You are here

From the Archive: The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards Looks Back on 40 Years of Making Music

From the Archive: The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards Looks Back on 40 Years of Making Music

Given the life he's led, it's a miracle that Keith Richards is alive to ring in the Rolling Stones' 40th year together. Heroin addiction claimed much of the Seventies for him, although it didn't seem to prevent him from turning in some of his most brilliant work as a guitarist, songwriter and de facto musical director of the Rolling Stones. There has been a succession of gorgeous women in his life, including the dangerous Swinging London beauty Anita Pallenberg, whose long liaison with the guitarist was particularly tempestuous. But all that is in the past now, and Richards seems content with his wife of 19 years, ex-model Patti Hansen, his kids and one other ever-present companion -- a small yet spirited white poodle named Delilah.

"Quite honestly, when I reached 50 I didn't feel any differently than I did when I reached 40," says Richards. ''And I think the Stones are approaching this anniversary thing the same way anybody approaches turning 40. Except we're doing it en masse."

As he speaks, Richards fidgets with a few small, metal, Maltese crosses affixed to his graying locks. He can't seem to figure out whether these ornaments should go over the top of his headband or stick out underneath. An assistant brings him a large Absolut vodka with orange soda -- the first in a long series, punctuated by even more Marlboros. Relaxed and utterly at home in his lank body, Keith Richards is in a talkative mood.

GUITAR WORLD: You've never been one to live by the clock or calendar.

KEITH RICHARDS: Not exactly, no.

So does a milestone like the 40th anniversary of the Rolling Stones mean all that much to you?
When a band has stayed together this long, there is a certain secret professional pride in that. But I don't think any of us would go around saying that -- certainly not to each other, or even to ourselves. I guess there's just a thing in our society about decades -- numbers that end in zero. I don't know why.

What prompted your decision to include some brand-new Rolling Stones tracks on 40 Licks?

The only difference between us and the Beatles is that we're still going. So, unlike the Beatles' greatest-hits set [1] we felt we had to put on two or three new tracks in a "to be continued" kind of spirit. I didn't want it to be all just nostalgia.

Also, I didn't want to turn up for rehearsals for this tour without having played together with everybody since the end of the last tour. That would have been a little too much -- straight into "Start Me Up" all over again. I love to play those songs. But I already know how to play them. I don't need to rehearse them. So I wanted to get the band to play together on some new-stuff.

Playing new music really tightens the band up. Getting everybody together for a month in Paris, I didn't mind if we came out with no tracks at all. But as it turned out, we came out with 30 tracks! On our very first night in Paris we got three tracks down. Everybody went, "Yeah." Out of the 30 songs we recorded, we mixed four or five. We're still dickering between them right now, figuring out what will go on the album. But my strategy worked, I think.

Everyone's got their chops together and they're really looking forward to this tour. It's not just a regurgitation. It's still a working band.

Is it safe to say that it paid off for the Stones to abandon blues purism and start playing the pop game circa 1963?

We did that because we wanted to make records. To get into a recording studio was almost like getting into heaven. Even harder, maybe. So the inducement of a recording contract made us willing to play that game. We all agonized about it, of course. "Should we put these jackets on and go on TV?" But once we did, there was no turning back.

Within a week or so we were suddenly London's answer to the Beatles. We were in the pop game. At the same time, we learned the music business. And we realized we'd stepped into a sea of piranhas. The question was, did you spend your energy on the music or dealing with these piranhas? Well, you've got to learn to do both at the same time. Once you're in, you really can't get out. There you are with Melody Maker and 16 magazine. And you're going, "What the hell am I doing talking to this chick about what's my favorite color?" And they say, "Oh, we're going to do a group photo. You can't sit on the bed together." Well, where else should we sit? There's no chairs in the room.

Why couldn't you sit on the bed together? Would that have had homosexual connotations back then?

Yeah. Just the fact that it's the bed and two guys are on it. If it was a chick, it would be even worse, I guess. There were all these weird rules you had to learn. But we found it pretty easy, I must say, to play the pop game. Especially when the chicks started throwing themselves at us. That was an added inducement.


NAMM 2012: Fender Introduces New Blacktop Guitar Models