Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keith Richards' Incredible Life

“I get an incredible raging glee when they (the audience) get out of their seats.”
 - Keith Richards

LifeIt’s conversational. Keith is telling his stories to you.  I felt like I was in a bar talking with him about pieces of his life. The book is aptly titled:  Life.  It’s solidly assembled.  That credit may go to co-author James Fox.  (Note: I thought this book flowed, others in my book club though it was all over the place.  I’m not sure if my years of working with musicians, has led to me to think like they do, but I had no problem following this book.)

Keith’s enthusiasm for music is what really drives Life.   He’s still curious about styles, about improving his playing and finding out what’s next. He’s insightful and observant.  Nothing is a better example of this than his take on the music business.  “It’s the sleaziest business without being a gangster.”  This guy has seen it all and this is what he deduces.

The biggest statement he makes in the book is “We turned American people back on to their own music. And that’s probably our greatest contribution to music.” It’s a humble quote from a member of one of the greatest rock and roll bands. 

As hoped for Keith takes you through the writing of songs such as Satisfaction and Tumbling Dice. “Great songs write themselves.”  I’ve heard this from other musicians.

The slices of life from his early days are eye opening in a cultural way. Keith kept diaries and the reader benefits from it.  His Aunt Patty saved letters he wrote to her, which included a description of the first time he met Mick. He credits the Boy Scouts with building his self-esteem.

He thought Americans were brash and extremely self-confident, but that’s not what The Rolling Stones experienced on their first tours here.  He sensed that Americans were insecure.  His band had longer hair, spoke with British accents and dressed differently.  “The only hostility I can recall on a constant basis was from white people.  You got the impression you were a threat.” I recently watched an interview with Leiber and Stoller who said the same thing Keith did, that the blacks embraced them and were more at ease.  Both camps are big blues fans.

There is a bit of guitar-speak in the beginning third of the book. Even though I used to play guitar, I had no idea what he was talking about.  He is Keith Richards, so it’s necessary that this be part of the book. It should not discourage a non-player from reading Life.

Having been a manager, I love that he is so dedicated and loyal to his manager Jane Rose.  She’s done right by him and he appreciates it.  He credits her with helping him kick his heroin habit. 

Miscellaneous anecdotes which I found to be interesting and surprising:

  • Bobby Goldsboro (of Honey fame) showed him an elusive guitar trick.
  • Ronnie (Spector) Bennett took Keith to see James Brown at the Apollo Theater.  The discipline in James Brown’s band impressed him more than anything.
  • Wilson Pickett used to keep shotguns on both sides of the stage.
  • Jumping Jack Flash was named after his gardener.  What you hear on the record is acoustic guitars recorded on a cassette.  It’s his favorite riff. 

Keith also talks about his relationships with band members, his family and his crew. He is not shy about telling it like it is.  Mick Jagger is taken to task a few times. 

Somehow after all Keith has been through, he doesn’t come off as crazy as I was expecting.  He’s well aware of his surroundings and circumstances. He’s very loyal to friends and family.  Most people think he has more lives than a cat.  His longevity must be attributed to the strict regiment he adheres to before a tour. “All I do to train and preserve energy is keep breathing”.

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