Rearview Mirror: Bobby Keys (Keef, Cocker, Lennon and more)
Question: Can you name the musical thread that runs from Dion’s “The Wanderer” to Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen period to the heydays of Delaney & Bonnie’s killer soul revue to the basement of Keith Richards’ Villa Nellcôte during the Exile on Main Street sessions?
Answer: The saxophone of Bobby Keys. And you can read all about it in his new autobiography, Every Night’s a Saturday Night, written with Bill Ditenhafer.
Keys’ book reads like he’s talking to you—a fact that he is “tickled pink” with. “Bill was extremely easy to work with,” says Keys. “All he did was turn on the tape recorder and we’d talk. It was a very conversational experience.”
Keys felt at home no matter who he was with: from the bootleggers in the gravel parking lots of Lubbock, Texas to the flower children of the ‘60s or the wretched excess crowds following the Stones’ ‘72 tour. And hanging with the likes of Truman Capote never made much of an impression on Keys—for him, it’s always been about the music.
Looking back on the studios and stages that he’s shared with some of music’s greats, Keys makes no bones about it: “My life has been as unrehearsed as a hiccup, man. I wish I could tell you it was all the result of some grand design or master plan, but it was all being at the right place at the right time and maybe having enough chops to back it up.” He laughs a big-as-Texas laugh and adds, “ Some talent and a lotta luck.”
Currently, Keys is making music with his band The Suffering Bastards, which includes members of The Black Crowes and The Georgia Satellites. They have scheduled some live shows and have a few studio-cut tracks in the can to be “shopped around to some labels.” Plus, he’s looking forward to some studio work with Richards and keeping an ear open for Stones news.
“Keith told me a looong time ago [when] I’d be asking, ‘What’s happening [with the Stones]? What’s going on?’ and Keith would say, ‘Bobby! Don’t worry about it. You will be there. I will tell you. I will let you know when I know.’”
One of the best tributes to Keys in the pages of Every Night’s a Saturday Night —and best summation of his talent—comes from his longtime brother-in-horns, trumpeter Jim Price: “The Stones sounded like the Stones were supposed to sound when Bobby Keys played with them… Bobby plays with the spirit of rock and roll to the bone.”
Bobby’s Big Three
Asking Bobby Keys what his favorite songs are out of all the sessions that he’s been a part was not easy for him to answer. He rose to the occasion, however, with a laugh and a drawled-out, “I don’t know, man. I guess if I had to name the first three that come to mind…”
“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers
“The Stones had brought in Rocky Dijon that night to play congas on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.’ I’d been jamming with him, but I got the vibe that there wasn’t going to be any horns on that song, so I was just sitting there, listening. When the song ended, Rocky and Mick Taylor kept on playing—I knew they were jamming, so I grabbed my horn and jumped in. It was completely off the cuff, man: It was written as it was being played. I didn’t know they were recording the damn thing, but I’m really glad they did!”
“Brown Sugar” from The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers
“That’s always going to be a favorite of mine. I’d played a solo on ‘Live With Me’ on the Let It Bleed album the year before, but ‘Brown Sugar’ was the first big Stones song I played on. I remember going in and recording it in one take. It’s funny, but as many times as I’ve played that solo—not only with the Stones, but with other bands, too—I never grow tired of it, man.”
“Whatever Gets You Through the Night” from John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges
“We’d spent some time out in LA being silly—what John would later refer to as his ‘lost weekend,’ even though it lasted more than a year. John finally got it out of his system and went back to New York and I started to get it out of mine. When he asked me to come play on his album, I brought my saxophone and left the silliness behind. We got into it and played some music, man. That was my solo, but what to do and when to do it was all John’s idea. I really miss him.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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