He composed some of the most famous riffs in the history of rock music. He symbolizes the rock star par excellence: a mix of caustic irony and disillusioned cynicism. The man who started in the shadow of Brian Jones ended up becoming the musical driving force behind the world's biggest rock band.
You'll discover below why keith richards wears a skull ring. On March 29th, the anniversary re-release of his first solo album Talk is cheap, released in 1988, is coming out. The occasion to come back to the so particular style of the "riff monster" of rock'n'roll significantly contributed to the popularization of the skull rings that you can see in the picture below.
Who made Keith Richards Ring?
The famous skull ring was made by goldsmiths David Courts and Bill Hackett in 1978, they took a real human skull as a model to sculpt a miniature version. Once the piece was finished, they created a wax mold and it was at this very moment that the idea of making a ring came up! After finishing the ring, he decided to give this little jewel to a rock icon, the legendary guitarist Keith Richards who had invited them to his birthday party in New York.
A style first inspired by Chuck Berry
Legend says that Mick Jagger and Keith Richard (at the time without an "S") met very young on a commuter train and that the future Rolling Stones guitarist was carrying a Chuck Berry record under his arm; This is indeed his first significant influence: "double stop" solos, "shuffle" rhythmics, and covers of the father of Rock'n'Roll constitute a good part of the Rolling Stones repertoire in their early days: Around and around, Come on, Carol, Don't you lie to me.
Carol and Little Queenie are also part of the live Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! and Keith holds the solo on both of them in his mentor’s purest style. When in 1987, the two guitarists take part in Taylor Hackford's movie Hail! Hail! Rock n roll, the master has to inflict humiliation on the student by taking it several times on Carol's intro and showing him how to play it correctly :
Apart from the 12-bar rocks, Keith also asserts himself against Brian Jones with a simple but effective blues-inspired playing. If the blond angel explores more pop arrangements with exotic instruments such as the sitar or the dulcimer, Richard will impose himself as the roots and rock side pure juice, without frills.
In 1965, he composed THE riff: Satisfaction! By his admission, he would have heard it in a dream. To have this utterly new sound at the time, he uses a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzztone, one of the first distortion pedals. Initially, he would have preferred a horn section, but the track comes out as is and becomes emblematic of the 60s.
The same year, on Heart of stone, he delivers a solo which goes straight to the point and seems to attract the favors of the female gentleman:
At this time, he plays on a Les Paul "burst" of 1959, which he sold in 1968, and which is bought by a certain...Mick Taylor!
Then by Ry Cooder
In1968, during the Beggars Banquet sessions, he met a certain Ry Cooder. The latter introduced him to "open tunings", those "open" tunings intended for slide play (with bottleneck). But the Roling Stones guitarist will use this discovery differently; he decides to focus mainly on opening the tuning of G, overturning the lowest string, and with his famous 5-string guitars (the most notable being the Telecaster "Micawber") will invent some of the most incredible riffs of rock history (using several open tunings) :
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash
- Gimme Shelter
- Honky Tonk Women
- Brown Sugar
- Can’t you hear me knockin’
- Soul Survivor
- Dancing with Mr. D
- Start me up
The list is too long to mention them all. This particular tuning is adopted almost permanently by Richards, giving him that characteristic groove that has become the Rolling Stones sound’s trademark; This did not prevent him from composing other riffs just as effective in standard tuning:
“The most important element in rock' n' roll is rolled.” Keith Richards
His playing, all in syncopation and counter-time, produces that typical "hiccup", which counterbalances Charlie Watts' metronomic pulse. A sensation of always being at the bottom of time, "backward", backward as if to come back even more raging on the next bar. As if the guitar was rockin' chair. He sums up this way of playing as follows: "Everybody talks about rock these days; the problem is that they forget about the roll.
One of his best disciples is undoubtedly Malcolm Young, the real mastermind of AC/DC's sound, who also gave the rock'n'roll riff its letters of nobility.
Soloist more often than you might think
We always quote Keith Richards as a great rhythm guitarist (if not the greatest), but we forget that he provides the lead more often than we think, even if he defends it.
After his "Chuck Berry addict" period on the first albums between 1964 and 1967 or so, he shifted up a gear in 1968 with Beggars banquet, drawing two vividly flayed solos on Sympathy for the devil and Stray cat blues.
The next record, Let it bleed, often considered THE Stones' masterpiece, is his album. Brian Jones went (almost inaudible), Mick Taylor did not arrive yet (only two discreet interventions), Keith Richards is at the oven and at the mill: acoustics, rhythmics, leads, and even slide on You got the silver and Monkey man.
And on the band's biggest live show (and probably one of the best in rock history), Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! he shares the lead parts with Mick Taylor. The latter is on the left channel, Keith is on the right track, which corresponded to their seats on stage, as seen from the audience. Suppose the newcomer, Brian Jones' replacement, delivers anthology solos. In that case, the not-yet-grandfather of rock is not to be outdone: besides the Berriesques Carol and Little Queenie, he also plays the solos of Honky Tonk Women, Live with me, and especially the first one of Sympathy for the devil.
In the studio, Keith Richards played several solos, even during the period with Mick Taylor. A few examples of these are listed below:
Of course, the list is not exhaustive and has grown considerably since the arrival of Ron Wood in 1975, as it was during the Brian Jones era.
An evolving role
Keith Richards has often commented on the three guitarists who formed the duo with him in the Rolling Stones. He has always said that he prefers the interchangeability of roles between rhythm and soloist. They wove guitar textures in pairs with Brian Jones, where the border between rhythm and solo remained deliberately blurred. One of the best examples is Mercy, Mercy :
The arrival of Mick Taylor would both propel the Stones into their golden age, forge Keith's sound, and at the same time split the guitar duo into a dichotomous system: if during the 69-70s rhythm and solos were still shared, the 1973 tour hinted at a Mick Taylor at the top, while Keith Richards was mostly content to tackle the chords. At the time, his various addictions were no doubt not foreign to this somewhat minimalist playing and quite far from the pretension and fullness on getting Yer Ya-Ya's out!
Although he always recognized the undeniable talent of Mick Taylor, Keith was not satisfied with their collaboration, and the arrival of Ron Wood, more musically self-effacing, allowed him to take over the reins and re-establish himself as the driving force and lead guitarist of the band.
Guitarist but also singer
Guitarist, of course, but Keith Richards also provided the lead vocals on several occasions. The first officially released track where he sings the lead is the one that closes the pop-colored album Between the buttons in 1966: Something Happened To Me Yesterday. Then at Beggars Banquet in 1968, he sings the first verse of Salt of the earth, which also ends the album.
In 1972 on Exile on the main street, he holds the spittoon on the energetic Happy, and in 1973 on Goats Head Soup, he tries to play the crooners on the honeyed Coming down again. Other songs would follow in the following years and decades, but if we were to remember only one sung by Keith, it would be without hesitation the magnificent You got the sliver on the album Let it bleed in 1969. A ballad dedicated to his love of the moment, and mother of his first three children, Anita Pallenberg. The first song that Keith sings entirely alone, the two previous ones being in duet with Jagger.
And even a bass player
Keith Richards played bass on many Rolling Stones tracks (2000 light-years from home, Sympathy for the Devil, Street Fighting man, Live With Me, many of the tracks from Exile on Main Street). But his most notorious participation as a bass player indeed remains that within the "Dirty Mac" quartet, a temporary group composed of John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix's drummer) and thus Keith on bass, for the show "Rock'nRoll Circus" in December 1968.
The ultimate rock icon
Some of his tasty aphorisms
- "The only things Mick and I disagree on are the band, the music, and what we do."
- "You have the sun, you have the moon, you have the air you breathe - and you have the Rolling Stones."
- "Good music comes from people playing together, knowing what they want to do and going for it. You have to sweat and give yourself to death. You can't do it by pressing buttons and watching a TV screen."
- "Doctors told me I had six months to live, and I went to their funerals."
- "If you don't know the blues... It doesn't make sense to take your guitar and play rock and roll or any kind of popular music."
- "I have never had a problem with drugs. I've had problems with the police."
- "Give me a guitar, give me a piano, give me a broom and a string; I won't be bored anywhere."
- "My hair's never been cut by anyone; I do it myself."
- "I only get sick when I give up drugs."
- "To make a rock'n'roll record, technology is the least important thing."
- "Yes, I have been bitten. It's an exciting experience, especially for my neurosurgeon who saw my thoughts flying through my brain."
His look and his immediately recognizable hoarse voice, his pathetic and classy look have made him a rock icon. Johnny Depp admits that he was heavily influenced by him to create his character of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, especially for the kohl around the eyes. In return, Richards played his father in the 3rd episode :
An experience that visibly inspired Beatle Paul McCartney to attempt the adventure in the 5th film of the series.
A discreet solo career
Unlike his alter ego Mick Jagger, Keith Richards did not seek the limelight solo. Only 4 almost confidential albums (3 studios and 1 live), mainly appreciated by the guitarist's fans:
- 1988 : Talk Is Cheap
- 1991 : Live at the Hollywood Palladium
- 1992 : Main Offender
- 2015 : Crosseyed Heart
It is for him the opportunity to play the blues with his buddies, a group of musicians nicknamed "The X-Pensive Winos". A music that doesn't revolutionize the genre, but where you feel the real pleasure of playing, without the pressure of the "biggest rock band in the world".
His 1st solo album Talk is cheap re-released
Two of the unpublished ones have already been revealed:
The Super Deluxe Edition
The super deluxe edition proposes an original packaging: a wooden case, aged by the Custom Shop Fender, which used the same wood, the same plastic and the same metal as those present on its famous Telecaster "Micawber"!
A collector's item, in the image of this rock'n'roll legend, who, tirelessly, leaves on an American tour for 16 dates from April 20 to June 25, 2019, with those who are no longer presented, the self-proclaimed "greatest rock band in the world": The Rolling Stones.
"I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish by being in the Rolling Stones and making records."