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Richards, Keith

Keith Richards

Guitarist, singer, songwriter

From Black and White to Technicolor

Poster Boy for Excess

Birth of the X-Pensive Winos

Selected discography

Sources

Much has been made of Keith Richardss reputation as rocks ultimate bad boy; his weathered face and checkered past are legendary. As the guitarist and primary musical force behind the Rolling Stones, one of the most influential bands in rock and roll history, Richards may have been less visible than flamboyant frontman Mick Jagger, but he provided an example of cool that other musicians have imitated for decades. In the words of author Mark Leyner, who interviewed Richards for Spin, Any one of a thousand Keith Richards photographs could serve as the defining totemic image of the rock n roll life.

Yet Richardss drug history and onstage demeanor have frequently overshadowed his remarkable focus and seriousness as a musician. Inspired by a variety of roots-based musical forms, primarily the blues, he has helped the Stones branch out continually as a vital creative unit. Since 1988 Richards has released two critically acclaimed solo albums with a versatile backup band called the X-Pensive Winos; though he long avoided recording apart from the Stones, his work without them indicates he has lost none of his fire. As he noted in one of many candid interviews with Rolling Stone, his intention has long been to grow this music upto leave behind the teen appeal and theatricality of rocks past and invest it with maturity and honest feeling.

Richards also demonstrated in the wake of his renewed solo effort that he had reached a state of happy grace in his life. The impression Richards gives is of someone perfectly content to be who he is and do what he does with no evident regard for external judgments or objections, noted Ira Robbins in Pulse! The guitarist confirmed this perception in numerous interviews: To me, the main thing about living on this planet is to know who the hell you are and be real about it, he told Rolling Stone. Thats the reason Im still alive. Content in his second marriage, the father of several children of various ages, he indicated that hed put aside the youth-obsessed sentimentalism exemplified by a classic line in My Generation, a 1960s standard by Stones contemporaries The Who: Hope I die before I get old. People quoted an interview in which Richards declared, Getting old is a fascinating thing. The older you get, the older you want to get.

From Black and White to Technicolor

Richards was born in 1943 in Dartford, England. His father, Bert, worked in a factory, struggling to feed the family. We just about made the rent, the guitarist recalled in a Rolling Stone interview. The luxuries were very, very few. Keith knew early on that he didnt have

For the Record

Borm December 18, 1943, in Dartford, England; known earlier in his career as Keith Richard; son of Bert Richards (a factory laborer and electrician) and Doris Dupress; married Patti Hansen (a model and actress), December 18, 1983; children: (with Anita Pallenberg) Marlon, Dandelion (later Angela); (with Hansen) Theodora, Alexandra. Education: Attended art school in Sidcup, England.

Member of the Rolling Stones, 1962; solo performer, 1988. Appeared in and acted as musical director of film Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll and produced soundtrack album, 1987.

Awards: With Rolling Stones, inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1989.

Addresses: Agent Raindrop Services, 1776 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Record company Virgin Records, 338 North Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210-3608.

his fathers disciplineThats the hardest work of all, bein lazy, he quipped to Kurt Loder in 1987, as quoted in the rock scribes Bat Chain Puller and he was expelled from the Dartford Technical School for truancy at age 15. He spent some time at art school before discovering the guitar and the blues. Rock and roll was brand new in the late 1950s, and its arrival, Richards told Loder, signaled the advent of a new era. Totally. It was almost like A.D. and B.C., and 1956 was year 1, you know? The world was black-and-white, and then suddenly it went into living color. Suddenly there was a reason to be around, besides just knowing you were gonna have to work and draggin your ass to school every day. Suddenly everything went zoom glorious Technicolor.

Richards always understoodand is at pains to explain to contemporary rock fansthat rock and roll derived in large part from the blues, an African-American art form. And the work of black artists in ensuing years, from soul and rhythm and blues to the pioneering rock of Richardss idol, Chuck Berry, would provide basic musical compass points for the guitarist and his band. Richards met Mick Jagger in 1960; the singer was then attending the London School of Economics. They shared a love of R & B and ended up jamming together with a handful of other musicians. The Rolling Stonesnamed after a song by blues legend Muddy Waterswere formed in 1962 and featured a shifting roster of musicians as they coalesced, though Jagger and Richards were constants. The rhythm section of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts stabilized the bands sound, and they released their first single, a Chuck Berry cover, in 1963. Although they were often touted as Londons answer to the Beatles and at first sported a clean-cut look, the groups gritty, sexually charged sound and attitude offered a unique appeal. Their 1965 single (I Cant Get No) Satisfaction was a monster hit that became one of the defining songs of the era. Newsweek later called Richardss signature Satisfaction guitar riff five notes that shook the world.

The Stones unleashed a string of hit singlesamong them The Last Time, Time Is on My Side, 19th Nervous Breakdown and Get Off My Cloudbefore the tide of the decade turned to album-oriented rock. Late-1960s and early-1970s Stones LPs such as Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street have become hallmarks of committed, adventuresome rock. The Stones also experienced a tragic watershed of the hippie age: at a 1970 concert at Californias Altamont Speedway, members of the Hells Angels motorcycle clubthe bands erstwhile security forcefatally stabbed an unruly fan as the Stones played their hit Sympathy for the Devil.

Poster Boy for Excess

Richards, during this tumultuous period, became something of a poster boy for excess. While many rockersincluding Jagger and the Beatleschampioned mysticism and psychedelia, Richards was laying low and shooting up. He admitted to Bryan Appleyard of Vanity Fair that during his heroin days in New York, he carried a gun, and he recalled, I got used to getting shot at. At the same time, however, his notoriety often bestowed a strange immunity upon him; would-be muggers waved him through and cops [gave him] lifts when [it was] raining. In Toronto in 1977 he was arrested on a serious possession charge andfaced with stringent penaltiesagreed to undergo drug treatment and perform at a 1979 charity concert. Rock lore has it that Richards periodically had his blood changed in order to curtail various bouts with addiction.

Living on this particular edge, he told Spins Leyner, was in part a way of dealing with stardoms distorting effect on ones self-regard: Ive tried to keep my feet on the groundsometimes almost six feet underin order not to stay up there in that stratosphere [of fame]. Maybe the whole dope thing was some way of negating thatcause that put me down in the gutter. One minute Im operating as a superstar and the next Im shooting up with some guys on the Lower East Side. Ill never know really what that was all aboutjust an experiment that went on too long, I guess. Richards explained to Loder in Rolling Stone in 1981, The problem is not how to get off of it, its how to stay off of it. By 1980 Richardss long-term relationship with Anita Pallenberg had come to an end, and in 1983 he would marry actress and model Patti Hansen. Jagger served as best man at their wedding in Mexico; by the time Richards and Hansen had their two daughters, his two children by Pallenberg, Marlon and Dandelion, were in their teens. In 1982, the guitarist was reunited with his father, whom he had not seen in many years; their newfound closeness became another constant in Richardss life.

The Rolling Stones sustained their success through the 1970sreleasing such hit albums as Goats Head Soup, Its Only Rock N Roll, and Some Girls and played in more and more massive arenas. By the 1980s, their tours had become events of elephantine proportions, and though he still felt firmly committed to the band, Richards was keenly aware of the intimacy and directness lost in the fanfare. In 1985 Mick Jagger decided to release a solo album, Shes the Boss, and he announced in 1986 that he would not tour with the Stones in support of their recent record, Dirty Work. Richards and Jagger traded barbs in the press; To me, twenty-five years of integrity went down the drain with what he did, the guitarist told Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone. Speculation about the bands imminent dissolution flew about and were not quelled by Richardss decision to ink a deal with Virgin Records and put out his own solo album.

Birth of the X-Pensive Winos

In addition to assembling a band, Richards served as musical director for Taylor Hackfords Hail! Hail! Rock NRoll, a film biography of Chuck Berry. Hes a loner, Richards told DeCurtis of the senior rocker. Thats why I could work with Chuck Berry, because hes very much like Mick. But not working with Mickor rhythm guitarist Ron Wood or Wyman or Wattswas Richardss imperative for the moment. He decided to collaborate with drummer Steve Jordan, who had played in the Worlds Most Dangerous Band on televisions Late Night With David Letterman, and assembled a stellar ensemble that included bassist Charley Drayton, guitarist Waddy Wachtel, and keyboardist Ivan Neville.

An air of mutual admiration and camaraderie pervaded the sessions for Talk Is Cheap, the first album by Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos. Every drummers dream is to play with Keith, Jordan declared in Newsweek. Hes the Time Machine, right? Jordan wasnt referring to a nostalgia trip; Richardss rhythmic accuracy as a guitaristwhat musicians call timeis legendary. Wachtel confirmed this, adding, Its due to his right hand. Magic. When he plays rhythm, its like a room full of the best drummers in the world. Talk Is Cheap featured guest musicians like funk superstars Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker and soulful vocals from Sarah Dash. Yet Richardss own singing, only an occasional feature on the Stones records, was the biggest surprise for many listeners and critics. Guitar Player rated the album the best by the Rolling Stoneseven though Richards was the only Stone on itin nearly two decades. Richards and his group also released a live album taken from a performance at the Hollywood Palladium in December of 1988.

The Stones reassembled for the hugely successful 1989 album Steel Wheels, which spawned a tremendous tour. The songs just tumbled out, Richards told the New York Times of the recording sessions in Barbados. First, we just screamed and yelled at each other. We needed to clear the air, which, as old mates, were very good at. Then, when we got into that room and sat down with our guitars, something entirely different took over. That year, the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In a 1992 Guitar Player interview, Richards noted that the imbalance produced by frenzied playing and idle downtime had been a root cause of the tension within the group. And thats what the Stones had to live with from the early 70s until the middle 80s: constant work for a year and a half, and then nothing for two years. And that stopping and starting was fraying. That was the underlying force of what all of that shit was about.

1992 saw the publication of Victor Bockriss largely panned Poseidon Press tome Keith Richards: The Biography, which Gene Santoro attacked in Pulse! as a collection of recycled press clips interlaced with pretentious analysis and pop clichés. More importantly, late in the year Richards released his second solo studio album, Main Offender. Once again employing the versatile X-Pensive Winoswho traded instruments during the sessionsRichards explored more emotional territory this time around. Entertainment Weekly awarded the album a B+ and closed its review with a cheeky Your move, Mick. Echoing Guitar Players assessment of Talk Is Cheap, Spins Leyner called Main Offender the finest Rolling Stones album in years, elaborating, Its stripped down and full of gorgeous songwritingsinewy and poignant. Musician was a trifle more critical, suggesting that Main Offender was the best mediocre album of the year, perhaps because it conveyed a pleasantly raw feel with no obvious effort: Exile on Easy Street. For his part, Richards revealed in an interview with Rolling Stones Kim Neely, This band is very new and fresh for me. In a way it reminds me of working with the Stones in the early days.

The Stones were set to regroup for a new record in 1993, despite the departure of bassist Wyman, which apparently had been in the works for some time. Richards had joked about scaring Wyman into remaining by threatening to replace him with a woman, but this macho gambit presumably failed. Richards told Neely, I think theres a possibility of another golden period in the Stones somewhere, this projection ostensibly undimmed by Wymans exit. As to his own future, Richards told Rolling Stones DeCurtis in 1988, I played with Muddy Waters six months before he died, and the cat was just as vital as he was in his youth. And he did it until the day he died. To me, that is the important thing. I mean, what am I gonna do now, go for job retraining and learn to be a welder? Ill do this until I drop. Im committed to it and thats it.

In both his role as a Rolling Stone and as that of a solo artist, Keith Richards has demonstrated that it is possible to grow up in rock and maintain the spark and intensity required to keep it fresh. To me, its important to prove that this isnt just teenage kids shit and you should feel embarrassed when youre over forty and still doing it, he remarked to DeCurtis. Thats not necessary. This is a job. Its a mans job, and its a lifelong job. And if theres a sucker to ever prove it, I hope to be the sucker.

Selected discography

With the Rolling Stones; on ABKCO Records

The Rolling Stones (Englands Newest Hitmakers), 1964.

12X5, 1964.

The Rolling Stones Now!, 1965.

Decembers Children, 1965.

Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) (includes [I Cant Get No] Satisfaction, The Last Time, Time Is on My Side, 19th Nervous Breakdown, and Get Off My Cloud), 1966.

Aftermath, 1966.

Got LIVE If You Want It!, 1966.

Between the Buttons, 1967.

Flowers, 1967.

Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967.

Beggars Banquet (includes Sympathy for the Devil), 1968.

Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits, Volume II), 1969.

Let It Bleed, 1969.

Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, 1970.

Hot Rocks, 1964-1971, 1971.

More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies), 1972.

The Rolling Stones Singles Collection: The London Years, 1989.

On Rolling Stones/Columbia Records

Sticky Fingers, 1971.

Exile on Main Street, 1972.

Goats Head Soup, 1973.

Its Only Rock & Roll, 1974.

Made in the Shade, 1975.

Black and Blue, 1976.

Love You Live, 1977.

Some Girls, 1978.

Emotional Rescue, 1980.

Sucking in the Seventies, 1981.

Tattoo You, 1981.

Still Life, 1982.

Undercover, 1983.

Rewind (1971-1984), 1984.

Dirty Work, 1986.

Steel Wheels, 1989.

25 x 5, 1990.

Flashpoint, 1991.

With the X-Pensive Winos; on Virgin Records

Talk Is Cheap, 1988.

Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos Live at the Hollywood Palladium, December 15, 1988, 1988.

Main Offender, 1992.

Sources

Books

Loder, Kurt, Bat Chain Puller: Rock & Roll in the Age of Celebrity, St. Martins, 1990.

The Rolling Stone Interviews: The 1980s, edited by Sid Holt, St. Martins/Rolling Stone Press, 1989.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, November 6, 1992.

Guitar Player, December 1992; September 1993.

Musician, May 1992; December 1992.

New York Times, June 4, 1989.

Newsweek, October 24, 1988.

People, November 9, 1992.

Pulse!, November 1992.

Rolling Stone, November 26, 1992; February 4, 1993.

Spin, January 1993.

Vanity Fair, December 1992.

Simon Glickman

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