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Keith Richards, Mr Rock n Roll, by Otto Luck

Good morning, Mr. Richards, your transfusion is ready. Would you care for a spot of tea with that?

What's that you say, Keith? You'd rather have a stiff shot of bourbon? But, of course ... you can have anything you want. After all, you are Mr. Rock & Roll.

In the Beginning ...

I don't know when I first heard the phrase "Mr. Rock & Roll" being applied to Keith Richards. Maybe it was in Circus or Creem magazine. Or maybe I just woke up with it in my brain one day the way Keith woke up in a Clearwater hotel on the morning of May 9th, 1965 with the riff from "Satisfaction" swirling through his head. As legend has it, Mr. R & R immediately recorded the riff on a cassette player he kept at bedside, and the rest is history. "You can hear me drop the pick and the rest of the tape is me snoring," says Keith. "The only way I found it again was, the next morning I checked out my gear, and the tape was at the wrong end. It had played all the way through."

Satisfaction launched the subsequent international stardom of Richards and the Rolling Stones. What was to follow was a long, successful but somewhat turbulent career. Drug-related arrests in 1967, 1973 and 1978 seemed to spell the end for Mr. Rock & Roll in the eyes of many. But somehow he always came through with his neck intact. That is the magic of Keith Richards, that he survives through all he does, no matter how dangerous, no matter how bad the odds.

The Keith Richards School of Rock & Roll

  

Mr. Rock & Roll, who has made New York City his main stomping ground in recent years, has laid down the prototype for generations of wannabe rock guitarists. The list of disciples includes Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Johnny Thunders, Slash, and Mick Jones from the Clash. The lure and mystic of the guitar hero and his place as the cooler, more enigmatic half of the lead guitarist-vocalist rock & roll duo was pretty much hatched, cultivated and exploited to its max by Richards.

Keith Richards' legend is large and well documented. Among the grab bag of escapades one can choose from are the endless binges during which Mr. Rock & Roll remained awake for two to three days straight only to crash on a table somewhere in the same garb he'd started off with a half-week earlier. Or one can reminisce on Keith's rat hunting sojourns in the moats that surrounded his Redlands estate in West Whittering, England. Last but not least are Mr. R & R's subsonic car rides in his Bentley S Touring Continental during which Richards appeared to have had much contact with the occasional solid object. "He was incredible," a friend commented. "He'd just bounce off everything. He just didn't care. We'd all be sitting there in the car and everybody would say, ‘Oh, I think we just hit a tree.'"

None of this really matters though, does it. What qualifies Richards as a living legend is the fact that he's the best rhythm guitarist that's hit the 20th century. Sure, there are many who can easily outsling Keith on lead – but on rhythm, he's the king, hand's down. Got any doubts, take a listen to "Honky Tonk Woman." It wouldn't sound quite the same with Eddie Van Halen on the rhythm track now would it.

And Then There Were Four

Thirty years after Richards dreamed up "Satisfaction" in a Florida hotel room, he and the Rolling Stones continue to chug along, albeit without original member Bill Wyman on bass. The only problem with some of their recent material is that a lot of it pretty much sucks. But if the Stones were to call it a day tomorrow (a suggestion that has been voiced by many), their repertoire and rich history would serve them well – even if it has managed to leave a few casualties in its wake, Brian Jones and legendary country singer Gram Parsons, to name a few. Richards explains this best himself: "The Rolling Stones destroy people at an alarming rate. Something about us makes them come face-to-face with themselves, sometimes for the better, sometimes in the worst possible way."

To which we say, keep on cranking, Mr. Rock & Roll, you haven't killed us yet – although we're not entirely sure you're looking so good yourself. Then again, you haven't been, for the past 20 or 30 years, have you.

October 1996


More Rolling Stones on NY Rock

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