Keith Richards is known by many for his drug habit more than for his guitar work.
Keith Richards was a World War II baby born as England was bombed by the Nazis. 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 Britain as a jazz/big band musician. Richards often cites that as a child his maternal grandfather as a strong musical influence. He also admired the singing American Western film star Roy Rogers, and dressed like him as well. As an adolescent Richards took to dressing like a teddy boy.
His parents divorced around the time that Keith was expelled from Sidcup Art College, he had previously attended Wilmington Grammar School for Boys. The divorce led to a long period of estrangement from his father, Bert Richards, which continued until 1982. It is sometimes erroneously cited that this estrangement led Richards to drop the "s" from his surname from the mid-1960s to 1981. Nevertheless, the idea was originally proposed by Andrew Loog Oldham, the first manager of the Stones. He advised Richards to drop the "s" as it would resemble the name of Cliff Richard, one of Britain's greatest stars at that time. Keith did reintroduce the "s" to his surname after he reconciled with his father in 1982. His father accompanied his son on every Rolling Stones tour from 1989 until his death in 2002.
Keith Richards co-leads with Mick Jagger The Rolling Stones, an artistically and financially sucessful act that has endured over 40 years. While their records fail to top the charts as before, the Stones routinely gross more than any other touring act. Richards also continues to influence young musicians who fashion themselves after his image and aesthetic.
Keith Richards derived much of his early driving rhythm style from Chuck Berry whose guitar work has remained a touchstone for Richards. The Rolling Stones began as a rhythm and blues band, but after Jagger insisted on Richards' being a band member, two nascent members averse to playing Chuck Berry songs quit the band. Richards, with Stones founding member and guitarist Brian Jones, formed a sound of interwoven lead and rhythm guitar parts, and throughout the Stones' history Richards has kept the Stones from diverging too far from their signature sound of two guitars.
Jones repeatedly missed sessions and left Richards to play all guitar parts on many Stones recordings. Finally in 1969 the Stones replaced the physically and mentally deteriorating Jones (just prior to his untimely death) with virtuoso guitarist Mick Taylor who contributed to some of the groups most well-regarded records. Taylor's addition also commenced a pronounced separation in the duties of lead and rhythm guitar, and his replacement in 1975 with the more rhythmically sympathetic Ron Wood led to what Richards regards as his most musically satisfying years in the Stones.
Richards' trademark sound, characterized by syncopated I IV chord changes, first appeared in 1968 on recordings such as "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man", when a break from four years of ceaseless touring allowed Richards time to experiment with open tunings to augment his continued use of standard tuning. Richards is most often identified with a five-string variant of open G (GDGBD, with the low E string removed to allow for more concise rhythm unencumbered by a rumbling lower E) This tuning, common in Delta blues, is prominent on some of the Stones' biggest hits including; "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar," and "Start Me Up".
Richards - who has over 1000 guitars, some of which he has not played but was simply given - is often associated with the Fender Telecaster, although lately his favorite guitar is a black Gibson ES-335. At home Richards prefers to play acoustics. On "Satisfaction", Richards recorded the first hit to feature a fuzz box, and helped to inspire the still existing idiom garage rock.
Keith Richards' backing vocals are on every Stones album, and since Some Girls, each Stones release has at least one Richards lead vocal. He has also contributed infrequent bass, keyboard, and slide guitar. Though the Stones usually have an outside producer, Richards has always been active in record production for the Stones and himself.
Following the nearby and lucrative example of Lennon/McCartney and spurred by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who saw little future for a band that covered only R&B tunes, Richards and Mick Jagger wrote songs together using the pseudonym Nanker/Phelge for songs they felt to be sub par. Their first album included the ballad "Tell Me" which was one of the first songs they deemed good enough to be credited to Jagger/Richards. Many of the earliest Jagger/Richards songs (mostly slow ballads with a pop/Merseybeat influence) were considered ill-suited for the Stones style and were given away to other artists. The Jagger/Richards partnership developed steadily, absorbing the rock n' roll, blues, R&B, soul, folk - particularly Bob Dylan, and pop. Eventually, the partnership managed to synthesize many of these influences into driving singles, helping lay the groundwork for the hard rock of the late 60s and 70d; 1965's "The Last Time" and “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (a worldwide #1) cemented the Stones status as hit makers. The band leaned heavily on American R&B covers until 1966's Aftermath which was the first album with all Jagger/Richards songs. With scattered exceptions, all subsequent Stones records have used Jagger/Richards' songs only.
Whether for his solo recordings or the Stones, Richards has always written with a partner. In the early and mid sixties Jagger usually wrote lyrics to Richards' music: "Mick was running the ink in those days...it was as much as I could do to write a riff." admitted Richards. Though Jagger composed individually starting in the late 60s, the team has written in varying degrees of collaboration up to the present. Stones songs are credited to Jagger/Richards, whether a song is a written by both or the work of one partner. On his solo records Richards wrote all original material with drummer Steve Jordan.
Photo by Sante D'Orazio, from Talk is Cheap album art work. 1988.To the general public, Richards is better known for his drug-related outlaw image than for his songwriting contributions. Richards and the Stones cultivated a decadent and counter-culture aesthetic during the 1960s and '70s, and Richards' 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 that resembles a pair of handcuffs as a reminder that he never wants to be arrested again. Perhaps also appropriate is that he wears a Totenkopf ring portraying a human skull without a jaw, a gift from a friend and New York jeweler, although he has said publicly that it represents the fact that "beauty is only skin deep."
Two famous arrests came ten years apart, the first in 1967 with Jagger and friends at Redlands, Richards' Suss-- 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 (Talk:Keith Richards#Regina v. Richards 49 C.C.C. (2d) (1980)). Registered at the hotel under the pseudonym "Redlands", Richards was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (or Mounties) for heroin and cocaine possession (he had two ounces of each at the time of his arrest), and was charged 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 (eight million copies) Some Girls, which included their last North American number-one pop chart single, "Miss You". After the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld Richards' original sentence — the somewhat unorthodox charity concert at an Oshawa, Ontario, arena (concert attendees remember as being thick with marijuana smoke) — Keith emerged healthy and in love with a young New York model.
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 on December 18,1983, Richards's 40th birthday. They have two daughters, Theodora and Alexandra, who have followed their mother into modeling. Richards also has a son, Marlon Richards, and another daughter, Angela (nee Dandelion), from his relationship with Anita Pallenberg. They had another son, Tara (named after Keith's close friend Tara Browne), who died in infancy. He has never distanced himself from the mother of his first three children, and 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 an actress in Performance and Barbarella'.”
During the late 1980s, Richards resolved to outlast the musically 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 and New York City's Beacon Theater. 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 blues great 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.
What the future holds for the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards is unpredictable. In 2004, it was announced that Richards might appear in the upcoming sequel to the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. He would play the character of Captain Jack Sparrow's (Johnny Depp's) dad. Depp had previously said that he loosely based the appearance and mannerisms for this Academy Award–nominated performance on Richards. Although Richards tested costumes with Depp, the current Rolling Stones tour means that it will be unlikely he will be available for the filming, scheduled for late 2005.
On 6 September 2005, A Bigger Bang, a full length collection of new studio material, was released by the Rolling Stones in support of the On Stage World Tour. Two of the new sixteen songs, "This Place Is Empty" and "Infamy", have Richards on lead vocals. Health issues for members of the band have been a serious concern in recent years. Charlie Watts is officially a cancer survivor, beating a diagnosis of throat cancer in 2004. Nevertheless, 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", with Richards plays piano, which was recorded in the stranded, passport-confiscated months in Toronto after his arrest.
On April 4, 2007 Keith Richards has admitted to snorting his father's ashes mixed with cocaine.
thing I've tried to
snort? My father. I
snorted my father,"
Richards said. "He
was cremated and I
grinding him up with
a little bit of
blow. My dad
wouldn't have cared.
It went down pretty
well, and I'm still
However, Richards cautioned younger musicians trying to emulate his hard-living habits.
"I did it because that was the way I did it. Now people think it's a way of life," he said. "I've no pretensions about immortality. I'm the same as everyone, just kind of lucky.
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