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Rolling Stones Saxophonist Bobby Keys Dies at 70

Michael Putland, Getty Images

Bobby Keys, the saxophonist who played on some of the Rolling Stones‘ biggest and best songs, has died. He was 70 years old. He had been fighting cirrhosis, according to the Nashville Scene.

The musician was born in Texas, and by the time he turned 16, he was touring with Buddy Holly and Bobby Vee. He first met the Stones in 1964, but didn’t play on one of their albums until five years later, when he was one of the musicians brought in to flesh out ‘Let It Bleed.’ He and Keith Richards formed a strong relationship from the start. They even shared a birthdate: Dec. 18.

He played on every Stones album up until 1974’s ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,’ and then from 1980’s ‘Emotional Rescue’ through their most recent record, 2005’s ‘A Bigger Bang.’ He joined the band’s 1970 tour and was a familiar presence at their shows all the way up until a couple months ago, when he had to drop out of the group’s current tour for medical reasons.

While Keys has performed on many songs throughout his 50-plus year career (including, reportedly, the uncredited solo on Dion’s 1961 classic ‘The Wanderer’), it was the Stones tracks that made him an unofficial longtime member of the band. His sax can be heard on cuts like ‘Brown Sugar,’ ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ and ‘Happy,’ among many others.

Keys’ extensive discography also includes songs by Eric ClaptonJoe Cocker, George HarrisonLynyrd Skynyrd and John Lennon (a heavy drinker, Keys was part of Lennon’s notorious Lost Weekend). According to the Nashville Scene, he also led his own group, Bobby Keys and the Suffering Bastards, which was based in Tennessee.

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Next: Top 10 Bobby Keys Rolling Stones Songs

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