Keith Richards: Repeat Offender (Relix Revisited)
On the 50th anniversary of the first performance by the Rolling Stones, we present this feature on Keith Richards, which ran in the April 1993 issue of Relix. The cover image below is from our September/October 2010 issue.
As the fall of 1988 came around, all was not well in Rolling Stoneland. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, like many good friends and many more business associates, had shared a rocky relationship at times. However, their most recent barrages seemed to spell the end for “The World’s Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band.” Keith was angry at Mick because he refused to tour with the Rolling Stones in support of their 1986 Dirty Work album. Mick had chosen instead to record an album of his own and to tour solo to support it.
Differences of opinion in rock’n’roll bands have occurred before. At different times, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart each left the Grateful Dead. Spats between Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have been documented (at times, resembling classic Ali-Frazier bouts). Stories about the Kinks’ Davies brothers’ onstage fisticuffs have become legendary. All of those bands, however, had weathered their tempests and were still working together even as the Rolling Stones feud reached fever pitch.
The rift between Keith and Mick took on great drama, publicly and privately. Certainly the Stones had walked a rocky road in the past. This time it appeared that rock fans might have to face the music without the band that had long shown the world how. On October 4, 1988, Keith Richards’ first solo album, Talk is Cheap, was released. The riff doctor lived! With the release of his first solo album, Keith proved what those in the know had been saying for a long time; Mick Jagger might be the most visible of the Rolling Stones, but the roll behind their rock still burst from the guitar of Keith Richards. Talk is Cheap received kudos from the critics and took the radio airwaves in the United States by storm. Keith was pleased with his album, but not at the circumstances under which he recorded.
He said, “I was never interested in making a solo record while the Stones were still going as a concern. When they weren’t, then the slight sense of failure came in because I had to admit that I hadn’t managed to keep the band together, which I always figured I could, because I got a big head. I figured no matter what problems, one way or another, I would keep those guys together.”
People close to the situation claimed that the brush with the band’s death very nearly broke Keith’s heart. As much as he had been the soul of the Stones from its inception, the group had been a part of him as well. His relationship with Mick Jagger goes back to primary school. They lived only two blocks apart. Keith moved and attended a different school from Mick, but as teens they crossed paths again while waiting for a London-bound train. Mick carried copies of The Best Of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry’s Rockin’ at the Hops. Mick impressed Keith with his musical choices and the two renewed their friendship. Over a pot of tea that afternoon, they decided to make music together. Keith joined Mick in Little Boy Blue And The Blue Boys, a group which included Dick Taylor (founder of the Pretty Things), who was a chum of Keith’s from Sidcup Art College.
Like many of his contemporaries (John Lennon, Ray Davies, David Bowie, Ron Wood, Pete Townshend), Keith found a temporary refuge in art school. American blues and jazz, the Beats, abstract art, Brigitte Bardot and speed pills were all the rage; just the right combo for a young, working class English lad looking for something more. Mostly, he found that something in the music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Muddy Waters and the other giants of US blues and rock’n’roll. Even as the Blue Boys evolved into the Stones and began their meteoric rise (four US Top 40 hit within two years of forming, three number one hits in the next 18 months) Keith never forgot his debt to the Chicago Bluesmen.
He says, “[They are] where I started to learn it all as I was growing up. When I first met Muddy Waters, he was painting the ceiling of Chess Studios. We’re walking in there to make the second record or the third in Chicago and [someone said], ‘Thought you might like to meet this guy, that’s Muddy Waters, you know.’ There’s this black face covered in drops of white paint. All those guys, John Lee [Hooker], who I worked with last year, and Howlin’ Wolf and Johnny Johnson, these guys- it’s like when I meet them they always feel like they’re my dads. You know, they’re welcoming home some errant unexpected son and that’s the way they treat me. I learned a lot from those guys. If you’re sure of what you’re doing, you know you’re pretty good and you’re going to do it, then you don’t need to carve other people up. You don’t need to be cheap. I mean, music is something one generation passes on to another and if you love it enough and you cherish it enough, to get the nod from the guys that took it from is like I said, ‘I must have done something right.’”
Keith still gives credit where credit is due on albums and consistently mentions his mentors in interviews and private conversations. That’s a long-held tradition. In May of 1965, American teens tuning in to a favorite television dance party program may have been baffled by the appearance of a giant black man in the Rolling Stones’ midst, but according to Keith, the band knew exactly what they were doing. “I was well aware of that. I mean Jack Goode did that Shindig thing. That was breaking ground to bring somebody like Howlin’ Wolf on a show like that. It’s like picking up the torch and giving something back. It’s our way of being able to start to pay back the stuff that we learned from them, from their records, from their music and being able to give them exposure, and hell, we did the job. Soon after [the Stones began singing the praises], Muddy started to record his greatest period, as far a selling records is concerned, from then on. So it’s all a matter of reciprocation.” He adds, “All the blues guys, all the greats, were always such gentlemen.”
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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