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Bobby Keys’ Real-Life Spinal Tap Story: Fired by the Rolling Stones After Pouring a Champagne Bath

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Such was Bobby Keys‘ sax prowess that you almost couldn’t listen to rock in the ’70s without hearing his distinctive tone livening up the occasional track — including some of the Rolling Stones‘ all-time classics. Even the Stones, however, had their limits when it came to Keys’ equally prodigious gift for bad behavior.

In fact, the band quit working with Keys for years at one point, a break that guitarist Keith Richards explained in his ‘Life‘ memoir by treating readers to the memorable image of the legendary sideman puffing a stogie while soaking in a hotel tub full of champagne alongside a groupie. As Richards wrote:

Bobby went down in a tub of Dom Perignon. Bobby Keys, so the story goes, is the only man who knows how many bottles of it it takes to fill a bath, because that’s what he was floating in. This was just before the second-to-last gig on the ’73 European tour, in Belgium. No sign of Bobby at the band assembly that day, and finally I was asked if I knew where my buddy was — there had been no reply from his hotel room. So I went to his room and said, Bob, we gotta go, we gotta go right now. He’s got a cigar, bathtub full of champagne and this French chick in with him. And he said, f— off. So be it. Great image and everything like that, but you might regret it, Bob. The accountant informed Bobby afterward that he had earned no money at all on that tour as a result of that bathtub; in fact he owed. And it took me ten goddamn years or more to get him back in the band, because Mick [Jagger] was implacable, and rightly so. And Mick can be merciless in that way. I couldn’t answer for Bobby. All I could do was help him get clean, and I did.

Keys later disputed this story in his own autobiography, ‘Every Night’s a Saturday Night,’ insisting that while the financial aspect of Richards’ recollection might be accurate, his champagne bath wasn’t specifically what led to his departure during the 1973 tour. Then again, as he admitted in a recent interview, his memories are a little hazy; asked if the tub legend is true, he chuckled, “That’s what they tell me. It was reflected in my paycheck, so I guess it’s true.”

This is not to say Keys had no regrets about his hard-living image; in fact, in ‘Every Night’s a Saturday Night,’ he bemoaned one incident that haunted him particularly persistently: being captured on camera throwing a television out of a hotel window with Richards. “I tell you, if there’s one moment I could take back it would be that moment of throwing that damn television set out the window, because of all the music, of all the solos, of all the records I have played on, out of everything I’ve done in my life that had to do with rock ‘n’ roll, that plummeting television set seems to be the most ingrained picture in people’s mind of what it is I do,” he sighed. “‘Oh, you’re the guy who threw the TV set out the window with Keith Richards!’ Yeah, but you know, I also did this and this and this — ‘Yeah, but you’re the guy who threw the TV out!'”

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