From the Archive: The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards Looks Back on 40 Years of Making Music
From 2002: Keith Richards looks back on 40 years of revolutionary music making.
Bill Wyman, in his autobiography, Stone Alone (Viking, 1990), said that the groupie scene started quite early for the Stones -- around the time of your first or second single in England. Is that the way you remember it?
Well, yeah. Wyman was quite accurate in that. But the fact is anytime musicians are passing through a town and they're up onstage… It didn't start with the Stones, believe me. Some of the chicks Bill had had been through half the rock and rollers of the previous generation before they got to him. It may have started for him then. But from time immemorial, that's why guys become musicians and go on the road. "Hello darlin', how ya doin'?" Then, "Thank you very much. I'm outta here. See ya next time around." I'm sure there's been groupies for 2,000 years at least, if not longer.
Can you recall when it first turned kind of "professional"? More than just the local schoolgirls backstage in drab little coats?
Oh yeah, that was '66 or '67. The Butter Queens and the Caster Plasters [sic]. These little teams of chicks that would set themselves up as professional groupies.
The Butter Queens?
The Butter Queens, yeah. They did loads of wonderful things with butter, apparently. I used to see them around all the time, but they never buttered me up. I used to avoid them like the plague. Anything that smacked of professionalism. "We've got a plaster cast of Robert Plant's cock. Would you like to add yours to the collection?" No, I never wanted to be part of anybody's collection. But mind you, there were some great individual operators out there.
I remember Steven Tyler telling me that as he got deeper into drugs he'd be much more interested in copping some good dope on the road than availing himself of any of the female companionship on offer.
Yeah, that was basically part of my thing as well. But there are always wonderful ladies out there. At the end of the day, that's the other payback. Except very early on, when Ian Stewart used to decide where we would stay. Stu loved to play golf and he'd book these hotels miles from the venue, way out of the way, so as to be near a golf course. The rest of us had trouble persuading girls to ride all the way out there in the van. Stu probably got us out of a lot of trouble, in one way or another. But we were grateful once the organization got too big for Stu to pick out the hotels anymore.
In stage photos and TV stills from that early period, you're often seen with an Epiphone semi-acoustic. Was that just a stage guitar or did it make it onto the early singles?
I'm pretty sure that Epiphone was on "It's All Over Now" and probably some of the earlier ones from England. I used it for a good while, mainly because I had it. It was a nice guitar, because Epiphone was a branch of Gibson at the time. It was a great guitar for studio work and in clubs. But once we got into theaters and bigger gigs, I found the feedback and howl of those Epiphones was uncontrollable and I started to go for solidbodies, like the Les Paul. [Richards has played numerous Les Paul models over the years but is perhaps most closely associated with Black Beauties, i.e., three-pickup, black Les Paul Customs, particularly a late-Fifties Custom decorated with a moon-and-star motif painted by the guitarist himself -- GW Ed.]
Can we make a case for the Stones' pioneering riff-oriented rock with songs like "Satisfaction" and "The Last Time"? Those were some of the earliest songs where the guitar riff is the statement -- the main hook.
I don't know. Sometimes it's easy for me to get carried away by other people's theories of what we've done. When I wrote "Satisfaction" I wasn't thinking in terms of that particular riff being the big guitar riff. That all fell into place at RCA [recording studios in Hollywood], when Gibson dumped on me one of those first footpedal boxes -- the fuzztone. It was just a new toy that somebody had given us from the local dealership or something.
Actually, I thought of that riff in "Satisfaction" more as a horn riff. The way Otis Redding ended up doing it is probably closer to my original conception for the song. It's an obvious horn riff. So when I got this fuzztone I said, "Oh, this is good, because I can use it to sketch out the horn line." So we left the track unfinished, to my mind, and went back out on the road. Two weeks later I hear it on the radio. I said, "No, that was just a dub [a demo]." No, I was told, that is a hit! But at least Otis got it right. Our recording of "Satisfaction" was a demo for Otis!
The Stones did a lot of recording at RCA in the early days. Along with "Satisfaction," hits like "The Last Time" and "Mother's Little Helper" were also cut there. What did you like about the place?
It was a lovely big room, which meant you could work for hours and hours without getting tired. Good equipment. Great address [on Hollywood Boulevard]. Also Dave Hassinger was there, who was a great engineer. In those days, for two or three years, we were basically working 350 days a year. You'd have 10 days off the tour to go to L.A. and record. RCA was the first room we recorded in in L.A. So we knew that when we got there we weren't in for strange surroundings. There was no time to check out a bunch of studios in those days. You'd just set up and go. That first year we came to America we discovered RCA and Chess Recording: 2120 [South Michigan Avenue, in Chicago. Immortalized in the title of a Stones instrumental from that era, the Chess studio had been the site of historic recordings by Muddy Waters, Howlin'Wolf and other of the Stones' blues heroes -- GW Ed. ] After what we'd been used to in England we said, "Wow, these are what we call studios."
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