Every single guitar player in every single rock ‘n’ roll band in the world has been influenced by Keith Richards.
He is, quite simply, the quintessential guitarist; one who is recognised as having created his own, unique, art form. But he is so much more than just the ‘Human Riff’ or one of the many epithets that has been bestowed upon him over the years. He is a songwriter, actor, former choirboy and the living embodiment of the rock and roll lifestyle. To some he’s an outlaw, to others a rock god, but for Keith himself it’s all about the music. It’s the music that matters.
He was born five months after Mick Jagger on Saturday 18 December 1943 in Dartford, Kent, while his father was on wartime duty with the army. Meeting Mick first at primary school and then again in 1961 on Dartford railway station was the cosmic coincidence of history that has created one of the most creative and long-lasting partnerships in modern music, one that has helped shape the cultural history of the last fifty years.
When the two future Glimmer Twins met on the station platform Mick was carrying a collection of imported R&B records that he had ordered from Chicago and New York, among them was Chuck Berry’s One Dozen Berries, little did either know the part that the American musician would play in their future’s together. Keith’s grandfather played with a jazz band and Keith’s mother bought him his first guitar on which he used to play along to records. He soon began exploring the roots of what became rock ‘n’ roll and his knowledge of the blues and pre-war music that are the building blocks of everything the Stones have done is prodigious.
Keith has said that he thinks songs that are written by two people are better than those by just one person alone and his enduring partnership with Mick is testament to that notion. Together they have produced what can only be described as the Great British Rock Songbook that includes such classics as, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Ruby Tuesday”, “Wild Horses”, “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Street Fighting Man”, “Brown Sugar” and “Paint It Black”. Besides his guitar playing Keith has sung lead vocals on over twenty-five Rolling Stones recordings including, “Happy”, “Thief in the Night” and “Memory Motel” where he shares lead vocals with Mick.
Keith’s love of music and the blues in particular is deep and his care for other musicians, whose talent he appreciates, especially those that others may not appreciate quite so much, has led him to collaborate with a vast range of musicians, both in the studio and in concert. His work with others has included Chess pianist Johnnie Johnson’s album, recording with Levon Helm for a tribute album to one of Keith’s earliest guitar heroes, Scotty Moore and blues guitarist Buddy Guy to whom Keith gave his favourite guitar during the filming of the Rolling Stones documentary, Shine A Light. Among his other collaborations are ones with, Hubert Sumlin, Willie Nelson, Peter Tosh and Toots and the Maytals. He also acted as musical producer and played guitar in the film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll with Chuck Berry.
Keith’s solo albums have included Talk is Cheap (1988), Main Offender (1992) and a compilation released in 2010 entitled Vintage Winos, featuring his band the X-Pensive Winos that included his friend and Stones sideman Bobby Keys and another song-writing partner, producer/drummer, Steve Jordan. In 2010 Keith published his autobiography Life and he has appeared in two Pirates of the Caribbean films alongside Johnny Depp, who has said he used Keith as a role model for his character Captain Jack Sparrow.
This perhaps best sums up Keith’s joy of playing with the Stones.
“Levitation is probably the closest analogy to what you feel, whether it’s “Jumping Jack Flash” or “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or “All Down The Line”, when you realise you’ve hit the right tempo and the band’s behind you. It’s like taking off in a Lear Jet.”
And while he confesses to wanting to have been a librarian has no intention of pursuing a career away from music, just at the moment.