WADDY WACHTEL – LONGTIME SESSION man and guitarist in The X-Pensive Winos – is one of Keith Richards’ closest musical collaborators, having augmented the Rolling Stone on all his solo albums: Talk Is Cheap (1988), Main Offender (1992) and the forthcoming Crosseyed Heart (2015). Here he provides MOJO’s Pat Gilbert with a candid insight into the philosophy of music-making, Keith-style.
“I first met Keith in the mid-’70s in LA after a Linda Ronstadt show, then we met up again later in London. We connected right away. I went to his place and listened to every record you can think of. We ended up in the studio cutting something. I was flying home the next day on Concorde but at 6 or 7 in the morning we were still going. I just about made the flight and drank champagne and smoked cigarettes the whole way.
“Keith is exactly the guy you think he is. He plays that way. It’s sensational. To be told Keith is putting a band together and you’re the other guitar player… I could have died happy at that point. But rehearsals from the start were quite sketchy. We hardly did any. We’d get together and play some, but we never really dug in too hard on stuff. We hadn’t played anywhere till we did Saturday Night Live [in 1988]. I came to New York the night before, we rehearsed, and went into the TV studio and did our first gig, and it looked like we’d been together for ten years.
“There were nights when no-one could score anything. So we went the whole night without.”
“Does he put you on the spot? You need to have your A Game ready. But he’s not difficult. He’s a very positive force. Everyone will come in sometimes a little tired, or on something, but when you get to doing the music I’ve never seen a bad day with him. One day he was standing there, playing a chord and switching the toggle switch back and forth on his guitar, and I was watching him. He did it over and over again. There are limits to how much you can invade someone’s space, but I went, What are you doing? He said, [Keith voice] ‘I was just figuring out which one’s my sound.’ And I said, Put it on that pickup there, that’s your sound, take it from me.”
“Did the booze and everything else add or take away from the creative process? That’s hard to evaluate really. When you’re in it, you’re in it. It was a shared experience – if you know what I mean. We were all coming from the same place. But there were nights when no-one could score anything. So we went the whole night without. In the end music is the winner. Getting loaded isn’t the priority. Maybe without, the music would have been faster, I dunno. I’ve known people in the most f**ked-up place and the music has sounded gorgeous. You couldn’t imagine how f**king insane people were.
“On Main Offender we had to call a halt to the madness. I said to Keith and the other guys, Do you mind if I don’t drink while we’re working? Call me crazy, but I think at least one us should have some f**king idea of what we’re doing, while we’re doing it. When we finish in the morning I’ll have a drink, of course. That worked well for a while. Then my wife came to the hotel one morning and I came crawling in and she said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said, My method failed me… We stopped at 6.30 in the morning, but then we started drinking for four hours. I was just as destroyed as ever.
“If you piss him off you’ll hear about it. Straight away.”
“The man behind the myth? He’s the guy you think he is, not just musically. He’s superhuman figure but very down to earth, instantly communicative. But if you piss him off you’ll hear about it. Straight away. Every once in a while you see a temper flare up, you wouldn’t want to be on the end of that. But I’ve never seen him hit anyone. I’ve never even seen him grab someone by the collar. He’s a real gentle cat – but don’t tell him I said so.
“When you’re Keith Richards, there’s no privacy. When we were on the road, we’d do show then go back to the hotel. Keith would go, ‘You wanna go to dinner tonight?’ And nine times out of ten, you’d get ready and he’d go, ‘I can’t f**king go out.’ He knew he couldn’t go, out. He’s Keith Richards! People would be in his face all the time. Then in Chicago, he said, ‘F**k it, let’s go out, and let’s walk there!’ So we were walking down the main street and there’s a million people there. People are dropping their briefcases and shouting, ‘Oh my God! It’s Keith Richards!’ It was like being with Elizabeth Taylor.
“Dinner was great, then we went to a blues club on the Southside of Chicago, a woman singing. We were the only white faces in there, but Keith loved it. He finally got a chance to relax.”
As told to Pat Gilbert
Enjoy 25 solid gold moments from The Human Riff as MOJO presents Keith Richards In 25 Clips, plus watch his latest video for new solo single Trouble below.