Keith gets his ya ya out…
Brian, engineer Ron Malo, Loog and Keith, Chess Studio, 1964.
Panic In Norway, hosing down the fans.
Little Red Rooster, 1965. “Brenda” Jagger takes a beating in Keith’s autobiography Life.
“Shooting up the charts…” Little Red Rooster again, this time on Ready Steady Go.
Seven years later
At the risk of boring the readership of this blog to tears with yet another posting on the Rolling Stones, I can’t help but throw my 2 pence in on Keith Richards’ autobiography- Life (Little, Brown 2010, co-written with James Fox who only gets an editor’s credit, which is I imagine why Nick Tosches and Stanley Booth both passed on the job) a subject you may already be sick of since Keith’s been hitting the promotional highway rather hard, and many of you must already be suffering from Stones overload in the wake of the Exile On Main Street re-issue hype.
Me, I never seem to get sick of the Stones, and have been playing the Genuine Black Box bootleg constantly since it fell through my mail slot last summer. So what’s the word on Life?
Had I never read a book on the Rolling Stones, Life would probably be one my favorite rock’n’roll books of all time. The problem then, is not so much the book, but the fact that I’ve probably read every book on the Rolling Stones ever published, and there’s been some good ones (Tony Sanchez- Up and Down With The Stones, Stanley Booth’s The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman’s Stone Alone, Marianne Faithful and David Dalton’s Faithful stand out off the top of my head as favorites). But like I said, I have a couple of shelves worth of these things, and that’s not including photo books. What’s left to say? Well, there’s only a few untold stories here (an early romance with Ronnie Spector, which is not as much fun as Josh Alan Friedman’s take on the same subject a decade later, see Tell The Truth Until They Bleed), a lot of wild and woolly party tales, and of course, just seeing it all from Keith’s point of view. Oh, and the music itself, which normally I’d say is the most boring part of any rock’n’roll read, but in Keith’s case, it’s my favorite part of the book. He explains why his open G guitar tuning style only sounds right with five strings, and just how it works. He also explains Jimmy Reed’s unique way of making his resolving d7 chord (which he learned from Bobby “Honey” Goldsboro)– he simply played one note on the D string and left the A string ringing, instead of making the whole chord! A lazy man’s road to genius. At this point I’d like to say, I disagree with Keith’s deciphering of Reed’s lyrics to Caress Me Baby. According to Keith, the line “Don’t pull no subway/I’d rather see you pull a train” means “Don’t go on dope, dont’ go underground, I’d rather see you drunk or on cocaine”, the way I read the line, it means — don’t leave (“don’t pull no subway”), I’d rather see you get gangbanged (“I’d rather see you pull a train”). The term “pull a train” slang for a gangbang was still in use when I was in high school in Florida in the early 70’s, and I think my translation is correct. Gangbang of course still meant group sex back then, not drive by shootings. For more on Keith and Jimmy Reed, (he has mastered the Jimmy Reed sound), I refer you back to my posting of his 1981 Jimmy Reed session.
The Stones’ career is given Keith’s once over in the sort of blurry way he saw it from the inside, the earliest years go by at 100 miles per hour, drug busts and screaming teenagers await everytime Keith attempts leave the recording studio or concert hall. The dope years are fun to read about, but don’t sound like much fun. To be honest, there are better junkie memoirs out there (Art Pepper, Dr. John). The dope stories make up on a small part of the book, and he writes more about the tribulations of trying to score drugs more than he does about taking them.
Life covers nearly all of the most famous Stones stories which are of course the foundation of their legend — living in squalor in Edith Grove, the riot in Blackpool kicked off by Keith kicking a punter who was spitting at him in the head, the Redlands bust ( finally putting the Mars bar rumour to rest), Swinging London and its fabulous characters– Robert Fraser, Michael Cooper, et al, the fateful trip to Morocco that sealed Brian Jones’ fate and won Anita Pallenberg’s love, the making of Exile On Main Street, Charlie Watts changing into his best Saville Row suit to punch out Mick Jagger for referring to him as “my drummer”, all great stories, and Keith’s versions add a bit of inside detail, but seem to stick to the already written script. It’s funny what Keith decides to add to the oft told stories, and also what new stories he adds to the legend– bringing in Kate Moss to testify to his attempting to dismember with a sword a guest at his daughter’s wedding who stole the onions for his Bangers and Mash (Keith includes his recipe for the same dish), his own holding up a show in Toronto until the culprits who ate his Shepard’s Pie are brought to justice (admitting he never eats before a show anyway, just wants to have it there in case he gets hungry), breaking down the door to Truman Capote (“Truby”)’s hotel room, and the like. These stories are all pretty funny, many new to print. He also dedicates two sections of the book to the story of the Wingless Angels— a rasta-gospel vocal group whose Keith produced 1997 LP was one of his greatest musical triumphs (and his best album since Exile) and was criminally ignored. In fact today it’s out of print, although soon to be re-issued in a package with Vol. 2, but since it’s out of print, here’s a few tracks– Morning Train, Rivers Of Babylon, and Keyman A Capella to wet your appetite for the re-issue.
In Life, Keith’s friends, band and family can be treated harshly or with incredible tenderness– Stash Klossowski de Rola is “basically full of shit”, while legendary bearer of sealed bottles of pharmaceutical Merc cocaine, the late Freddie Sessler is– “Totally horrible, revolting. Absolutely over the top, stupid at times” but “totally solid” and someone Keith obviously still holds in high regard. Even Tony Sanchez, whose Up and Down With The Rolling Stones ended every paragraph with “you bastard, I thought”, comes off looking okay. No hard feelings there. But forgiving doesn’t pay back seven million dollar advances, and Keith knows what his audience wants. More than dope and celebrity stories, they (we, ….me) want to read about what a jerk Mick Jagger is. Jagger, who is referred to variously as “Brenda”, “Disco boy, “Her majesty” or sometimes just “the bitch” takes a major beating in Life, one he probably deserves. For those keeping score, Brian Jones, Donald Cammell, Ron Wood and Anita Pallenberg also get spattered with various degrees of shrapnel. After Jagger, Cammell (director of Performance) gets it the worst–“the most destructive turd I’ve ever met…utterly predatory… “. Much of this I guess is just giving the audience what they paid for. We go see the Stones to hear our favorite songs, and to hear loud guitars playing Chuck Berry licks rather sloppily, and we buy books like this to read about what kind of assholes people can be. Rock’n’roll brings out the worst in some (most) people– on one hand it keeps performers infantile, while on the other inflating their egos beyond comprehension. Keith sees this all with fairly clear, if sometimes pinned eyes, and in recalling what he’s seen, and lived, he delivers the goods. I mean, not many writers get a seven million dollar advance (and Little, Brown and Co. obviously have high hopes for this book, the initial first printing is said to be three million copies). I used to think it was a put on, a way to get press in the years they weren’t touring and that Keith and Mick were having drinks somewhere laughing at the whole thing (“Yeah mate, then I call you a “Prince imitator”). After reading Life, I don’t think that’s the case. I think Keith really does hate Jagger in a way you can only hate someone you once loved. This all may end up backfiring on Keith. Is it my imagination or were the audience booing Keith during his two numbers on the Stones HBO live broadcast a few years back? The show, coming hot on the heels of Keith’s press attacks on Mick for accepting a knighthood (hey, Graham Greene turned one down just for the record, and so should any artist), I’m pretty sure the crowd were booing Keith for attacking Mick. Us old time Stones fans like to think the reason the Stones can’t make good records anyore is that Jagger wants them to sound current and up to date, something the Stones never used to care about. The best new music the Stones have made since 1981 are a few good Keith tracks like 40 Licks Am I Losing My Touch. Live, they started sounding like a Vegas act around the early 90’s, as Bob Dylan astutely noted, when Bill Wyman left they really stopped sounding like the Stones.
There are few surprises in life and in Life, one being that Keith likes Jackson Browne, another is Keith crediting Ian Stewart putting the Stones together, not Brian Jones, but like I said, had I never read a word about the Stones, I’m sure every word here would have held some sort of enlightenment.
Keith ends the book wondering– “How come I could get a great drum sound in Denmark Street with one microphone, and now with fifteen microphones I get a drum sound like someone shitting on a tin roof?” I’ve been wondering that out loud for twenty five years now. While on the subject, the above images come from the newly published The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive 1964-1966 (!t/Haper Collins, 2010), a collection of amazing pix from their first American tours taken by their American road manager Bob Bonis. It makes a nice perfect companion piece to Keith’s book.
Addendum- Bill Wyman imagines Mick’s response to Keith’s book here.
32 thoughts on “Keith Richards”
The book is wonderful. I'm glad he beat Mick to it, and the passion and audacity of an 18 year old kid in England to master the blues from Chicago is inspiring. Yes, the Stones have been mined, but I found an angle your readers may enjoy…the origins and speculations of the Tongue!http://dulltooldimbulb.blogspot.com/2010/10/rolling-stones-tongue-logo-and-sweet.htmlJim Linderman
Just started it last night, and couldn't resist jumping around a bit. I agree that it's pretty great, and surprisingly broad. If you wanted to know what it felt like to have Keef talk at you intimately for hours on end, Life is for you.I'm looking forward to read Richards on the music–the rest, yeah, I've read before a hundred times, too. I was excited when he got to the “Don't call me your drummer!” Watts story (a Stones classic) but he didn't add much to it. In fact, anything. Fact, or myth?(Oh and Hound, about latter-Stones material. Most of it is boring, yeah, but I feel that Thru and Thru and The Worst (both Keith tracks) from Voodoo Lounge and even Saint Of Me from Bridges to Babylon are near-great.)
I love Sleep Tonight from Dirty Work. I know its likely to be ridiculed for saying so, as DW is always cited as the low point. But I've always thought there was some good stuff on there.
“DW is always cited as the low point. But I've always thought there was some good stuff on there.”I agree it's a low point, I wonder who's playing on it?Don't tell me those triggered drum beats are Charlie Watts. I like the little piano piece by Ian Stewart they tacked on the end, but it seems like the track with the most Stones playing on it is I Had It With You and it only has four of the five of them.
The opening minute or so of One Hit To The Body is pretty damn great–until the 80s drums kick in. Charlie was battling dope at the time; maybe they used a machine.
“Charlie was battling dope at the time; maybe they used a machine.”I'm sure it's part machine, sounds like part Steve Jordan.Oddly enough Charlie's dope (and later speed) problems are not mentioned, except in one rather cryptic aside, at all in Keith's book.
Someone has posted a fascinating BBC documentary on Donald Cammel on YouTube, in seven 10 minute segments.It's called DONALD CAMMEL: THE ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE.Among those interviewed are Cammel himself, his brother, Anita Pallenberg, Mick Jagger, James Fox, Cathy Moriarty, and Kenneth Anger.
Charlie using dope and speed? That's a surprise…but looking at old clips of Keith and current interviews he just seems to endlessly slag everyone. Lennon, whoever. We all know about Keith's great guitar playing but while his solo records were always pretty good sometimes great they weren't the Stones. I can't help but think Jagger hasn't gotten his share of credit for the Stones' sound and classic material. He's just not as likable because he doesn't have that outlaw image that everyone thinks is cool. He's more of a rebel in a way because he just does what the fuck he wants and isn't afraid to live outside his prescribed role unlike Keith. I am certainly not as knowledgable as the Hound but those are my impressions.
“Someone has posted a fascinating BBC documentary on Donald Cammel on YouTube, in seven 10 minute segments.”I saw that years ago, it's quite good. True story, once David Keith walked into my bar and ordered a beer, the place was empty, so I walked up and told him how much I enjoyed him in White Of The Eye, he put his beer down and literally ran out the door! I guess he had a hard time w/Cammell too.”Charlie using dope and speed?”It was fairly common knowledge at the time (late 80's/early 90's), although I think the only writer to broach the subject was Nick Kent.” Lennon, whoever. “He says nothing but nice things about Lennon (and McCartney) in the book. Mick is famous for being rude to people, especially refusing to acknowledge a greeting, often embarrassing his employees,friends, etc. in public. I know of one welder who toured with the Stones for nearly two years (Bridgework To Babylon tour) and when he ran into Mick a week after the tour ended, Mick acted like he'd never seen him before, looking right through him and then signaling his heavy to get the guy out of the room. Probably the root of the reason he's so disliked by those around him. He also forces anyone around the Stones to choose sides- him or Keith, you can't be friends or even friendly with both. According to Keith, Jagger refused to even say hello to Bobby Keys for an entire year on the road when he first came back (and it took Keith ten years to get him back in the group).
Any good Jimmy Miller stories in this book? I know he was called upon more than once when Charlie couldn't nail the drum part down. I'll wait on this book until my library gets it in. Hope it's soon!Thanks Hound for all your great posts and insight.
“'Charlie using dope and speed?'It was fairly common knowledge at the time (late 80's/early 90's), although I think the only writer to broach the subject was Nick Kent.”Actually, Watts himself has been forthcoming about this, in According To The Rolling Stones and in other interviews. The band was pretty much on hiatus during and after his struggles, so maybe that's one reason it's not as well-known. That and Watts' naturally retiring nature. It's def an anomaly.
I know you are right about Mick but even though I have not read the book yet Keith talking about Mick's johnson just seems below someone of his image and stature. I haven't read much about what Keith relates in the way of his experiences with the people that influenced them. People like Slim Harpo( he died early so maybe nothing) Bo Diddley and Jerome, Howlin Wolf and a million others. Those stories( if there are many) along with the guitar stuff is why I want to read the book.
I'm looking forward to spending some time on earth when these sellout ham douches no longer infest the popular mindscape.They've been played, overplayed and worshipped to death–not theirs, but their shareholders. They've sold out as artists and continue like pigs to air their dirty laundry to a consumerist, worshipful baby boomer public too shallow to move on from a chimera of youth while the present gets endlessly corrupted with reissues, boxed sets, ticketmaster, “last” tours, “remasters”, and… oh, why bother, you're all just going to keep doing what you do best: buy it.
Memory fades but I seem to recall the drumming on Dirty Work was Letterman's other drummer – Anton Fig. One of the few 8 tracks I owned. Doug NJ
” One of the few 8 tracks I owned. “They were still making 8-tracks in 1986? Are you sure?I thought they stopped making them by the early 80's.Might it have come from another country (Mexico?) where they kept making them into the 90's?
Jim, Columbia Book Club. I was such a Stones obsessive even at that late date I just had to have it. By the way, never enough Stones posts for me at least. Remember Herr quoting Tim Page, “It's like trying to take the glamor out of sex, trying to take the glamor out of the Rolling Stones.” I remember Freddie Sessler as taking the rap for the possession bust on the first Woody tour, right? His son was also a Stones camp follower for a time and if I remember he was married to John Phillips daughter Mackenzie. BTW, Keith lived down here ( Cherry Hill NJ)briefly during his post Toronto detox. I think he and Jagger may have mixed some of Love You Live at Sigma in Philly.Doug NJ
“I remember Freddie Sessler as taking the rap for the possession bust on the first Woody tour, right? His son was also a Stones camp follower for a time and if I remember he was married to John Phillips daughter Mackenzie. BTW, Keith lived down here ( Cherry Hill NJ)briefly during his post Toronto detox. I think he and Jagger may have mixed some of Love You Live at Sigma in Philly.”All of which is in Keith's book, Sessler actually got off on the bust since the cops weren't allowed to open his briefcase and the rent a car wasn't searched very well. I bet that 8-track goes for big bucks these days w/collectors of such things, probably one of the last made. I had a Quad 8-track of Metal Machine Music that I got over $200 for Ebay about nine years ago.
Oops, meant record club, not book club. Look forward to the book!
Ah quadrophonic stereo, remember it well and (semi) fondly. Jim, for the record, my fave track on Black Box is Get Yourself Together, which I couldn't believe was the Small Faces tune before I read the liners. Anyway, wow, hadn't that one before, it smokes. They were def hitting on cylinders then.
I haven't heard of someone being accused of being a sellout since the 80's. I thought we all agreed that was the whole point!
pedant's corner : – “Charlie Watts changing into his best Saville Road suit” that'd be Savile Row.
“the culprits who ate his Sheppard's Pie ” That'd be “shepherd's”
“that'd be Savile Row.””That'd be “shepherd's”errr, thanks. as a Yank I guess I'm expected to mess stuff like that up. I went back and made corrections, so now only people who read the comments will know how dumb I am.
Jim: You are a good book salesman. Just ordered via Amazon the Richards book along with Tell the Truth Until They Bleed. You should get a cut of the profits. Don't share your enthusiasm for the Wingless Angels however. Don't see the appeal and I generally agree with 99% of your musical picks. Maybe because I'm not a big reggae fan it isn't to my liking. I am a gospel music fan however. I'll stick with the Sensational Nightengales, 5 Blind Boys etc… -Barry Soltz
Alright, so now I HAVE to read it. I don't understand Keith's residual bitterness toward Jones and Wyman, however. (Jagger's another story….)
I'm digging it. The conversational tone works. My problem was the first 70 pages and the story of his early youth in Dartford, which I found excruciatingly drawn out and dull. I couldn't wait for the other Stones to show up.Hound – I agree the musical stuff is kicks. For musicians, it's revelatory.I haven't gotten there yet chronologically (although I did sneak peak a bit), but I'm curious to see if he addresses the Stones' diminished quality.
Excuse the comment clutter…Wanted to let you know that we were zapped by The Man, but were back with a new home. If you could update/include us in your links, it would be greatly appreciated.NEVER GET OUT OF THE BOAT (REDUX)http://nevergetoutoftheboat-redux.blogspot.com/All the best,W
Nice piece by Bill Wyman. A couple of solecisms – “grade school” etc show that it's a spoof. I particularly like this “Without him, what would I have been? Peter Noone?” About 2 years ago an Islington gallery showed some Stones photos – before Mankowitz, about 1964-5 – and Jagger really did look like Herman.
So I finally watched the Scorsese doc and it's hard not to be somewhat impressed by how the Stones look. They really look remarkably cool for their age, and Jagger moves like no old man should. My problem is I can't put my finger on what's wrong with the sound. Is it the lack of Wyman or Keith backing vocals? is there massive soundboard trickery at work? Is it just a weird mix designed for film? It just doesn't sound like the STONES.
The Stones do sound different without Bill Wyman. He (Wyman) has some interesting observations in the Exile documentary that came out recently. Plus, he liked the ladies.
It has also had the “digested read”treatment:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/nov/01/life-keith-richards-digested-read
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