From relatively cherubic beat boom capers to elegantly wasted ’70s debauchery and beyond, Keith Richards has followed the music down some unwholesome alleys and emerged, switchblade glinting in the moonlight, bloodied but unbowed, with a swagbag of killer riffs and heartbreaking tunes.
In the latest MOJO magazine, we get a lecture in philosophy, Keith-style, a download of his learnings inside and outside of the Rolling Stones over six decades of picaresque pilgrimage. It’s an extraordinary tale, augmented by reminiscences from the Stones’ ’60s svengali Andrew Loog Oldham and the reflections of Keith watchers including X-Pensive Winos’ drummer Steve Jordan and libertarian humorist P.J. O’Rourke.
It’s everything a Stones or Keith fan might want from an audience with His Riffness. But just to get you warmed up – just a taste, as one of his many dealers might have put it – here are 25 solid gold Keith moments to enjoy.
1. Carol on The Mike Douglas Show, 1964
The rampant energy of the early Stones incarnate, with an animated, crotch-twitching Richards in stark contrast with the more, shall we say, languid presence of the late-’60s to late-’70s.
2. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, 1965
The cornerstone of the Richards riff edifice, delivered with hopped-up abandon, Keith in the foreground, cranking out that one-man brass-section. What are all those guys doing with their arms crossed?
3. The Dirty Mac play Yer Blues, 1968
Richards joins Lennon, Clapton and Mitch Mitchell in the Rock And Roll Circus’s impromptu supergroup – on bass! In the new MOJO magazine, drummer Steve Jordan notes the uniqueness of the Richards’ four-string style: “He’s a wonderful bass player”.
4. Honky Tonk Women, Hyde Park, 1969
A great example of Keith Richards’ individual idea of time. “In this band, everyone follows the guitarist,” Charlie Watts often notes.
5. Gimme Shelter on Pop Go The Sixties, 1969
Sandwiched between Tom Jones and Cilla on a valedictory New Year’s Eve TV special (a joint venture between the BBC and West Germany’s ZDF – with German pop represented by Schlager-meister Horst Jankowski), the Stones invent the ’70s in one fell swoop. For someone who claims not to be a lead guitar player, Richards is all lead guitar on this.
6. Wild Horses playback, Muscle Shoals, 1969
Filming for the Gimme Shelter doc, the Maysles’ brothers immortalise a recumbent Richards, zoned out next to Jim Dickinson, inside every note of this extraordinary masterpiece. As close as anyone’s going to get to what it feels like to be Keith Richards.
8. Dead Flowers, Marquee Club, London, 1971
One of the Stones’ fantastic recent archive finds, here’s the group on Sticky Fingers’ Country & Heroin lament. Watch Keith smirk when Mick sings “a needle and a spoon…”
8. Interview, Old Grey Whistle Test, 1974
A classic, but always worth another look. Keith is barely sentient, eyes all sparkly, wearing his auntie’s frock. Just the merest hint of apprehension in Whispering Bob’s eyes.
9. ‘The First Barbarians’ play I Can Feel The Fire, Kilburn, 1974
Keith steps outside the Stones for this Ron Wood project, adding sway and swagger atop the precision groove of Andy Newmark and Willie Weeks. Great tune, too, by Ron.
10. Interview, backstage, 1976
In a piece of footage Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest must have worn out as they brainstormed This Is Spinal Tap, Keith necks the “multi-vitamins” in preparation for another tilt at the stage. "I’ve never had to worry about my body,” he slurs. “I've been used to punishing it, and being able to take it.” Skip to 4mins for pure Keith.
11. Keith on trial (again!), 1977
Busted for cocaine and LSD after crashing his car, Keith emerges from Aylesbury Crown Court remarkably unscathed, with a smug-looking Mick along for moral support. Check out the young John Snow sounding rather amused by it all.
12. Jumpin' Jack Flash, Texas, 1978
The pinnacle of that riff edifice mentioned earlier, Richards setting a high tempo for a tough and crunchy stab at the song that lifted the curtain on the Stones’ Era Of Greatness ten years earlier. Awesome.
13. Baby Please Don't Go with Muddy Waters, 1981
Taking the baton from one of his blues heroes with typical insouciance. But mainly… it’s just funny seeing them all try to fit on that stage at Chicago’s Checkerboard Lounge.
14. Dealing with a stage invader, Hampton VA, 1981
Well into what (in the new issue of MOJO magazine) designer John Varvatos calls his “primal phase”, Richards impassively bats away some punk with his black Tele, and barely misses a beat.
15. The Nearness Of You, 1981
Richards’ haunting solo reading of the Hoagy Carmichael/Ned Washington standard, much bootlegged but never reproduced in better quality than behind this scene in the 1996 biopic, Basquiat.
16. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, 1983
Richards and Jerry Lee Lewis: two badasses but only one Killer (unless you count the corpses of those who tried to take as many drugs as Keith). Hard to work out whether this Dick Clark show collaboration is quite there (Mick Fleetwood, on drums, looks unsure), but Keith’s guitar solo is vicious.
17. Jamming with Chuck Berry, 1986
From Hail! Hail! Rock’N’Roll, Taylor Hackford’s 1987 movie that manfully tried wrangling Berry’s legacy. This is probably the most echt reflection of Chuck’s chaotic genius, with Keith, Clapton, Steve Jordan, Joey Spampinato rolling with the punches...
20. Interview with Jimmy Fallon, 2014
...Talking of which... Keith amusingly recounts another close encounter with Chuck Berry. We won’t spoil the, er, punchline.
19. Happy, 1991
There are many amazing versions of Keith’s signature Stones song on the internet (check out the Ladies & Gentlemen... one from 1972) but none more extraordinary than this from 1991’s Urban Jungle tour. That guitar solo!
20. Interview, 2004
A classic piece of Richards’ Mick-baiting – Keith expresses “surprise” at Jagger’s acceptance of a knighthood – gets a predictable rise out of the singer: “He’s not a happy person”.
21. We Had It All with Willie Nelson, 2004
Two men, two wibbly-wobbly voices, one country soul. Meanwhile, Keith sounds like he's lived every word of this Troy Deals/Donnie Fritz lyric. From Willie’s Outlaws & Angels TV special.
22. Love Hurts with Norah Jones, 2004
Salt-and-sugar salute to Keith's blood-brother Gram Parsons from the Return To Sin City tribute concert. As ever, what Keith lacks technically as a vocalist, he makes up for in brio.
23. You Got The Silver, 2006
Keef 'n' Ron with a brilliant duo arrangement for Let It Bleed’s rarest jewel, a highlight of Scorsese’s Shine A Light concert movie. That’s when you could still smoke indoors, just about.
24. Behind the scenes of Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, 2007
Some would argue that Keith diminished himself by association with Johnny Depp’s silly pirate franchise. But some people are no fun at all. Features a line surely written for Keith, not his character, Captain Teague: “It’s not just about living forever, Jackie. The trick is living with yourself forever.”
25. Trouble, 2015
Fantastic lead-off track on Keith’s forthcoming Crosseyed Heart solo album. Feel-wise, shades of Tom Waits’ Big Black Mariah, to which Keith contributed in smokin' style back in 1985. He's still got it!