Keith Richards (born 18 December 1943) is an English guitarist, songwriter, singer, record producer and a founding member of The Rolling Stones. As a guitarist, Keith is mostly known for his innovative rhythm playing. In 2003 he was ranked 10th on Rolling Stone magazine's "Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". With songwriting partner and Rolling Stones lead vocalist Mick Jagger, Keith has written and recorded hundreds of songs, fourteen of which are listed by Rolling Stone magazine among the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
Keith Richards, the only child of Bert Keith and Doris Dupree Richards, was born in Dartford, Kent. He is of Welsh and French Huguenot ancestry. His father was a factory labourer who was slightly injured during World War II.
Richards's paternal grandparents were socialists and civic leaders. His maternal grandfather (Augustus Theodore Dupree), who toured Britain in a jazz big band called Gus Dupree and his Boys, was an early influence on Richards's musical ambitions and got him interested in playing guitar.
Richards's mother introduced him to the music of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and bought him his first guitar — a Rosetti acoustic — for seven pounds. His father was less encouraging: "Every time the poor guy came in at night," Keith says, "he'd find me sitting at the top of the stairs with my guitar, playing and banging on the wall for percussion. He was great about it really. He'd only mutter, 'Stop that bloody noise.'" Richards's first guitar hero was Scotty Moore.
Keith attended Wentworth Primary School, as did Mick Jagger; the two knew each other as schoolboys, and lived in the same neighbourhood until Richards's family moved to another part of Dartford in 1954. From 1955 to 1959 Keith attended Dartford Technical School (now named Wilmington Grammar School), where choirmaster Jake Clair noticed his singing voice and recruited him into the school choir. As one of a trio of boy sopranos Keith sang (among other performances) at Westminster Abbey in front of Queen Elizabeth II - an experience that he has called his "first taste of show biz."
In 1959, Keith was expelled from Dartford Technical School for truancy, and the headmaster suggested he would be more at home at the art college in the neighbouring town of Sidcup. At Sidcup Art College Keith devoted his time to playing guitar after he heard American blues artists like Little Walter and Big Bill Broonzy. He swapped a pile of records for his first electric guitar, a hollow-body Höfner cutaway. Fellow Sidcup student and future musical colleague Dick Taylor recalls, "There was a lot of music being played at Sidcup, and we'd go into the empty classrooms and fool around with our guitars. ... Even in those days Keith could play most of Chuck Berry's solos." Taylor also remembers Keith experimenting with various drugs at Sidcup: "In order to stay up late with our music and still get to Sidcup in the morning, Keith and I were on a pretty steady diet of pep pills, which not only kept us awake but gave us a lift. We took all kinds of things - pills that girls took for menstruation, inhalers like Nostrilene, and other stuff. Opposite the college there was this little park with an aviary that had a cockatoo in it. Cocky the Cockatoo we used to call it. Keith used to feed it pep pills and make it stagger around on its perch. If ever we were feeling bored we'd go and give another upper to Cocky."
One morning in 1961, on the train journey from Dartford to Sidcup, Keith happened to get into the same carriage as Mick Jagger, who was then a student at the London School of Economics. They recognized each other and began talking about the LPs Jagger had with him - blues and rhythm & blues albums he had acquired by mail-order from America. Keith was surprised and impressed that Jagger not only shared his enthusiasm for Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters but also that he owned such LPs which were extremely rare in Britain at the time. The two discovered that they had a mutual friend in Dick Taylor, with whom Jagger was singing in an amateur band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. Jagger invited Keith to a rehearsal and soon afterwards Keith also joined the line-up. The group disbanded after Jagger, Keith and Taylor met Brian Jones and Ian Stewart, with whom they went on to form The Rolling Stones (Taylor left the band in November 1962 to return to art school).
By mid-1962 Keith had left Sidcup Art College in favour of pursuing his fledgling musical career and moved into a London flat with Jagger and Jones. His parents divorced about the same time. Keith maintained close ties with his mother, who was very supportive of his musical activities, but he became estranged from his father and didn't resume contact with him until 1982.
In 1963 Keith dropped the "s" from his name and used the professional name "Keith Richard", which Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham considered more suitable as a show business name.
Richards's guitar playing shows his fascination with chords, his love of rhythm guitar, and his assumed role of catalyst to spur the band while he is, in his words, "oiling the machinery". He conspicuously avoids attempts at virtuosity, which he calls "the fastest-gun-in-the-west sort of thing". Chuck Berry has been a constant inspiration for Keith throughout his career. His first band Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys played many Berry numbers, and Jagger and Keith were largely responsible for bringing Berry and Bo Diddley covers into The Rolling Stones' early repertoire. Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters records were another early source of inspiration, and the basis for the style of interwoven lead and rhythm guitar that Keith developed with Brian Jones. Jones' replacement guitarist Mick Taylor worked with The Rolling Stones from 1969 to 1974. Though Keith enjoyed and worked well with him, Taylor's virtuosity at lead guitar led to a pronounced separation between lead and rhythm guitar roles, notably onstage. In 1975 Taylor was replaced by Ronnie Wood, marking a return to the style of guitar interplay that he and Keith call "the ancient art of weaving". Keith has said the years with Wood have been his most musically satisfying period in the Rolling Stones.
During the 1967/68 break in the Rolling Stones' touring, Keith began experimenting with open tunings. These tunings were most commonly used for slide guitar, but Keith explored their use in rhythm playing, developing an innovative and distinctive style of syncopated and ringing I-IV chording that can be heard on "Street Fighting Man" and "Start Me Up". He particularly favours a five-string variant of open G tuning (borrowed from Don Everly of the Everly Brothers), using GDGBD unencumbered by a low 6th string; several of his Telecasters are tuned this way, and this tuning is prominent on numerous Rolling Stones tracks, including "Honky Tonk Women", "Brown Sugar" and "Start Me Up". Keith uses standard 6-string tuning as well, but his experimentations in open tunings have coloured how he plays in standard tuning. In the late 1960s, Brian Jones's declining interest in guitar left Keith to record all of the guitar parts on many tracks, including slide guitar, which had been Jones's speciality in the band's early years.
Keith — who owns over 1000 guitars, some of which he has not played but was simply given — is often associated with the Fender Telecaster, particularly with two 1950s Telecasters outfitted with Gibson PAF humbucker pickups in the neck position. Also notable was the 1959 Bigsby-equipped sunburst Les Paul that he acquired in 1964, which was the first "star owned" Les Paul in Britain. Since 1997 a Bigsby-equipped ebony Gibson ES-355 has served as one of his main stage guitars. Even though Keith has used many different guitar models, in a 1986 Guitar World interview he joked that no matter what model he plays, "give me five minutes and I'll make 'em all sound the same."
In 1965 Keith used a Gibson Maestro fuzzbox to achieve the distinctive tone of his riff on "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"; the success of the resulting single boosted the sales of the device to the extent that all available stock had sold out by the end of 1965. In the 1970s and early 1980s Keith frequently used guitar effects such as a wah-wah pedal, a phaser and a Leslie speaker, but he mainly relies on combining "the right amp with the right guitar" to achieve the sound he wants.
Keith considers acoustic guitar to be the basis for his playing, and has said: "Every guitar player should play acoustic at home. No matter what else you do, if you don't keep up your acoustic work you're never going to get the full potential out of an electric, because you lose that touch." Richards's acoustic guitar is featured on tracks throughout the Rolling Stones' career, including hits like "Not Fade Away", "Brown Sugar", "Beast of Burden" and "Almost Hear You Sigh". All the guitars on the studio version of "Street Fighting Man" are Keith on acoustic, distorted by overloading a small cassette recorder microphone, a technique also used on "Jumping Jack Flash".
Richards's backing vocals appear on every Rolling Stones album; and on most albums since Between the Buttons (1967), he has sung lead or co-lead on at least one track (see list below). Keith views the vocal training he got in his choirboy days as part of his professional arsenal, and has said of his own singing: "It's not the most beautiful voice in the world anymore, but the Queen liked it, when it was at its best ... It's not been my job, singing, but to me, if you're gonna write songs, you've got to know how to sing."
On stage, Keith began taking a regular lead-vocal turn in 1972, singing "Happy" (from the album Exile on Main Street). "Happy" has become viewed as one of Richards's signature songs, featured on most Rolling Stones tours ever since, as well as on both of Richards's solo tours. From 1972 to 1982, Keith routinely took one lead-vocal turn during Rolling Stones concerts; since 1989 he has normally sung lead on two numbers per show. Each of the band's studio albums since Dirty Work (1986) have also featured Richards's lead vocals on at least two tracks. During concerts on the two final legs (autumn 2006 and summer 2007) of The Rolling Stones' Bigger Bang Tour, Keith set his guitar aside to sing his 1969 ballad "You Got the Silver" without self-accompaniment. Prior to that he had occasionally switched from guitar to keyboards in concert, but these concerts were the first time since his choirboy days that Keith appeared on stage armed with only his voice.
Keith has played bass on about two dozen Rolling Stones studio recordings, from "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" (1966) through "Infamy" (2005). One unusual instance was when he and Bill Wyman joined forces to play the bowed double bass on "Ruby Tuesday" (1967) — Wyman did the fingerboard work while Keith manned the bow. The rest of Richards's bass-playing contributions have been on tracks including "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1968), "Sympathy for the Devil" (1968), "Live With Me" (1969), "Before They Make Me Run" (1978), "Sleep Tonight" (1986) and "Brand New Car" (1994). He has also played bass on stage on a couple of occasions: with The Dirty Mac in 1968 (see "Recordings with other artists", below) and on "Sympathy for the Devil" at a Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden in June 1975.
Richards's keyboard playing has also been featured on several Rolling Stones tracks, including "She Smiled Sweetly" (1967), "Memory Motel" (1976), "All About You" (1980), "Thru and Thru" (1994) and "This Place Is Empty" (2005), among others. He sometimes composes on piano — "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" and "Let's Spend the Night Together" are two early examples; and he's said of his keyboard playing: "Maybe I'm a little more accomplished now — to me it's just a way of getting out of always using one instrument to write." Keith played keyboards on stage at two 1974 concerts with Ronnie Wood, and on The New Barbarians' tour in 1979; and 1977 and 1981 studio sessions featuring his piano and vocals have been well documented, though never officially released.
Keith has also contributed percussion to a few Rolling Stones tracks, including the floor tom on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and bicycle spokes on "Continental Drift" (1989).
Keith and Jagger collaborated on songs in 1963, following the nearby example of the Beatles' Lennon/McCartney and the encouragement of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who saw little future for a cover band. The earliest Jagger/Keith collaborations were recorded by other artists, including Gene Pitney, whose rendition of "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" was their first top-ten single in the UK. Keith recalls: "We were writing these terrible pop songs that were becoming Top 10 hits. ... They had nothing to do with us, except we wrote 'em."
The Rolling Stones' first top-ten hit with a Jagger/Keith original was "The Last Time" (1965); "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (also 1965) was their first international #1 recording. (Keith has stated that the "Satisfaction" riff came to him in his sleep; he woke up just long enough to record it on a cassette player by his bed.) Since Aftermath (1966) most Rolling Stones albums have consisted mainly of Jagger/Keith originals. Their songs reflect the influence of blues, R&B, rock & roll, pop, soul, gospel and country, as well as forays into psychedelia and Dylanesque social commentary. Their work in the 1970s and beyond has incorporated elements of funk, disco, reggae and punk. Keith has also written and recorded slow torchy ballads, such as "All About You" (1980).
In his solo career, Keith has often shared co-writing credits with drummer and co-producer Steve Jordan. Keith has said: "I've always thought songs written by two people are better than those written by one. You get another angle on it."
Keith has frequently stated that he feels less like a creator than a conduit when writing songs: "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."
Keith was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1993. According to britishhitsongwriters.com he is the twenty-fifth most successful songwriter in UK singles chart history, based on the number of weeks that compositions he has cowritten have spent on the charts.
Keith has been active as a record producer since the 1960s. He was credited as producer and musical director on the 1966 album Today's Pop Symphony, one of manager Andrew Loog Oldham's side projects, although there are doubts about how much Keith was actually involved with it. On the Rolling Stones' 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request the entire band was credited as producer, but since 1974, Keith and Mick Jagger have frequently co-produced Rolling Stones and other artists' records under the joint name "The Glimmer Twins", often in collaboration with other producers.
Since the 1980s Keith has chalked up numerous production and co-production credits on projects with other artists including Aretha Franklin, Johnnie Johnson and Ronnie Spector, as well as on his own albums with the X-Pensive Winos (see below). In the 1990s Keith co-produced and added guitar and vocals to a recording of nyabinghi Rastafarian chanting and drumming entitled Wingless Angels, released on Richards's own record label, Mindless Records, in 1997.
Generally resisting sustained ventures outside of The Rolling Stones, Keith has released few solo recordings. In 1978 he released his first solo single: renditions of Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" and Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come". In 1987, after Jagger had put The Rolling Stones on hold in order to promote his solo albums, Keith formed the X-pensive Winos with new co-writer Steve Jordan, who had drummed on some tracks on Dirty Work and in the band Keith assembled for the documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (see below).
Besides Steve Jordan, the X-pensive Winos included Sarah Dash, Waddy Wachtel, Bobby Keys, Ivan Neville and Charley Drayton. Their first album, Talk Is Cheap (which also featured session musicians Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker), went gold and has remained a consistent seller. It spawned a brief US tour - one of only two that Keith has done as a solo artist. The first tour is documented on the Virgin release Live at the Hollywood Palladium, December 15, 1988. In 1992 Main Offender was released, and following a "warm-up concert" in Buenos Aires, the X-Pensive Winos (including a new member, backing vocalist Babi Floyd) toured Europe and North America.
During the 1960s most of Richards's recordings with artists other than The Rolling Stones were sessions for Andrew Oldham's Immediate Records label. Notable exceptions were when Richards, along with Mick Jagger and numerous other guests, sang on The Beatles' 1967 TV broadcast of "All You Need Is Love"; and when he played bass with John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and Mitch Mitchell as The Dirty Mac for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus TV special, filmed in 1968.
In the 1970s Keith worked outside The Rolling Stones with Ronnie Wood on several occasions, contributing guitar, piano and vocals to Wood's first two solo albums and joining him on stage for two July 1974 concerts to promote I've Got My Own Album to Do. In December 1974 Keith also made a guest appearance at a Faces concert. In 1976-77 Keith played on and co-produced John Phillips' solo recording Pay, Pack & Follow (released in 2001). In 1979 he toured the U.S. with The New Barbarians, the band that Wood put together to promote his album Gimme Some Neck; he and Wood also contributed guitar and backing vocals to "Truly" on Ian McLagan's 1979 album Troublemaker (re-released in 2005 as Here Comes Trouble).
Since the 1980s Keith has made more frequent guest appearances. In 1981 he played on reggae singer Max Romeo's album Holding Out My Love to You. He has worked with Tom Waits on two occasions, adding guitar and backing vocals to Waits's 1985 album Rain Dogs, and co-writing, playing and sharing the lead vocal on "That Feel" on Bone Machine (1992). In 1986 Keith produced and played on Aretha Franklin's rendition of "Jumping Jack Flash" and served as musical producer and band leader (or as he phrased it "S&M director") for the Chuck Berry film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll.
In the 1990s and 2000s Keith has continued to contribute to a wide range of musical projects as a guest artist. A few of the notable sessions he has done include guitar and vocals on Johnnie Johnson's 1991 release Johnnie B. Bad, which he also co-produced; and lead vocals and guitar on "Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me" on the 1992 Charles Mingus tribute album Weird Nightmare. He duetted with country legend George Jones on "Say It's Not You" on the Bradley Barn Sessions (1994); a second duet from the same sessions - "Burn Your Playhouse Down" — appeared on Jones' 2008 release Burn Your Playhouse Down — The Unreleased Duets. He partnered with Levon Helm on "Deuce and a Quarter" for Scotty Moore's album All the King's Men (1997). His guitar and lead vocals are featured on the Hank Williams tribute album Timeless (2001) and on veteran blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin's album About Them Shoes (2005). Keith also added guitar and vocals to Toots & the Maytals' recording of "Careless Ethiopians" for their 2004 album True Love and to their re-recording of "Pressure Drop", which came out in 2007 as the b-side to Richards's iTunes re-release of "Run Rudolph Run".
In 2006 The Rolling Stones released Rarities 1971-2003, which includes some rare and limited-issue recordings, but Keith has described the band's released output as the "tip of the iceberg". Many of the band's unreleased songs and studio jam sessions are widely bootlegged, as are numerous Keith solo recordings, including his 1977 Toronto studio sessions, some 1981 studio sessions and tapes made during his 1983 wedding trip to Mexico.
Richards, who has been frank about his habits, has earned notoriety for his decadent outlaw persona. Rock critic Nick Kent summed up his 1970s image: "Keith Richards was the big Lord Byron figure. He was mad, bad, and dangerous to know." In 1994 Keith said of this image: "It's something you drag around behind you like a long shadow ... Even though that was nearly twenty years ago, you cannot convince some people that I'm not a mad drug addict. So I've still got that image in my baggage."
Keith has been tried on drug-related charges five times: in 1967, twice in 1973, in 1977 and in 1978. The first trial - the only one involving a prison sentence — resulted from a February 1967 police raid on Redlands, Richards's Sussex estate, where he and some friends, including Jagger, were spending the weekend. The subsequent arrest of Keith and Jagger put them on trial before the court of public opinion and Her Majesty. On 29 June Jagger was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for possession of four amphetamine tablets; Keith was found guilty of allowing cannabis to be smoked on his property and sentenced to one year in prison. Both Jagger and Keith were imprisoned at that point, but were released on bail the next day pending appeal. On 1 July The Times ran an editorial entitled "Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?", portraying Jagger's sentence as persecution, and public sentiment against the convictions increased. A month later the appeals court overturned Richards's conviction for lack of evidence, while Jagger was given a conditional discharge.
The most serious charges Keith faced resulted from his arrest on 27 February 1977 at Toronto's Harbour Castle Hotel (R. v. Keith (1979), 49 C.C.C. (2d) 517), when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found him in possession of "22 grams of heroin". Keith was originally charged with "possession of heroin for the purpose of trafficking" — an offence that under the Criminal Code of Canada can result in prison sentences of seven years to life. His passport was confiscated and Keith and his family remained in Toronto until 1 April, when Keith was allowed to enter the United States on a medical visa for treatment for heroin addiction. The charge against him was later reduced to "simple possession of heroin".
For the next two years, Keith lived under threat of criminal sanction. Throughout this period he remained active with The Rolling Stones, recording their biggest-selling studio album, Some Girls, and touring North America. Keith was tried in October 1978, pleading guilty to possession of heroin. He was given a suspended sentence and put on probation for one year, with orders to continue treatment for heroin addiction and to perform a benefit concert on behalf of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Although the prosecution had filed an appeal of the sentence, Keith performed two CNIB benefit concerts at Oshawa Civic Auditorium on 22 April 1979; both shows featured The Rolling Stones and The New Barbarians. In September 1979 the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the original sentence.
Later in 1979, Keith met future wife, model Patti Hansen. They married on 18 December 1983, Richards's 40th birthday, and have two daughters, Theodora and Alexandra, born in 1985 and 1986 respectively.
Keith maintains cordial relations with Italian born actress Anita Pallenberg, the mother of his first three children; although they were never married, Keith and Pallenberg were a couple from 1967 to 1979. Together they have a son, Marlon (named after the actor Marlon Brando), born in 1969, and a daughter, Angela (originally named Dandelion), born in 1972. Their third child, a boy named Tara (after Richards's friend Tara Browne), died on 6 June 1976, less than three months after his birth.
Keith still owns Redlands, the Sussex estate he purchased in 1966, as well as a home in Weston, Connecticut and another in Turks & Caicos. He is an avid reader with a strong interest in history and owns an extensive library.
On 27 April 2006, Richards, while in Fiji, suffered a head injury after falling out of a tree; he subsequently underwent cranial surgery at a New Zealand hospital. The incident caused a six-week delay in launching The Rolling Stones' 2006 European tour and the rescheduling of several shows; the revised tour schedule included a brief statement from Keith apologising for "falling off his perch". The band made up most of the postponed dates in 2006, and toured Europe in the summer of 2007 to make up the remainder.
In August 2006 Keith was granted a pardon by Arkansas governor (and former Republican Presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee for a 1975 reckless driving citation.
On 12 March 2007 Keith attended the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony to induct The Ronettes; he also played guitar during the ceremony's all-star jam.
In an April 2007 interview for NME magazine, music journalist Mark Beaumont asked Keith what the strangest thing he ever snorted was, and quoted him as replying: "My father. I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn't resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn't have cared ... It went down pretty well, and I'm still alive." In the media uproar that followed, Richards's manager said that the anecdote had been meant as a joke; Beaumont told Uncut magazine that the interview had been conducted by telephone and that he had misquoted Keith at one point (reporting that Keith had said he listens to Motörhead, when what he had said was Mozart), but that he believed the ash-snorting anecdote was true. Keith later confirmed in an interview with Mojo magazine that he had, in fact, snorted his father's ashes — with no cocaine mixed in — before burying them under an oak tree: "I said I'd chopped him up like cocaine, not with. I opened his box up and ... out comes a bit of dad on the dining room table. I'm going, 'I can't use a brush and dustpan for this.'"
Doris Richards, the guitarist's 91-year-old mother, died of cancer in England on 21 April 2007. An official statement released by a Keith representative stated that Richards, her only child, kept a vigil by her bedside during her last days.
Keith made a cameo appearance as Captain Teague, the father of Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp), in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, released in May 2007, and won the Best Celebrity Cameo award at the 2007 Spike Horror Awards for the role. Depp has stated that he based many of Sparrow's mannerisms on Richards.
In August 2007 Keith signed a publishing deal for his autobiography, scheduled to come out in 2010.
In March 2008 fashion house Louis Vuitton unveiled an advertising campaign featuring a photo of Keith with his ebony Gibson ES-355, taken by photographer Annie Leibovitz. Keith donated the fee for his involvement to The Climate Project, an organization for raising environmental awareness.
On 28 October 2008 Keith appeared at the Musicians' Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, joining the newly-inducted Crickets on stage for performances of "Peggy Sue", "Not Fade Away" and "That'll Be the Day"..
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