Keith Richards Interview - The Great Rock 'N' Roll Circus

With the release of Keith Richards new book "Life" -we're reposting this great interview with Keith from a few years back - Enjoy!!

The penultimate Keith Richards story may be of that night in 1965 when he woke up with a song in his head, turned on the tape recorder, banged out what would be the key riff to "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"' and fell back asleep. "I listened to the tape the next morning," he recalls, "and it was two minutes of 'Satisfaction' and 40 minutes of me snoring."

That's only one indication of the creative well that resides in Richards, who during the past nearly 40 years has survived drug addiction, incarceration, shifting musical tastes, personnel changes, broken ribs (looking for a book of nudes in his library, no less), ugly naked Internet photos and, of course, all those years of being joined at the musical hip to Mick Jagger. His continued existence may seem a miracle, but through it all, Richards -- with the Stones and his solo band, the X-Pensive Winos -- has carved out his niche as rock 'n' roll's prototypical guitar hero, a gunslinger who's redefined the role of a so-called "rhythm" player and has shown that one can age with both grace and spirit. And no moss. Don Was, who has produced the last few Stones albums, has likened you to a pitcher, the guy who tosses out ideas and lets the band bat them around. Do you agree with that?

Richards: Working with drummers like Charlie Watts, or Steve Jordan and Charlie Drayton in the Winos, that's all I need. I can throw riffs at them all night; when the drums catch on, I know there's something there. My strength, probably, is I can recognize a song in a few bars. I spot the embryo there. I've been writing since so early on that the antenna is really well-developed. If I pick up an instrument, it'll come to me. I don't go searching. I don't have that God aspect about it. I prefer to think of myself as an antenna. There's only one song, and Adam and Eve wrote it; the rest is a variation on a theme. Do you consciously pursue a Stones "sound?"

Richards: I suppose so. For a time you're aware of that. You're also aware that you're making a record once every three years, so you've got to do what you want in 11 or 12 songs, which doesn't give you a lot of room to maneuver. So you feel obliged to come up with certain material that is "Stones" material. I think we've been freed up a little bit from that in a way that we were freer in the earlier years. Back then we didn't care where a piece of music came from; if we liked it, we'd do it. Now we feel we can pull some more styles together. Mick and I don't feel like we have to follow our own self-imposed rules; if anything, the rule is not to follow the rules. Even if that means the risk of turning people off because it doesn't sound like they think the Stones should?

Richards: The Stones always have to look for the Stones in themselves. We're still going. People's idea of the Stones changes from when they first heard them; there's myriad ideas and concepts of what the Stones are to listeners, just depending on how long they've known us. We're constantly going forward as well, always looking for the Stones in the same way. Sometimes you screw it up, but most times it gives us some encouragement that we'll find it again. It's very much a focused band -- a lot of direction and energy. You can't ask for more than that. One of the real changes in the Stones' world during the past 15 years is that you've all embraced the idea of working outside the band. Has that made a significant impact on the group itself?

Richards: It has. Up until the mid-'80s, I wasn't at all happy with the idea of the Stones splitting up. I thought one of the most important things about the Stones was that they stuck together and did their thing, and that's it. But we reached a point where you realized you can't stay inside there all the time. I wasn't going to be the first one, though. For me, I think the horror was the idea of putting myself in a conflict of interest, that if I wrote a song, should I keep it for myself or give it to the Stones? My attitude as the time was, "This is what I worked for, so why should I put myself in that position?" But at the same time, Mick and I couldn't just be in the Rolling Stones and do good work all the time. After two years off, we always had to wind up the giant machine...No matter how good you are, you just don't get together after two years off and get a great rock 'n' roll band. What you get is a load of crap. The way things are now, I can look forward to going back there. I know everyone's been playing. It gives the Stones a chance to forge ahead instead of catching up to our past. We do need to work outside the band; it's something you have to accept. So how do those projects impact on what the band does when it gets back together?

Richards: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that if you're just writing songs for the Rolling Stones, you kind of fall into your own little list of taboos; "We're not going to repeat this. We're not going to do that again." But how long could we do that in a total vacuum without ever trying other things or getting feedback from other people? When you're working with other people, you stroke a lot of other areas you were unsure of going down before. You just kind of grow, you know? It's better than doing nothing, which was our big problem before. Has your musical relationship with fellow guitarist Ron Wood changed greatly since he joined in 1975?

Richards: We've had a ball. He says, "Thanks for some good songs to play," and I'll say, "Thanks for being there to play them." There's nothing you can put your finger on and say, "We did this at this time and that's why it's better." It's just about playing with somebody, and every time you get down to playing you're testing each other more. Ronnie Wood is an amazingly sympathetic player; he'll get to the root of what you're on almost straight away. What's the main difference between working with the Stones and on your solo projects?

Richards: With the Stones, I'm the accepted leader in the studio; if I stop, everything stops. If Keith stops, there's no point in carrying on until he figures out what's happening next. With the Winos, if I stop, they keep going and look at me and say, "Well, pick it up, man." That's what the Winos do -- they kick me in the ass, and I say, "Oh, that feels good." I need to be kicked, too...instead of being the guy who kicks everybody else's ass. There was a time when all younger bands criticized the Stones. Now the there seems to be a lot more reverence.

Richards: It's probably more just a matter of fashion in the timing. In the '70s, those guys who were coming up were 10 years younger than us. We were like their big brothers who used to rub their noses in it, so there was a natural rejection and rebellion there. Now it goes around full circle; maybe its just because we're still here. I mean, we have made some good records. It's nice to know that there are a lot of kids out there for us. I see them on the road all the time, the budding juvenile guitar players down in front. They're looking at my fingers, and I'm thinking, "Alright, boys, yes. If you can figure it out, good luck. But I don't know if you can..." The perennial question -- how long will the Stones keep going?

Richards: (laughs) Do you think we know? Everyone always says this is the last, or that's the last. Nobody has taken it this far down the line. We have got to go out there and find out if it can be done. Why can't you have grown-up rock 'n' roll as well as the influx from the young end? It would be a terrible waste for us to get this far down the line and not carry on.


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