Keith Richards

Missing image
Album photograph by Sante D’orazio

Keith Richards (born December 18 1943 in Dartford, Kent), is a British guitarist and songwriter, best known for his work with The Rolling Stones, the band he founded with vocalist Mick Jagger and Brian Jones in 1962. His nicknames include Keef Riffhard ( In addition to his work with The Stones, Richards also has worked as a session guitarist with artists as varied as Gram Parsons, Tom Waits, Bono and The Edge of U2, Nona Hendryx, John Phillips and Aretha Franklin.


Early life

Keith Richards was a World War II baby born in the "crossfire hurricane" (mentioned in the lyrics of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" ( of German bombings in the Battle of Britain. He was an only child, reportedly conceived as a way to get his mother Doris Richards off the wartime factory production line. Richards' father, Bert, was a disabled war veteran and working class factory labourer. Despite the family's modest station, Richards' paternal grandparents were socialists and civic leaders. His maternal grandfather toured Great Britain as a jazz/big band musician. In interviews, Richards often cites his mother's father as a leading influence in his young life. He also admired the singing American Western film star Roy Rogers.

His parents divorced around the time that Keith was expelled from Sidcup Art College. The divorce led to a long period of estrangement from his father, and led to him dropping the "s" from his surname from the mid-1960s onwards. For almost twenty years, Keith "Richard" did not see or talk to his father, but remained close to his mother who eventually remarried. During the 1980s, father and son reconciled, and Keith reclaimed the "s" at the end of his surname. This reunion was touchingly illustrated by Bert Richards accompanying his son on Rolling Stones tours during that period.

Career accomplishments

The Rolling Stones began as a cover band in Great Britain playing Blues and early rock'n'roll covers. Their first recordings reflect this. "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "Not Fade Away," "Little Queenie," "Carol" and "It's All Over Now" are all American cover songs. Andrew Loog Oldham became The Stones first manager and inspired Jagger, Richards and Jones to write songs. Jones was unable to contribute meaningfully, and Jagger and Richards became the primary songwriters. "The Last Time" was the first song Jagger and Richards took to the band to record under their own names. Nanker Phelge was a pseudonym created by Jagger and Richards to publish songs they wrote and recorded but wanted to sidestep publishing agreements to which they were obligated as Jagger/Richards.

Although Brian Jones was a hapless songwriter, he contributed significantly in the studio. He was a multi-instrumentalist and has been cited by Richards and Jagger in interviews as a large contributor to how songs like "Under My Thumb," "Paint It Black," and "Ruby Tuesday" were recorded.

Mick Jagger began to attract attention in Britain and the United States. His on-stage persona developed from stiff school boy to a dancing, prancing, ambisexual, drunken, shotgun Weimar Republic nightclub singer who either immediately attracted or repulsed viewers. Jagger's development made Richards a stronger guitarist and songwriter.

Solo recordings

During the late 1980s, Richards resolved to outlast musically the fickle Mick Jagger —a man he began to call "Brenda"—and formed a band called Organized Crime. The band evolved out of work on The Stones' poorly received 1986 album, Dirty Work, and the Taylor Hackford film Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!. The motion picture was a blend of live concert, back stage documentary, and personality conflict which celebrated the 60th birthday of Chuck Berry, one of Richards' musical heroes.

The new band, replacing the old name with Keith Richards and the X-pensive Winos, formed with Steve Jordan, Sarah Dash, Waddy Wachtel and Ivan Neville, recorded with Los Angeles funk producer Bernie Worrell during 1987-1988 in LA, New York and Montreal. In the fall of 1988, Virgin Records released the critically acclaimed, albeit popularly slighted album, Talk is Cheap. It spawned a brief but memorable tour through the U.S., playing classic rooms like the Fox Theatre in Detroit, as well as the Hollywood Palladium on Sunset Strip. In late 1991 Virgin released the concert as Live At the Hollywood Palladium.

Richards' solo work reignited The Stones. The Steel Wheels album and the group's most successful world tour to date quickly followed Richards' solo adventure. Although Talk is Cheap produced no Top 40 hits, and went only gold, it has remained a consistent seller, and a vivid reminder of how large a contributor Richards has been to The Rolling Stones. In 1992 Main Offender was released, and the Winos and Keith toured further, reaching North and South America as well as Europe. Although the X-Pensive Winos are often rumoured as being due for a revival, Richards' solo recordings are fewer than Jagger's, Charlie Watts', and even Ronnie Wood's.

Richards' unique vocal style graced country legend's George Jones Bradley Barn Sessions ("Say it's not You"), a Hank Williams tribute album Timeless ("You Win Again") and Hubert Sumlin's About Them Shoes (lead vocal on "Still A Fool") in recent years. The posthumous release in 2001 of John Phillips' second solo recording Pay, Pack & Follow, consisting of tracks recorded between 1973 through 1979, features Keith's magnetic guitar work on all nine tracks, as well as his picture on the cover and CD insert material. In the early 1990s Richards recorded a group of Jamaican Rastafarians, The Wingless Angels, on his Jamaican estate. He released the recordings under his own record label, Mindless Records, and in 2004 remastered the recording and re-released it.

What makes his music special

Richards' guitar style evolved over the life of The Stones. In the 1960s, greatly influenced by Chuck Berry, he played a traditional, but distinctive, rhythm guitar in counterpoint to the more flamboyant lead style of Brian Jones (who once gave Richards guitar lessons). His teaming with Mick Taylor, the replacement for Jones who was fired in 1969, is considered by many the high point of The Stones' musical career. Three albums made in this period, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers & Exile on Main Street, along with Beggars Banquet represent the musical highpoints of The Stones' recorded canon.

Strongly influenced by the work of Ry Cooder, Richards developed his trademark playing style in the 5-string open G tuning (GDGBD, with the 6th low E string removed, or as he has it, "5 strings, 3 notes, 2 fingers and one arsehole to play it") during this period. Songs which typify his open-G style include "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar" and "Start Me Up." Richards has made clear that he considers the years he has played with Ron Wood (1975 - date), in a style of mixed lead and rhythm playing which has been termed "the ancient art of weaving," as his most musically satisfying.

Richards contributed harmony to every Stones album, and had lead vocals on a track on almost every album since Let it Bleed. "Happy" from Exile on Main Street charted as a single in the United States as high as number 22, in 1972. From the country twang of "The Worst" to the piano pleadings of "Sleep Tonight", and reggae feel of "You Don't Have to Mean It" Richards has carved himself an original and well received place on all The Rolling Stones records.

Richards is often seen playing a Fender Telecaster although he has used a wide variety of instruments including Gibson Les Paul and Gibson ES-335 models, and Music Man Silhouettes. His main Telecaster is allegedly called "Micawber". He often plugs into Fender Twin and Bassman amplifiers, and has used various other amplification including Marshall[1] (, Vox[2] ( Boogie[3] (

Public image and private life

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Photo by Sante D'Orazio, from Talk is Cheap album art work. 1988.

Richards is best known publically for his drug habit and not his songwriting or music. Richards and The Stones cultivated a decadent and counter-culture image during the 1960s and '70s, and Richard's frank admission that he used narcotics often made him a poster-boy for teens and adults who sought refuge in, as Keith sings in Before They Make Me Run (, "booze and pills and powders." In a famous 1971 Rolling Stone magazine interview he discussed his drug use. Ten years later, in another Rolling Stone magazine interview he expressed little regret about the heroin habit that almost destroyed his life and music career. To this day Richards wears a bracelet which resembles a pair of handcuffs as a reminder he never wishes to be arrested again. Perhaps also appropriate, is that he wears a Totenkopf ring which was a gift from a friend and New York Jeweler, (portraying a human skull without a jaw), although he has said publicly ( that it represents "beauty is only skin deep."

Two famous arrests came ten years apart, one in 1967 with Jagger and friends at Redlands, Richards' Surrey estate, which placed him in custody and trial before the courts of public opinion and of Her Majesty's. Although the conviction was quashed after two days of imprisonment, Richards' famous testimony regarding England's "petty morals" made him a target for establishment backlash.

However, there was a more ominous, serious and life-changing arrest in February 1977 at Toronto's Harbour Castle Hotel (Regina v. Richards ( Registered at the hotel under the pseudonym 'Redlands', the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (or Mounties) arrested Richards for heroin and cocaine possession and charged him with importing narcotics, an offence with a minimum sentence of seven years in prison according to the Criminal Code of Canada. For the next three years he lived under threat of criminal sanction as he sought medical treatment in the U.S. for heroin addiction. During this period The Rolling Stones released their biggest selling album (8 million copies) Some Girls. which included their last North American Number 1 pop chart single, "Miss You." After the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld Richards' original sentence- the somewhat unorthodox charity concert at an Oshawa hockey arena (a concert attendees remember as being thick with marijuana smoke) Keith emerged healthy and in love with a young New York model.

Missing image
Richards and Hansen, photo courtesy Launch Music

Patti Hansen was a top fashion model when they met, and has since starred in Hard to Hold, a Rick Springfield film, in 1984. She and Richards married in 1983. They have two daughters, Theodora and Alexandra, who have followed their mother into modelling. Richards also has a son Marlon, and another daughter, Angela (nee Dandelion), from his relationship with Anita Pallenberg. He has never distanced himself from the mother of his first three children (one baby died in infancy). He often refers to having two wives, in the traditional sense of Rastafarian polygamy, although he never officially married Pallenberg —the former girlfriend of Brian Jones, and actress in Performance and Barbarella.

"Which way to go - I don't know"

What the future holds for The Rolling Stones and Keith Richards is unpredictable. In 2004, it was announced that Richards would appear in the upcoming sequel to the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. He will play the character of Captain Jack Sparrow's (Johnny Depp's) dad. Depp had previously said he had drew some of his inspiration for his Academy Award-nominated performance from Richards.

In 2005 a full length collection of new studio material will be released by the Rolling Stones in support of a world tour. Besides the new material, the Stones have a substantial and often bootlegged collection of unreleased material; many songs feature Richards as lead singer. Famous bootlegs include the Tammy Wynette track "Apartment No. 9," accompanied only by Ian Stewart on piano, which was recorded in the stranded, passport-confiscated months in Toronto after his arrest.

Solo discography

(See The Rolling Stones article for their discography )

Notable contributions

  • About Them Shoes Hubert Sumlin (2004) "Still A Fool"
  • Pay, Pack & Follow (Recorded 1973-1979, released 2001) John Phillips - Album Co-Producer
  • Timeless: Tribute to Hank Williams (2001) - "You Win Again"
  • Wingless Angels (1993) - Album Producer
  • Bradley Barn Sessions (1993) George Jones - Duet on "Say It Isn't You"
  • Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll (1987) Soundtrack of Chuck Berry concert film.
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986) Soundtrack (on film) - Producer ( on Aretha Franklin's version of the title song
  • "Sun City, Artists United Against Apartheid" (1985) - Performed on "Silver and Gold" with Bono and The Edge of U2
  • "Run Rudolph Run" (1979) Christmas single

External links

it:Keith Richards nl:Keith Richards ja:キース・リチャーズ pl:Keith Richards pt:Keith Richards sv:Keith Richards


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