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.
Speaking of things being in the blood, what was it like coming from a middle-class background...
Actually, I'm not; Mick could be classified as middle class. I come from the projects.
Okay, what was it like to come from that kind of background and suddenly be part of the Swinging London scene circa '66 or '67 -- rubbing shoulders with aristocrats and people from the fine arts world?
Well, it happens very easily when they want to know you. [llaughs] England was really shrugging off WWII, at last, by the end of the Fifties and early Sixties. Everybody was quite willing to change the playing field. I certainly had no aspirations in that particular area at all -- society or anything like that. But I have a feeling that there was a certain percentage of the higher strata of English society who felt they were being left behind. And suddenly they wanted to go slumming. Or at least their kids did. So it was more a matter of them wanting to get into our society, rather than us wanting to get into theirs.
When you're on the road as a musician, you learn to take people as they come. It doesn't matter where they come from or anything like that. There's always a barrage of people, and you're here today and gone tomorrow -- always traveling. So you learn to size up people really quickly. Without even realizing it, you fall into the knack of doing that. If you don't, you get into trouble. The rest of it doesn't matter. You don't have time to go into people's backgrounds. And then two weeks later someone says, "Oh, when you spent the night with Princess So and So... " And I'd say, "Who? What do you mean?" "You know, that chick Lucy." "Oh, is she a princess? She didn't act like it."
Do early songs like "Play with Fire," or catty songs on Between the Buttons like "Complicated" and "Miss Amanda Jones," come out of that kind of experience -- observations of debutante life?
Yeah, they probably do. They all come out of our first year of fame and being on the road -- expanding our horizons and at the same time seriously getting down to work writing songs. Inevitably you draw on your own experiences. It's all a bit of a lark, really.
In retrospect, do you think Between the Buttons is an underrated album?
Between the Buttons was the first record we made when we hadn't been on the road and weren't shit-hot from playing gigs every night. Plus, everyone was stoned out of their brains. And it was the Summer of Love over there in America as well. Between the Buttons was the first time we took a breath and distanced ourselves a little from the madness of touring and all. So in a way, to us it felt like a bit of a new beginning. But not everybody was in great shape. Brian was starting to be wonky at the time.
When did you first have an inkling that Brian wasn't going to make it?
I guess toward the end of '66 I started to get this impression that Brian thought it was his band. He started to get ideas. Given the pressure of work at the time, nobody had time to think about it. They just said, "Oh Brian, piss off." Which I think he took more personally than was probably meant. Alienation started to set in. That grew more intense in the period of Between the Buttons, when we had this time off and everybody suddenly wasn't on everybody else's back. At the time, with Brian, we all figured, "It's just pressure. He'll get over it." But instead he kind of separated himself from the band in a way. It was only a slight nuance at the time. We just carried on and said, "Oh, big deal." But it grew more intense over the next couple of years.
And then of course the thing with Anita happened -- then it became personal. [There were violent scenes between Jones and his then-girlfriend, Italian-German actress-model Anita Pallenberg, during a road trip to Morocco that the couple made with Richards in March 1967. Pallenberg transferred her affections to Richards. She would later bear Richards' sons Marlon and Tara Jo Jo Gunne and daughter Dandelion -- GW Ed. ] I suppose that was the irrevocable break. But shit happens, you know? Yeah, I stole his girlfriend. But only because he was trying to beat her up. I tried to stop it because he was coming off worse. Brian had two broken ribs and a broken wrist, and Anita just had a black eye. Anita and I fell in with each other. By then Brian had become pretty unbearable to live with. Which is probably why I ended up with Anita.
Many people say that your place in Cheyne Walk in London, which you shared with Anita for a while, was haunted. Do you think it was?
No. It's an old house and it creaks a lot. Old houses do that. A lot of people were really stoned there. No doubt they had heightened imaginations. But quite honestly, in the time I lived there, that never occurred to me. If it was haunted, it was haunted by the cops!
Have you ever seen a ghost?
Only my own, pal.
For all the Stones' problems in the late Sixties, with Brian and harassment by the police over drugs, that period is also one of the band's most brilliant. ''Jumping Jack Flash," for instance. Do you remember which guitar you used for that?
A Gibson Hummingbird [acoustic] tuned to open D, six string [low to high: D A D F# A D]. Open D or open E [low to high: E B E G# B E], which is the same thing -- same intervals -- but it would be slackened down some for D. Then there was a capo on it, to get that really tight sound. [As the recording sounds in the key of E flat, Keith's guitar was most likely tuned to open D, with a capo placed at the first fret. Although tape varispeeding may also have affected the key. -- GW Ed.] And there was another guitar over the top of that, but tuned to Nashville tuning [In Nashville tuning -- also called "high-strung tuning" -- the guitar is tuned E A D G B E, but the bottom four strings are replaced with thinner strings tuned one octave higher than normal, such as the extra strings on a 12-string guitar -- GW Ed. ] I learned that from somebody in [country star] George Jones' band in San Antonio in '63. We happened to be playing the World Teen Fair, and San Antonio in 1963 was just a cow town. George Jones and his band practically had tumbleweeds around their Stetsons and boots. One of his band had a high-strung guitar. We had a couple of hours to kick around. So he showed me how to do it, with the different strings, to get that high ring. I was picking up tips.
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