Keith Richards Discusses The Rolling Stones' Latest Album in 1994 Guitar World Interview
In this 1994 Guitar World interview, Keith Richards has his mojo working full-throttle on The Rolling Stones' steamy comeback album, Voodoo Lounge.
Was Don Was a help in that direction?
Yeah, Don was a great help in encouraging that extra thing; "O.K., Let's try it. Why not?" We've very rarely had producers, you know. Producers come to you, like gurus; you're not supposed to find them, they find you. Not that one ever found me, I must say. [laughs]
Anyway, to me, working with Don was very reminiscent of working with Jimmy Miller, and you can't ask for better than that. He's also a musician and is not only respected by the band for the technical end of doing the job, but he has a very natural feel with the guys. There wasn’t this impression that somebody here is producing the Rolling Stones; you're making a record with him.
That's an important barrier to break down with the Rolling Stones; they can sense when somebody is thinking, "Oh, it's THE STONES" -- that slight unsureness and intimidation. What we look for is someone who knows what they're going for. Don did that. He was not impressed with any star crap, which is what's most important to us at that point.
Let's get down to some brass machine heads on this album. What's the "mystery guitar" you play on "You Got Me Rocking."
Aha! The mystery guitar will no longer be a mystery if l tell you. [laughs] What the hell... It's a solidbody dobro, but I play it with a stick -- just a little stick I picked out of Ronnie's garden. It's just an interesting percussion effect.
Were the guitar parts mapped out during the writing process?
No, not really. The songs kind of suggest themselves, and the arrangements and the parts almost flow from the moment you lay down a bare bones of songs and throw it around amongst the guys. A shape kind of takes place that's natural. I always try to grab that, especially when we're cutting the rhythm tracks.
You really just keep an ear and an eye on everything that's being played and you remember it. What I don't like to do when making record within bands -- especially small bands, rhythm sections like the Rolling Stones -- is to try to impose anything. If you tell somebody how to play something, you've automatically got a certain stiffness into it: "Oh, he wants me to play that." I'd rather have them do it as they feel. The less you talk about it, the better it is. When you get a good playback, nobody says anything; you just nod at each other.
Probably "Love is Strong." That's the band; sounds like 'em every time. We didn't have to fiddle with it at all. You just try to find what feels natural for the song … Just lay the guitars down and do as many parts as you like. In the mix you can use a bar of it here, a bar of it there. When you're listening to basic tracks, you're listening to what's not there and for what should be there. You're following some little picture in your mind or in the ear that says "That's funky, but it needs something that rings a little bit at the top."
If you've got the songs, you can overdub as much as you like. You have to be judicious in your editing and mixing. It's what Ronnie and I call the "ancient art of weaving."
Don Was likes to refer to you as a pitcher, someone who tosses out ideas and lets the band bounce them around. Is that a fair assessment?
Working with drummers like Charlie Watts or Steve Jordan and Charlie Drayton in the Winos, that's all I need. I can throw riffs at them all night; when the drums catch on, I know there's something there. My strength, probably, is I can recognize a song in a few bars. I spot the embryo there. I've been writing since so early on that the antenna is really well-developed. If I pick up an instrument, it'll come to me. I don't go searching. I don't have that God aspect about it. I prefer to think of myself as an antenna. There's only one song, and Adam and Eve wrote it. The rest is a variation on a theme.
There's actually a ZZ Top-quality to "You Got Me Rocking."
There could be. I haven't heard ZZ Top for a long time. Apart from the fact that we both play rock and roll, the comparison wouldn't occur to me, but you never know. We all cross over. I know that to me the rhythm has a bit of Motown, like "Goin' to a Go-Go," [Smokey Robinson And The Miracles] a little funky. I was looking for a swampy rhythm, something punchy. Wrote the thing on piano and then transferred it over to guitar.
There's a lot of B-bender guitar on the album. A new fetish?
I wouldn't call it new. [Late country guitarist] Clarence White invented the thing many years ago. It's a guitar with a special job on it: you pull on the neck and the B string bends and gives you a pedal steel effect. Jimmy Page uses it quite a lot and Ronnie works on it. I use it now and again. It gives you a nice guitar feel, a little pedal steel but also a little slide. It's another tone to play with. The only trouble is, if you play it... the whole thing goes out of tune. You have to do a little training to play it.
Has your musical relationship with Ronnie changed markedly since 1975?
Ronnie and I, we've had a ball for the last year. He says, "Thanks for some good songs to play," and I'll say, "Thanks for being there to play them with." There's nothing you can put your finger on and say, "We did this at his time and that's why it's better." It's just about playing with somebody, and every time you get down to playing you're testing each other more. Ronnie Wood is an amazingly sympathetic player; he'll get to the root of what you're on almost straight away.
You even managed to get Pierre [de Beauport] a credit on the album.
He works for me; he's my guitar man, mechanic, and a damn good player, too. He happened to be the only guy around that night, and he's been with me from when I first came across that song. We cut the first demo of it together, so I thought he deserved to have his mark on it. As we were finishing the record, I said, "Pierre, by the way, your acoustic's on." He said, "You've got to be kidding!" I told him, "No, go for it."
What were your considerations for the show this year?
I'm looking to balance it up. As you can imagine, the show will kind of change and incorporate more of the newer numbers after the record comes out and we get some feedback. I'd like to do as many of them as we can. First off, the songs are made for the stage -- they're dying to be played live. Also for this show, I'm not trying to get too stuck to a set list. In the past we've had one song changing here, one song changing there, which is almost the same. But it's difficult to change a lot on these great big tours, with everyone locked into their computerized lights. We try to rehearse far more stuff than we actually need so we can vary the show from night to night if we want to.
The other thing is I don't want to repeat the big band revue sort of feel of Steel Wheels. -- I want to strip it down a bit. I want to discard that revue feel; the five Stones and 11 other people. We, the band can do a lot more within ourselves.
You enjoy referring to the Stones as a juggernaut, which is pretty accurate. Do you ever wish you play smaller venues?
That's heaven and hell together, and you can't have it all. We have to work within the Stones' standards. I mean, it would be great; this band can play a club better than any in the world, probably. That's where it sounds best. But it's gotten this big, and you've got to deal with it.
Plus, it's very unlikely anyone will go for it -- like the police or the promoters. They say, "I don't want my club ruined." Or if everyone else wants it the police department says, "We can't allow the Rolling Stones to play in our High Street in a little club. There'll be a riot." There's so many imponderable things to get through. Unless it's a one-off... you're fighting against nature.
That doesn't mean we won't try, though. [laughs]
Have you noticed the strong regard for the Stones that exists within younger bands now? The last time there was this kind of influx of new music, it was 1977 and everybody slammed you.
It's probably more just a matter of fashion and timing. In the Seventies, those guys who were coming up were 10 years younger than us. We were like their big brothers who used to rub their noses in it, so there was a natural rejection and rebellion there. Now it goes around full circle; maybe it's just because we're still here. But I know loads of guys in new bands, a lot of kids on the road who are players. There's a lot of 15, 14-year-old boys out there with their Fenders in their hands, which is great. There are worse things you can do in this life than that.
Any thoughts on Kurt Cobain?
I wasn't really too aware; I didn't even know the name of the lead singer of Nirvana until that thing in Rome went down. I heard that and thought, "He was lucky this time." I was just astonished that two weeks later…no one was keeping an eye on him and just let him buy a shotgun. Mick summed it up well; he said it was inevitable. It would have taken a few years longer to do if he hadn't been famous. It just wasn't the right job for someone of that temperament. People say: "What's so tough about being the lead singer?" But if life was so difficult for him there, it would be appalling anywhere else, wouldn't it?
When you were that deep into drugs, did you have people keeping a better eye on you?
Yeah, somewhat. But they also knew I wasn't looking to top myself. There's a difference between scratching your ass and tearing it to bits, you know.
So what is a Voodoo Lounge?
It's wherever I hang out. [laughs]
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