Keith Richards

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Keith Richards Pencil Portrait
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Last Update : 23/6/13

Remembrance Day is a time for old soldiers to view their wartime exploits with misty eyed camaraderie. For the Rolling Stones, 2012 marked their 50th anniversary and after much anticipation the band finally announced a series of fresh live dates to commemorate the occasion. With ticket prices scaling the £100 mark, the year found the pivotal Jagger-Richards_ “marriage”_ in less than fine fettle and for anyone purchasing “life,” Keith’s autobiography in 2010, as indeed I did, the reasons were plainly obvious. As the man so succinctly put it; “I used to love Mick, but I haven’t been to his dressing room for twenty years.”

The rot had set in thirty five years earlier once Richards emerged from his ten year heroin odyssey and began challenging Jagger’s despotic grip on the group’s business affairs. Suitably miffed, Mick eventually made the break to emerge as a solo recording and performing artist although the greater portion of his stage repertoire was comprised of Stones classics. Keith, by his own admission, was ready to kill him and one suspects Mick remains only a single wrong step from such a fate. For a man who regularly carries pistols and knives on him, there could yet be a dramatic end to the band’s story. Perhaps this explains the public’s ongoing willingness to pay sky high prices to see them; let’s just hope that Charlie brings the lilies!

The quality Richards clearly values most is loyalty, which perhaps explains his mixed feelings about Mick Jagger. They first met properly on Dartford station in 1961 in their late teens. Mick had some albums by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters under his arm, a rapport was instantly struck and they started playing music together. For Keith, a single child, Mick was clearly the brother he never had, and together they came up with some of the greatest pop and rock numbers ever, among them Satisfaction, Jumping Jack Flash and perhaps the greatest of them all, Gimme Shelter. It should be apparent to most observers that the comraderie of the band format continues to re-energise and sustain Keith’s raison d’etre yet for Jagger there are conflicting thoughts on career diversification and the treadmill financial gain associated with the band.

What distinguishes Richards from Jagger is that at the age of forty he found his soul mate whereas his musical partner chose to destroy the most important relationship of his life. The women in their lives in the 60’s and early 70’s were both interchangeable and dispensable, on occasions consorts for a considerable period of time yet incapable of deeply ingraining themselves upon their male partner’s emotional psyche. When Jagger began an interlude with Anita Pallenburg on the set of “Performance” in 1968 Keith writes on page 255 of his autobiography:

“I didn’t find out for ages about Mick and Anita, but I smelled it. Mostly from Mick, who didn’t give any sign of it, which is why I smelled it. The old lady comes back at night complaining about the set, and about Donald and blah blah blah. But at the same time, I know the old lady, and the odd time she didn’t come home at night, I’d go round somewhere aned see another girlfriend.”

Richards took the literary opportunity on the following page to reveal a one night stand around the same time with Marianne Faithful right under Mick’s nose. It all smacks of juvenile one upmanship involving women too “strung out” on drugs to even care.

Eventually, after a four courtship Richards married his girlfriend Patti Hansen in 1983. He could have lost her in recent times to bladder cancer, but thankfully she has recovered and by all accounts the couple are closer today than ever before.\—Country.html\

Perhaps one of the secrets to this enduring relationship is Patti’s understanding of her husband’s greatest love affair.

“I love my kids and my wife most of the time. Music I love all the time. It’s the only constant joy in my life. You’re never alone with a guitar. It’s the one thing you can count on.”

Keith Richards – New York Times interview – early ’90’s.

On many of the Stones’ hits, Richards used an open-G tuning, his guitar’s strings re-tuned to G-D-G-B-D (low to high), with the lowest D (6th string) removed, instead of the usual E-A-D-G-B-E. He had learned it from American guitarist Ry Cooder, who in turn had taken it from old blues masters: an approach to the guitar that Richards himself famously described as “five strings, three notes, two fingers and one a—-hole to play it.”

The open-G tuning features prominently on songs like ‘Brown Sugar,’‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘Start Me Up,’ amongst many others. A five-string banjo tuning dating back to a time when the guitar began to replace the banjo in popularity after the First World War, Richards elaborated further with one reporter, saying : ‘It’s called open tuning, or the Sears Roebuck tuning sometimes, because they started selling guitars then.’ Personally, I always found it stressful retuning to open G between sessions in clubs, for I could not afford the luxury of maintaining one stage guitar permanently strung in such a manner. Eventually I solved the problem with a Line 6 guitar that, whilst remaining in standard tuning, could be computer modelled to open G when fed through an amplifier.

Guitarists unfamiliar with Open G may wish to study the chord chart available via:\

A word of caution though – the real journey of discovery in this tuning lies in the development of a suitable vocabulary of minor chordal voicings.

Recommended listening

Exile on Main Street (1972)

The ramshackle mix on this opus annoys me to this day. The Stones always balanced their vocals equally with their instrumentation. In Keith’s view, Mick’s voice was simply another dimension to their overall sound yet here on “Exile” vocal subjugation takes a leap too far. In addition, the absence of any obvious “single pulls”, (no ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ or ‘Honkey Tonk Women’) and you have a flawed sprawling work fit for critical demolition, which is precisely the reception the band’s only studio double abum received upon its initial release. Yet today it stands as the Stones masterwork, perhaps conceptually their own ‘Sgt Pepper’, an album whose reputation exceeds the sum of its individual parts.

Naturally, I tuned into the BBC broadcast of the 2010 “Stones in Exile” documentary which looked at the making of the album in 1971. In the programme Keith Richards defines the essential difference in temperament between Mick Jagger and himself.

“Mick needs to know what he’s going to do tomorrow,” says Richards, his voice slurring into a laugh. “Me, I’m just happy to wake up and see who’s hanging around. Mick’s rock, I’m roll.”

Jagger himself ceded artistic control to Richards thanks to the demands of his wife Bianca. In view of how far Keith was “strung out” on heroin, this scenario appeared unlikely yet it emphasised the old vaudevilian maxim ‘Wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine’. This aspect of his marital relationship is ignored along with the drugs and debauchery, since the documentary, which had Jagger’s controlling presence written all over it, did not dwell on such unsavoury and unsubstantiated matters.

The Rolling Stones pitched up in the south of France in the spring of 1971 as reluctant tax exiles fleeing the Conservative Government’s punitive tax on high earners. That year, the top-rate of income tax on earned income was cut to 75%. Nevertheless, a surcharge of 15% on investment income kept the top rate on that income at 90%. The group had just extricated themselves, at some cost, from a misguided management deal with the infamous Allen Klein, who was still claiming he owned their publishing rights. In the public eye, though, the Stones were still the rock group that most defined the outlaw rock’n‘roll lifestyle, their bad reputation built on an already colourful past that included high-profile drug busts, the death by drowning of Brian Jones, one of their founding members, the near death by overdose of Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger’s former girlfriend, and the murder of a fan by Hell’s Angels, who had been hired by the group’s management to provide security at 1969’s ill-fated Altamont festival.

Desert Island Discs - BBC Radio 4 (30/10/15

Recommended viewing

Keith Richards – The Andrew Marr interview (BBC) 2010

So he got his first gig singing to the Queen as a choirboy in Westminster Abbey and you thought you knew all there was to know about Mr Fender with the knives and guns.

Keef ‘jaws’ with Mr BBC and proves an entertaining interviewee, more revealing of himself inside of five minutes than Jagger would be after five hours. He might have a sneaking regard for “Bridges to Babylon” but he knows deep down when the band was mining its richest artistic seam as the titles “Let it bleed,” “Beggar’s Banquet,” and “Exile on Main Street” trip off his tongue.

Recommended reading

Life (Keith Richards) 2010

Reviewing Keith’s memoirs in ‘The Observer’ on 31 October 2010 Sean O’Hagen was moved to say that;

‘From time to time, you sense that Richards loved his guitars even more than he loved his “chicks”. He sometimes writes about the lure of the Gibson and the Fender with undisguised eroticism.’ Well done Mr O’Hagen, persevere with this line of thought and you’ll work it out for yourself. Guitars respond to a player’s touch everytime, women do not. In any event, Richards distinguished himself from Jagger, in his nonchalant and somewhat detached view of women. Yet when the time came to grow up and commit properly he did so marrying in 1983, a union that endures to this day. His book contains a lovely tribute to his wife Patti Hansen. He writes: ‘I am married to a most beautiful woman. Elegant, graceful and as down to earth as you can get. Smart, practical, caring, thoughtful, and a very hot horizontal consideration.’ That last phrase is characteristic of Richards’s dry hip wit, and there are many equally cherishable examples throughout the volume.

A journey through America with the Rolling Stones (Robert Greenfield) 1974

Undoubtedly, the most critically acclaimed book about a legendary US rock tour in the 1970s, Greenfield documents every aspect of the Stones’ triumphant return to the US in 1972, three years after the Altamont disaster, to tour their classic album “Exile on Main St.” Each chapter moves across the American landscape from city to city, with tales of logistical nightmares, business disputes, long drug fuelled days on coaches and aeroplanes, even longer nights in sleazy hotels, brushes with US law enforcement and bizarre excesses with groupies.

In the preface to the 1997 re-print edition, the author reflects on the voluntary departures of Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor, despite Richard’s long held raison d’etre that “no-one checks out of this band.” From the perspective of fifty, twice the age when he wrote the original text, Greenfield can clearly see the irony of life:

‘Had anyone told me twenty-five years ago that Ian Stewart, the Stones’ original piano player, whose drugs of choice (in order of preference) were red meat, single malt whiskey, and golf would be long dead while Keith Richards , he of the lifestyle that challengeth human endurance, would not only be alive and well but living much like Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, I would have laughed myself sick and then gone out looking for yet another party after the show in some multi-tiered Hyatt along the road.

I may have just come to my first substantive point. Since whenever the Rolling Stones’ names come up in conversation these days, it’s only the fact of their surviving that seems to count, perhaps what’s most remarkable is that so few of those portrayed in this book have actually met their maker in the ensuing years.


The official Keef site featuring some interesting filmed/audio q & a’s and a news section. The merchandising store is presumably there for people who don’t believe in shopping around for the best price possible!