Keith Richards: Back with a Band
GW We’ve heard all kinds of things about Ronnie of late—drug problems, he might not make the tour…
RICHARDS Oh no, he’s okay now. I think he fell in love with rehab. Ronnie…I’ve known him as stoned out of his brain as you can imagine a man can get. And I’ve known him straight sober. And quite honestly, there’s very little difference. Although I must say there’s a bit more focus on him now. Ronnie, unlike me, tends to overdo a thing. Me, I just do it. But right now he’s okay. I think
being straight will suit him...for a while.
GW The new song “Oh No, Not You Again!” is such a quintessential Stones three-chord rocker. Can you and Mick roll out of bed and write one of those in five minutes by this point? Or do they come a little less easily than that?
RICHARDS Sometimes there’s just a general idea—just the phrase “Oh no, not you again.” We sleep on that and the next day slip each other bits of paper saying, “How about if it went this way?” It’s all a bit of a patchwork really. But eventually you start to get the threads of songs. You knock off a couple of chords and say, “That’s nice.” Then you see what happens next. I feel it doesn’t have much to do with me. I’m just being led by a series of notes and possibilities. I just hang on and see what happens.
GW “Take Me Down Slow” has such a nice chorus melody. It’s a tiny bit like “Out of Time.” Classic Stones. Is that style of melody more Mick’s thing or more yours?
RICHARDS That’s hard to say. Mick came up with the basic song but I came up with the chimes [sings descending major chorus melody]. But I’d say that one’s more Mick than me, absolutely. You can tell. The ones I laid on him were “Rough Justice,” “Infamy,” and “The Place Is Empty.” So it’s kind of half and half. Mick comes in far more prepared than I do. I like to come in with the bare bones of an idea and see how it builds. Mick prefers to come in pretty much knowing how it’s supposed to go…or thinking he knows. Ha! Mick’s like that. He has to wake up in the morning knowing that he’s got to do something. Me, I just wanna wake up.
GW You’re like a Zen monk—always in the moment.
RICHARDS Yeah, I don’t plan ahead like Mick, but I can pick up on little nuances and ideas and incorporate them as we go along. I like to let things change. I don’t like to put things in a cage.
GW There’s also a very nice guitar solo on “Take Me Down Slow”— those Steve Cropper–esque major thirds. I’m assuming it’s you.
RICHARDS Yes, it is. Thanks. I’ve actually been enjoying playing guitar very much. I kind of stopped playing awhile after the last tour. I did a few sessions with Willie Nelson and a couple of other tracks here and there. But sometimes after a tour you say, “Jesus, I’ve played enough. I can’t think of another note.” So you kind of lay back. But that’s always a good thing, because when I do pick up the guitar again, after a few weeks or months, it’s always like, “Oh, yeah! Hello, pal, I missed you.”It’s always a pleasure to re-meet.
GW If you were going to be exiled to some desert island or distant planet for the rest of your life, and you could only take one of your many guitars with you, which one would it be?
RICHARDS It’s only right I take my ’31 Martin 00045 acoustic. That’s been my number-one acoustic for the past 10 years or so. And you never know when you’re gonna see electricity again. There’s no point singing for your supper on a Stratocaster without a goddamn amp.
GW “Back of My Hand” is a great blues. What’s the story behind that one?
RICHARDS Mick came up with that. He started to play it one day on acoustic guitar and I started thinking, “prison songs...” We were just casting ideas about. To me, it’s a classic sort of Muddy Waters thing, or even earlier. And as we were getting it going, I went, “Jesus Christ, we could have cut this at Chess [Records], baby.” You are what you listen to, in a way, and I never stopped listening to the blues. Even if I go off on other tangents, there’s always that basic diet, thank God.
GW After all these years of being deeply into the blues, how has your perception of the blues changed and evolved?
RICHARDS That’s a good ’un. It does change as you grow up. It’s a ludicrous idea for a 17- or 18-year-old white kid from London to go around saying he’s a blues player, which is what I used to do. You have to go through a bit of life, I think, in order to play the blues for real. That’s why most blues players are not that young; you gotta be able to have a few stories to tell, ’cause it’s a very strict format, the blues. It’s 12 bars and three chords. You can throw in a few extra ones, but it’s so amazingly malleable as a form of music that you could never learn it all. There are so many different ways you can angle it. It’s almost like passing along information. It’s fascinating—there’s so much music out there. You can go classical and jazz and I love all that, too, but I’m still finding out how to work my way through those 12 bars.
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