
The next day I remember walking down (or up) Avenue des Champs-Élysées in a small group, including Ronnie and Mick, trying to find some party while the throngs of Bastille Day celebrators were walking en masse in the opposite direction.
By the way, Ronnie’s Paris flat was phenomenal…it’s where I took this photograph of him.
May 13, 2016
© Chesher Cat ProductionsCheck out more of Chesher’s work at Chesher Cat Productions