Happy Birthday Keith!

Keef turns seventy today (which is December 18th….pay no attention to that balloon on your left which claims it is the 19th!)

I must confess, he is a hero of mine. A founding member of the Rolling Stones. He had sex with Ronnie Bennett, aka Ronnie Spector before she was Ronnie Spector! He survived a long term heroin addiction, and said he never had a drug problem, only a police problem! Just so much cooler than Mick in every way. Mick was a pretty, pretty boy. And he could sing. And, of course, both he and Keith could write great songs. But Mick Jagger copped all of his stage moves directly from James Brown. Keith Richards, on the other hand, while paying tribute to his blues and rock and roll elders, was a true original. Even his heritage is cool (his family were Labor Party pioneers back in the day). And he cares so much more about the music than Mick, who is really all about the fame and the money. This can be seen in their respective solo careers…the less said about Mick’s the better, whereas Keith’s was critically and popularly acclaimed.

I saw Keith and his X-Pensive Winos perform at the Beacon Theater on the upper west side back in the nineties, and they were fantastic! What a great band he put together! Steve Jordan, Waddy Wachtell, Bobby Keys, Ivan Neville, etc…..not afraid at all to have younger, perhaps more virtuosic, musicians on stage with him. The girl I was dating, who was a classical musician, loved the music! As did the corny, folky woman I carpooled to work with, and the twenty something girl who owned the car! I also saw Keith’s and Ronnie Wood’s band, The New Barbarians, at Madison Square Garden back in 1979, but that is like a dream to me now. My cousin and I, who had cheap tickets, jumped over the barrier when the guards weren’t looking and made our way down to the front. All I can recall is us STANDING on the armrests of the seats in like, the third row, waiving our arms, clapping our hands, jumping up and down, and screaming our heads off! Saw the Stones in big, stadium venues a couple of times in 1978 and the early ’80’s, but, by then, their live shows had become a kinda rip off. Tearing through all the songs as quickly as possible, no stage presence, no connection with the audience, no slowing down and doing a ballad and then building to a crescendo. Just get it all out there, mostly new songs from the new album, and get it done, in 90 minutes or less, with a perfunctory encore.

I recommend the bluesy, Mick Taylor on lead guitar, Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet, and Sticky Fingers albums from the late 60’s and early 70’s, as far as Rolling Stones records go. Better than their poppy stuff from the early and mid sixties, although some of the really early stuff, where Brian Jones plays harmonica and Mick actually plays some guitar and tambourine, is really pretty cool, like cleaned up and speeded up R and B.

The next album after Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street (1972) is a diamond in the rough. The songs themselves are great, and it might have been their best ever, if not for the incredibly muddled and muddy mixing. But there is good stuff right on through Some Girls in 1978. After that, in my view, most Rolling Stones albums ain’t much. The first Keith/Winos record, Talk Is Cheap, is excellent, and the second one, Main Offender, is pretty good too.

As for “Keith songs,” ie Rolling Stones songs where Keith sings, try, in no particular order, Before They Make Me Run, She’s My Little Rock and Roll, Happy, You Got the Silver, Hang Fire, and his backup vocals on Memory Motel.

Also, his auto bio, “Life,” is a real hoot too.


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