The sound of Keith Richards, the sound of Rock n Roll

– Keith Richards quotes in his memoir Life’

A prodigiously talented musician and guitar folklore phenomenon, Keith Richards, released his third solo album, Crosseyed Heart’, on September 18, 2015. For Keith, music is the expression of happiness. “And yet still people want to get to the other, the heart of the other, so there is music; if you’re not able to say it, sing it,” as quoted by Keith in his memoir, Life’. Over the time span of his career, Keith Richards has been the founding member of the iconic rock band The Rolling Stones’ – unarguably one of the most significant rock bands in history, a singer, a songwriter and a best-selling memoirist – though he is primarily a guitarist. Crosseyed Heart’ combines his love for reggae, folk and a ton of his long mastered guitar playing nimblest. This is his first solo album after 23 years hiatus from his previous two solo albums, since the Rolling Stones were in a dormant period. But if one were to go by Keith Richards’ guitar maestro’s sounds, this chart topping rocker has a special seat of honor.

Keith Richards was born in Dartford, Kent, England on December 18, 1943. Keith was bit by the music bug at the ripe age of 3 years, much to his father’s horror. He attended Dartford Technical High School for boys between 1955 and 1959, when he was expelled due to his absenteeism. While still at Dartford Technical, he was recruited by the school’s choirmaster to sing in a trio of sopranos. He loved being in the boys church choir and was devastated when his voice changed and they kicked him out. Even though he felt that his entire world had come to an end, he decided that if not destined to be a signer, he would become a musician instead. While at Sidcup Art College, where he transferred to after Dartford Tech, Keith devoted more time to playing the guitar than studying. By this point, Keith had learned most of Chuck Berry’s solos.


Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck’ Berry” – American songwriter, singer and guitarist – was one of the pioneers of rock and roll music.

Keith attributes his guitar playing skills to his maternal grandfather, Augustus Gus’ Dupree, who was a musician and also played the fiddle and the saxophone. His grandfather had a guitar hanging in his home and teased him for several years because he saw Keith looking at it. One day his grandfather told him “If you can reach it, I’ll let you play around with it”. So, Keith figured it out by getting a chair and stacking some big books to reach it. He took it to his grandfather who was in his room. His grandfather taught him a little piece called Malagueña, a Spanish piece by humming it to him and showing him just the notes and no chords on his guitar. Gus thought that piece would be a great exercise for Keith to learn the notes, some chords and his way around the guitar. Here, started this legendary rocker’s fervour to learn more. Everyday he would listen for hours to records till he learnt the chords. When he came across Jimmy Reed handle a five chord on the guitar, it was a mystery to him.

Mississippi born Mathis James “Jimmy’ Reed” was an American blues musician and songwriter. He played electric blues and was a significant influence to rock and roll artists like Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray, Rolling Stones among many others.


Keith later wrote an illustrated children’s book titled Gus & Me’ – the story of my granddad and my first guitar – which was published on September 9, 2014. The illustration was done by Keith’s daughter, Theodora, named after his grandfather, Theodore. In a tribute to his grandfather as instrumental in shaping the musician and guitarist he is today.


Keith reunited with Mick Jagger on a train while Mick was heading for classes at the London School of Economics. They discovered they had a mutual interest in rhythm and blues which led to a renewal of their friendship. Keith and Mick initially attended primary school together and were neighbors till 1954, after which Keith’s family moved. With their new found friendship, Keith soon joined the amateur band that Mick and common friend Dick Taylor, were already a part of called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys’. Due to joint interests in the blues music, they met Brian Jones and when out at a pub one night, met Ian Stewart. Mid-1962, Keith dropped out of college and moved in with Mick and Brian to devote himself completely to music and they formed the band. They rigged up an improvised studio in their bathroom because they felt the flush sounded like an applause after their performance’. By 1963, Keith and Mick started writing songs together because of a perceived short-lived career playing covers.


Along with Mick, Keith introduced the Rolling Stones to Chuck Berry’s songs. The Rolling Stones sounds actually began as a marriage between the two styles; blues and rock and roll. Guitar legend, Keith has admitted to the blurring of the two styles while expressing his love for the performers and their crazy lives, sometimes ending in tragedy. Chuck Berry has always been an inspiration for Keith and the mail-order rhythm and blues by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters that Mick was carrying on the train was what caught the former’s eye.

When Keith Richards was asked in an interview how he first discovered the blues, he said, “By osmosis!” – which can be described as the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas. “See, my mother, she loved jazz, she loved Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington. That was what was around the house. There’s a lot of blues in jazz. And so, in a way, it was in my bones before I actually got to hear country blues and real blues.” He continues, “At the same age, I was starting to hear early rock and roll. It sounded perfectly normal to me… not some new kind of music. It was sort of natural.”


Keith focusses on chords and rhythms. “It’s all in the right hand, it’s all in the wrist. There’s two sides to every story and if you’re right (hand) is not connecting to you’re left, well then maybe it’s one and a half story. Somehow you got to get both of them to love each other.” said Keith. “The acoustic guitar is the most important for a guitarist to start with. Learn the feel of the touch, of that string and what it does against the frets. Then you can have the effects later on. If you want to be a guitar player, you have to have you’re grounding right, like anything else.” He prefers analog to a modern digital studio because he feels it’s far better sound. When asked why in an interview on the Andrew Marr show in September 2015, Keith said, “High tech is a wonderful thing, it does great, it does great for visuals. But when it comes to sound, the O’s and the 0’s (zeroes) don’t quite make it. I prefer what a tape can deliver, which is the full spectrum of sound.”

After a point, he felt he was going nowhere playing six string guitar and that he was just repeating himself. He figured that playing five string guitar like his icon Jimmy Reed, was like learning a new instrument. “There’s five strings, there’s only three chords. You still need two hands but one less chord,” said Keith. “And it’s cheaper because you don’t have to spring for that extra string,” he jokes. Back in the day, Keith was fortunate to run into Bobby Goldsboro – an American pop and country singer and songwriter, who was on the road with Jimmy, and showed him the simplest trick how to play five string. Keith plays on five string by removing the low E from his acoustic guitar.


Keith has always felt comfortable on stage even if he messed up. In his memoir Life’ when asked about performing on stage, he said, “While I’m here nothing else can happen. All I can do is screw up. Otherwise, have a good time.” Chris Spedding calls Keith Richards’ guitar playing as direct, incisive and unpretentious’. Peter Robinson, more widely know by his stage name Chris Speeding, is also an English musician, singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist and record producer.

These are few of the most noteworthy riffs, vocals and collaborations that make Keith’s sounds synonymous with rock and roll; Satisfaction’ remains rock’s greatest statement of horn-dog alienation with it’s riff that woke up the sixties. In 1967, due to a no-show from lead guitarist Brian Jones, he played his slide guitar along with recording his first lead vocal for Something Happened To Me Yesterday’. Keith’s 7-minute fiercest riff in Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ in 1971 may still be the band’s most intense guitar extravagance ever recorded. He later goes on to nail it yet again with his lyrics, vocals and guitar finger work in Happy. Released in 1972, this album is slated to have given Keith his first hit as a singer.

Then in 1978 with Beast of Burden’ showcased his elegance with subtle and slow strumming in a classic riff, along with his lyrics. Keith’s guitar intro in Start Me Up made it one of the band’s biggest hits in the 80’s. In 1986, he teamed up with Ron Wood and Jimmy Cliff and sang a tune from a cover by a reggae singer in Too Rude’, like they had just come out of a drug-induced coma. His collaboration with Tom Waits in 1985, cut through the cane break with Big Black Mariah’. While Keith and Mick were butting heads like two volatile brothers fighting over the band’s direction, the former went on to rekindle the band’s original essence with his 1988 single, Take It So Hard’.

Today, Keith Richards has an estimated net worth of $340 million as opposed to Mick Jagger’s 360 million net worth.

Making a life of playing music – be it rock and roll, country, blues or any other – succeed on any level takes a lot or hard work and steadfastness. It’s an even harder time trying to juggle between a music career and family or loved ones. Even though Keith Richards has shifted into another gear now, back then he was an incorrigible ladies’ man. He still maintains a friendly relationship with Anita Pallenberg, mother of his first three children – Marlon, Angela and Tara Jo Jo – but they never got married, even though they were a couple from 1967 to 1979. Keith was away at tour when Tara died at two months old of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). He was severely criticized for performing that night despite finding out about her death but said it was the only way he could with the loss.


True, most famous musicians have a breakdown in relationships and broken marriages but since later in 1979, Keith has been married to model Patti Hansen. They tied the knot on his 40th birthday and have two daughters, Theodora Dupree and Alexandra Nicole, the elder one being inspired by the man she was named after, illustrated Keith’s children book.

Keith feels he is the same bloke at home as he is onstage. “I know who I am, but I’m also aware of the kaleidoscope of different visions being taken by different people.” He advices the younger generation, “Live a clean life and don’t do as I do. None of you really know what I did, you just imagine it. Believe me – I’ve taken a lot more out of alcohol than it’s ever taken out of me! And I kind of feel the same way about the dope and stuff. I did what I thought was best for me but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for everybody.”

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