Keith Richards 101: A Look At His Career
Keith Richards was memorably predicted to live no longer than 52 years, according to Dr. David J. Demko's famous life expectancy chart. The Rolling Stones guitarist – often referred to simply as "Keef" – has had other plans, at least so far. Instead, he's smashed Demko's theory to bits. That said, it's probably been difficult to keep up with every accomplishment for someone who's lived this long, and done this much. That's where Keith Richards 101 comes in ...
Everyone from his maternal grandfather to American Western film star Roy Rogers influenced Richards. Versed in country and blues long before he began to play, he seemed to have a natural-born instinct. Chuck Berry, who played traditional but distinctive rhythm guitar, was one of his biggest influences and by 1959 Richards could play most of Berry's solos. He also looked up to Ry Cooder, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters, to name a few.
The Rolling Stones signed to Decca in 1963 and since then have dealt us a dirty hand of gritty, blues-based rock 'n' roll. Richards is the perfect foil for vocalist Mick Jagger and admits that playing in a band with other guitarists is the forum he favors the most. The band have sold more than 200 million records worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Known as the bad boys of rock 'n' roll, their wild behavior helped build their legendary reputation.
He has released three official solo albums and a live release. Talk Is Cheap, his debut, was full of funky rhythms and boozy ballads; forming a new band with some cats he called the X-pensive Winos seemed to liberate him. Though still a Stone, he no longer had to champion the big arena -- now Richards and the Winos could just be the best bar band you've ever heard. In fact, the concert recording Live at the Hollywood Palladium may trump them all, as Richards tends to get his best groove on while performing.
An only child, Richards seems to have no problem playing with others and his list of musical collaborations is seemingly endless. He's done session work with Tom Waits, Billy Preston, Ronnie Spector and the late Hubert Sumlin, to name a few. He even contributed hand claps and background vocals on the Beatles "All You Need Is Love" recording that was broadcast on the first live global television link. He's also credited as the co-writer (with Jagger and Richard Ashcroft) of "Bittersweet Symphony" by the Verve. Richards is a firm believer that songs written by two people are better than those written by one.
Richards has been producing since the 1960's and he and Jagger often are tagged as the Glimmer Twins on many of the Rolling Stones records. Artists such as Johnnie Johnson and Aretha Franklin have also employed Richards to produce their records, the latter recording her version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in 1986. He's also taken on the producer role when it comes to all his solo recordings.
On occassion Richards has played bass, keyboards and even percussion, but he'll always be known as the king of cool guitarists. Favoring Gibsons and Fenders, he was rated No. 10 (out of 100 guitarists) on Rolling Stone's list. His guitar work has given us some of the best riffage and upper-cut power chords ever laid down in rock 'n' roll. Largely known as an electric player, he's also a major fan of the acoustic guitar and has played acoustic on many studio tracks. Typically, he'll take 60 guitars out on tour and according to a 2009 Sunday Times article, he owns approximately 1,000 of them.
Every bad boy band should have one vocalist with a sand-paper voice and Keef has that sound aced. He usually gets to sing a lead or co-lead song on most of Rolling Stones records and sings back-up vocals on every one of them. He's given us some great vocal leads -- including "You Got the Silver" and "Coming Down Again" -- but without doubt "Happy" from Exile on Main St. is Richards' signature vocal track.
Tried five times on drug related charges, music journalist Nick Kent has called Richards "mad, bad and dangerous to know," and when it comes to his years of drug abuse, this statement couldn't be more true. In 2007, NME asked Richards about the strangest thing he's ever snorted and he replied: "My father. I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn't resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow." He later called the story a misunderstanding.
Richards involvement with moving pictures most notably stems back to the 1968 Rolling Stones (and friends) classic Rock 'n' Roll Circus. Later, in 1987, he found himself taking part in the documentary (two concerts) that celebrated Chuck Berry's 60th birthday called Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. More recently, he took on the cameo role of Captain Teague, the father of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean films.
So, with a career such as this, 2010 was the year that Richards told his story in an autobiography titled Life which sold over a million copies in less than a year. This honest, tell-all memoir, reveals the highs and lows of his rock 'n' roll career and those he shared it with. One memorable quote from the book: "The first time I went to heaven was when I awoke with Ronnie (later Spector!) Bennett asleep with a smile on her face. We were kids. It doesn’t get any better than that."