This coming December 18th is actually the celebration of two birthdays. One, a celebration of the birthday of Rolling Stones songwriter/guitarist, rock n’ roll pirate, and superhuman drug-abuse survivor Keith Richards. And the other, incredibly, is the birthday of this very blog in its present form, which is three years old today. Happy birthday to us!
But, today let’s focus on Keef. He’s known by many these days for his ruined visage and onstage tenacity as a rock n’ roll musician. He’s still doing it even on the occasion of his 67th birthday, and also in the year that his biography Keith Richards Life was released.
So, what I’d like to do is to list some musical highlights in a career that offers an embarrassment of riches. Where many of the greatest tracks with the Stones were fronted by Keith’s musical partner, Mick Jagger, Keith himself has often taken the helm, providing lead vocals as well as game-changing touches as a guitar player.
And even when he hasn’t come to the fore as a lead singer, it was established very early on that even if early Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham was listed as the producer on the band’s early albums, the real musical ear behind their catalogue in the studio was Keith himself. The takes that were used on the records were done so on Keith’s approval.
So, let’s take a look at 10 such moments that best features Keith’s musical signature, which is a cultural contribution unlikely, if not completely impossible, to replace. Read more
Here’s a clip featuring “Keef the Human Riff” Keith Richards rocking out his hero Chuck Berry’s seasonal hit “Run Rudolph Run”. This may seem like something of a novelty of course. But, technically this was Keith’s first single as a solo artist, releasing it around this time in 1978. He wouldn’t take on another solo project for another decade.
Richards debt to Chuck Berry from the formation of the Rolling Stones was a big one in terms of style and approach. But, no one could suggest that the group hadn’t paid Berry back in royalties. The Stones covered many Berry hits, including “Carol”, “Bye Bye Johnny”, “Little Queenie”, and of course “Come On” which was their very first single in 1963.
Maybe this seems like a lightweight entry for a debut solo single. But, I like to think that Keith was doing this one for the kids. And it does rock, in a wasted sort of way. What else would you expect from Keith?
The original Berry version of “Run Rudolph Run” was released twenty years before Richards’ take, and has since been recorded by a myriad of artists like Dave Edmunds, Sheryl Crow, Reverend Horton Heat, and of course the inescapable Bryan Adams.
Here’s a song which I always thought sounded like it should have gone directly to Van Morrison’s creative inbox – “Winter” from 1973’s Goat’s Head Soup. This album of course is looked upon by many as the beginning of the band’s decline, when the heroin began to bump the telecaster out of Keith’s hand. Yet, this track and a number of others on this record showed that the group still had plenty of juice.
Check out this clip to hear this tune and judge for yourself. This track on which Jagger performs without Keith Richards (who was absent from the session), and Mick Taylor shines on lead guitar, betrays Jagger’s tendency to be current instead of distinctive, perhaps. Yet, his languid delivery is still pretty compelling.