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.
Listening carefully to "Get Off My Cloud," you realize how beautifully the rhythm guitar works with the piano. The piano is subtle, but it's important.
I think that was just a matter of saying, "Stu, this sounds a bit thin. Can you just play a little piano under it?" 'Cause for me, and for Charlie, I think -- I don't know if Mick would agree -- this is basically Stu's band. We're working for a dead man. When we recently had that week of recording in Paris, a couple of times we'd be playing and Charlie would look up at me: "Stu?" "Yeah, he's here."
But yeah, that was just one of those things you could do in those days -- shadow a guitar with a piano. As long as you didn't make it obvious, it would add some different air to a track. 'Cause that was all four-track time. Basically, you had to get it in the room. There was no, "What if we overdubbed added violins?" The only choice was to decide whether you'd got it or if you had to do another take. All that changed very quickly, of course, going to eight, 16, then 24 tracks in a matter of just a couple of years. Everyone was reveling in all these tracks, and at the same time their records weren't sounding too good and they were taking longer to make.
What did you use to create that curiously aquatic guitar sound for the melodic riffs on "Mother's Little Helper"?
That's a 12-string with a slide on it. It's played slightly Oriental-ish. The track just needed something to make it twang. Otherwise, the song was quite vaudeville in a way. I wanted to add some nice bite to it. And it was just one of those things where someone walked in and, "Look, it's an electric 12- string." It was some gashed-up job. No name on it. God knows where it came from. Or where it went. But I put it together with a bottleneck. Then we had a riff that tied the whole thing together. And I think we overdubbed onto that. Because I played an acoustic guitar as well.
The Stones had an endorsement deal with Vox around this time. Were those the amps you were using in the studio?
I have no doubt they were. The AC30's a damn good amp. But you don't want two guitar players in a band playing out of the same make and model amplifier. It's too much the same sound. So as soon as I got to America I got myself a Fender amp. There was something about that little herringbone box. I fell in love with Fender amps real quick. But Ronnie Wood still uses AC30s today in the Stones. And Brian used them. Basically it was a Brian deal with Vox. 'Cause they made him his teardrop guitar. [Jones played a rare two-pickup version of the Vox Mk VI -- GW Ed. ] But the AC30 was probably the best all-around British amp at the time, without a doubt. Of all time.
In addition to the teardrop guitar, Brian was often seen playing a Gibson Fire bird. Did he use that in the studio or just for concerts and TV appearances?
He definitely used it in the studio. I can see him right now with that Firebird. The thing with Brian was he would hop from instrument to instrument. He was always searching for another sound. As a musician he was very versatile. He'd be just as happy playing the marimbas or bells as he was guitar. Sometimes I'd be saying, "Oh, make up your mind what sound you're going to have, Brian." 'Cause he'd keep changing guitars. So it's difficult to say which guitar he was using on which track. He wasn't one of those guys who said, "Right, here's my ax." Brian had so many. Sometimes he'd walk in with a guitar someone had given him and he'd insist on using it, even if it wasn't the right one for the job.
Did you ever fool around with sitars or other instruments Brian left lying around?
No. Something about the strings on a sitar- -- they were too thin. Brian got into playing it, and I did find the instrument interesting -- the idea of the sympathetic strings underneath that resonate to one of the strings on top. So it was good for drones. Arrangement-wise, I used it as I thought it should be used -- as an interesting extra sound on one or two things, like "Paint It Black."
Who thought up the coda to "Mother's Little Helper," where it modulates to the relative major and ends with that "Hey!"?
I think I had that song pretty well set up, arrangement-wise, when I brought it into the studio. I had the main riff. It might have been Bill Wyman who came up with that ending. He was also instrumental on "Paint It Black," adding organ pedals to the bottom end. "Mother's Little Helper" and "Paint It Black" are these semigypsy melodies. I don't know where they came from. Must be in the blood somewhere.
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