Keith Richards: Back with a Band
GW You’ve always had a real knack for layering guitars onto ballads. It starts on acoustic. A bit of electric comes in…
RICHARDS Yeah, it’s almost like one guitar part suggests another one, hopefully without overdoing it. On some of the earlier albums, I was overdub crazy. I would have eight guitar tracks, but I only used three or four at a time. I’d take one out for a section and bring another in. In a way, it’s the same thing now. I just don’t overlayer tracks as much.
GW There’s something about Mick’s performance on “Streets of Love.” Maybe you can shed some light on this for me. It’s so stylized, so mannered.
RICHARDS Yeah, I know. Isn’t it?
GW Yet there are moments when he’s really throwin’ down. Does that dichotomy still surprise you after all these years?
RICHARDS It can, yeah. Mick sometimes goes into “a mode,” and you’re like, “Is that you? Are you trying to be somebody else?” Sometimes you have to figure that out. Yes, it is manneristic at times, but other times he’s so fucking loose and cool, like on “Rough Justice.” And his harp playing blew me away all year. He’s Louis Armstrong on that. Also his guitar playing is a lot better. He did a lot of rhythm guitar on this album. There’s a lot of three-guitar stuff there—Ronnie, Mick and me. That’s been interesting. Mick is a lot more proficient on guitar now. If he wants to play, I say, “Play!” I’d never be the guy to say, “Stop it. Forget about it.”
GW Yet I’ve asked you about this in the past and you’ve always said, “Mick’s okay on acoustic, but keep him away from electric.”
RICHARDS Exactly. But he’s finally really starting to get the electric stuff down. Realizing that it’s a different instrument than acoustic, especially if you want to use effects and stuff like that.
GW So, after some 40 years…
RICHARDS Yeah, it takes a while. We’re slow learners.
GW There’s a track called “Neocon” that didn’t make it to the album, or might not?
RICHARDS I’m not sure if it’s on there or not. I’m still getting bits of paper saying, “Here’s the final lineup,” and every day it’s slightly different. It might be on there. I can’t really confirm that. It’s quite a groove of a track, though.
GW I hear it’s real political.
RICHARDS In a way it is, yeah. There are all these neoconservatives now. I suppose it depends on who you’re pointing the finger at. Personally, I prefer to keep politics out of music. But at the same time, if it’s done the right way, I don’t rule any subject out.
GW What’s your take on what’s happening politically right now, in America and the world?
RICHARDS I don’t know, man. I roll with the punches, and I think everybody else will. Things have changed. There’s a lot of things in the air, including bodies. And it’s not the way to get along, is it? And something has to be done. Personally, I’d have a suicide bombers’ convention and they can all blow each other up.
GW As you said, the Stones have never been much of a political band. But tracks like “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil” have definitely reflected turbulent times.
RICHARDS “Street Fighting Man” too, yeah. But they usually touch on the periphery. They’re more observations from an outside point of view than jumping right into the middle of the fray. I’ve always been a bit wary of that. And “Neocon” might be a bit like that, I don’t know. I’ve raised the subject with the lads and we’ll see how it flies.
GW “Salt of the Earth” [from Beggars Banquet] certainly showed your heart was in the right place.
RICHARDS It better be. There’s only one spot for it.
GW What is your memory of when the “Keith Richards elegantly wasted” characterization started to permeate popular culture?
RICHARDS That’s other people’s words, my dear. I just do it and you describe it.
GW But was there a point where you started to riff on that image deliberately?
RICHARDS No, I never thought of that. I’m just doing what I do, man. You know? I’ve always had the opportunity to do it. And I never really thought it was anything unusual. It was only when I woke up the next day and read about it in the paper that I realized someone wanted to make a big deal out of it.
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