There’s nothing new this lowly blogger can bring to the Keith Richards story. I won’t even try. It’s the enthusiasm I try to bring. Today is December 18, 2010, but back in 1943, that’s 67 years ago for you math enthusiasts, Keith Richards was born to Bert Richards and Doris Dupree Richards in The United Kingdom. He was an only child. I don’t know if that explains anything or not, but he has led a charmed life. According to our friends at Wikipedia, the Richards flat was hit by a Nazi bomber on July 5, 1944 while Keith and Doris were visiting Bert in the hospital after he was injured during the Normandy invasion. Now that was fortunate huh? It has been said that Keith’s maternal grandfather, Augustus Theodore Dupree, was the one who got young Keith interested in playing the guitar. Thanks Gus. It must have been a proud moment when Richards was named the 10th best guitarist of all time in the famous Rolling Stone (hey, that name sounds awful familiar doesn’t it?) Magazine poll of a few years back. Too bad Gus wasn’t around to soak that in. Keith’s own father tried to discourage him from playing, wait for it….”that bloody noise.” Sounds like my own father telling me to turn off “Crimson & Clover” before I even had my first tab of acid (kidding!). Ignoring his old man, as we all do most of the time, his first musical heroes were Scotty Moore, Big Bill Broonzy and Little Walter. Oh, and lest we forget the most important influence of them all; Chuck Berry. Keith is what as known as a rhythm guitarist. Technically he is a quasi lead guitarist as well, and I’m no musician so don’t take whatever I write as gospel, but as it was explained to me, rhythm playing is more repetitive and more melodic than say, James Hetfield ripping into anything not named “Enter Sandman.” While I (probably) may not have explained that exactly correctly, rhythm guitar playing was once confined to the acoustic guitar in genres like Folk & Country music. I just read about five minutes of what constitutes a rhythm guitarist and I still know jack about it. I do know Keith Richards can play. From “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to “Street Fighting Man” to “When The Whip Comes Down” and everything in between, whatever his style is, I’m all over it. Gargantuan fan. End of story.
One fateful morning in 1961, when yours truly was still in diapers, Keith ran into the other Glimmer Twin, Mick Jagger, then a student at The London School of Economics. Keith, surprise, had been expelled from Dartford Technical School for chronic truancy and was heading for Sidcup Art College where it was suggested he might be “more Comfortable.” Hmmm. Mick and Keith actually attended the same Primary School in Wentworth some years before. Recognizing each other they set about discussing the records young Mick had under his arm. The suddenly realized they both were fans of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. Jagger, as it turns out, was singing in a band called Little Boy Blue and The Blue Boys. How awful is that band name? Keith was subsequently invited to rehearse with them. The Blue Boys were mercifully disbanded once Keith and Mick met Brian Jones and Ian Stewart. There was another Blue Boy kicking around by the name of Dick Taylor who both Mick & Keith knew, but had no idea the other one knew as well, who hung with them for awhile. Dick ended up going back to Art school in 1962 and fading from the history books. Sorry Dick. Bad move. The foursome began playing Blues covers and perfecting the guitar play between Brian Jones, then Mick Taylor and eventually Ronnie Wood as the yin to Keith’s yang riffs. As a fan, both then and now, I’m completely clueless about that dynamic. The only thing I know is “It’s Only Rock & Roll, But I Like It.” I know I’ve told the story, probably in my Mick Jagger post awhile back, about my friend Timmy Schneider’s older brother Dickie. He used to get home after school, and I’m guessing this was about 1968 or so, and positively BLAST his parents piece of furniture then known as a Hi-Fi. You could hear Keith’s music for hundreds of yards in that neighborhood. I was a little bit afraid of the volume back then, but man did I love those old Stones tracks. “Ruby Tuesday, Dandelion, Lady Jane, Play With Fire, Get Off of My Cloud, The Last Time, Connection, I’m Free, Paint It Black, Under My Thumb, Mother’s Little Helper, She’s a Rainbow, Citadel, 2000 Light Years From Home” and on and on. Hot Rocks indeed. And they were just getting warmed up!
I don’t know about most folks, but The Stones’ work between 1968′s Beggar’s Banquet and, say, 1978′s Some Girls is tremendous. Some could argue 1973′s Goats Head Soup, 1974′s It’s Only Rock & Roll or 1976′s Black & Blue had some junk on them, but I’m not one of those people. I guess fan really is short for fanatic huh? “Star, Star, Silver Train, Dancing With Mr D, Luxury, Fingerprint File, If You Can’t Rock Me, Dance Little Sister, Hot Stuff, Hand of Fate and Crazy Mama” are right there with all of my other Stones favorites. I guess I’m easy to please when it comes to Mick & Keith. It’s easy to forget that the two of them had solo careers as well. They weren’t long and they weren’t prolific, but it’s hard not to like what Keith did with his time away from the Stones. I remember seeing Keith Richards at The Orpheum Theatre on February 13, 1993. I had a decent seat, 14th row on the center aisle, but somehow a friend of mine had front row center. I remember bringing a woman named Margaret to the show. Margaret was about eight years younger than this 33 year old in 1993, but it seemed like a lot more. My friend Mark had his girl with him, but she was clearly temporary. We drank a lot Tequila before the show and we swapped seats about every six songs or so. The four of us had a blast. Margaret passed out before I could get to the good stuff and the opportunity never again presented itself to me. My friend Mark? He’s a lot of fun. Within three months he had succeeded where I had failed miserably. I remember him asking me for permission to pursue and giving it up immediately, but I’m pretty sure it was done deal before the conversation. No matter, he’s still a good man. The things you remember because of music huh?
Keith and Mick had a little trouble getting along in the late 80′s, but if they had never recorded again it wouldn’t have been half the tragedy as the loss of Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix. They had a couple of decent records in the 1989-1997 range, most notably 1994′s Voodoo Lounge (if you are inclined to like The Stones’ music in the first place and you missed out on this baby go back and grab it. It’s actually very good in my opinion), but The Stones were mostly raking it in on the stadium tours they were doing on a gradually grander scale and at increasingly more expensive prices. I paid an astronomical $450 to see them at Fenway Park in 2005, twice! Sucker! I’ve covered this ground before too, but The Stones just refuse to shuffle the set list deck. They play the same 20 plus songs, out of 25 or so each time out and you’re lucky to take in a “Sweet Virginia” or “Sway” from time to time. Still, I go every single time. See you next year I hear. They’re all approaching 70 freakin’ years old! You wouldn’t know it by their performance I can tell you that. I may not like the set list most of the time, but they can still crank it out with the best of them. Keith Richards is like a caricature of himself. The non-sensical half finished “sentences” are comical, but you really don’t know what’s true and what is a put on. He’s allegedly free of all the blood transfusion causing recreational fun if you believe his recent clip in Rolling Stone, but I’ve had his new book Life, sitting on my coffee table for weeks already. It’s not that I’m not interested, I clearly am, but between a new job and Christmas party mania I’m just not reading much these days. Pity that.
Getting back to Keith’s solo career, 1988′s Talk is Cheap is really an excellent record. I wasn’t sure he had it in him. Don’t be afraid to go back and revisit that bad daddy when the time is right. 1992′s Main Offender? More of the same. I was dating an Eileen back then ironically enough. She dumped me fairly soon after the record came out as I recall, but it was fun while it lasted. In 1991 Keith released a live disc called Keith Richards & The X-pensive Winos (Live at The Hollywood Palladium December 15, 1988) that I’m sure is out of print by now, but to me it’s well worth owning. I had seen Keith play once before on, only 11 days prior to recording this live CD in Los Angeles, on December 4th, again at the Orpheum, on the Talk is Cheap Tour and having a blast that day as well. Bottom line? I’m a Stones junkie. I’m probably closing in on 15 shows there too. I know some folks followed them around the world, but I could never afford that. I saw Shine a Light in the movie theatre about a year and a half ago (I’m totally guessing) so maybe that counts too, but my love affair with all things Keith has about run its course I figure. One more show, maybe one more CD somewhere along the line, and I’ll have to spend my money elsewhere. Still, Happy Birthday Keith from The Giant Panther. May you stay as resilient as ever for another 25 years. Go easy on the coconut trees though OK? That stuff’ll kill you.
Buy or Download Keith Richards’ Vintage Vinos From Amazon Here.