Is Rocker Keith Richards the Prince of Punk?

Keith Richards in 2006
Keith Richards in 2006

Keith Richards is a rock and roll survivor

 

Over the years and decades, much has been reported about Keith Richards, and much of that hasn’t been flattering. Richards has been called just about every foul name one can imagine and, perhaps more damning, he’s rarely apologized for any transgression actual or perceived. In fact, Richards has said, “I don’t regret nothin’!”

You might wonder: Even the drug busts, Keith? In the 1960s and ‘70s Richards may have been busted more times than any other rocker in history. Back in those days, comedians made jokes about the number and nature of Richards’ various busts.

In spite of the busts or because of them – who knows? - Keith Richards, along with the rest of the Rolling Stones, produced some of the greatest hits of the rock ‘n’ roll genre. No rock and roll enthusiast can forget this list of immortal tunes: “The Last Time,” “Satisfaction,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” "Street Fighting Man," “Gimme Shelter,” “Let It Bleed,” “Brown Sugar” and many others.

It took talent to write all those tunes – and plenty of attitude, those pursed lips, struts, waving arms and whatever else constitutes “punkishness.” So let’s explore the career of Keith Richards to see if he truly is the Prince of Punk.

Please note that unless otherwise shown, all quotes for this article come from Christopher Sandford’s book, Keith Richards: Satisfaction, published in 2003.

Richards in 1965
Richards in 1965

When Rock Was Young

 

Keith Richards was born during the German Blitz in December 1943, in a town called Dartford. Ten years later, Richards’ sang soprano in the school choir, sounding very good on Handel’s Messiah.

As a teenager, Richards listened to hoochy-koochy music on the radio. When he expressed interest in a music career, his father told him, “You’ll never make a penny out of jungle music.” Richards also loved the jazz of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine and Louis Armstrong. He also couldn’t get enough of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. In 1956, Richards first heard rock ‘n’ roll – Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” which whacked England like a tsunami.

As a teenager, Richards enrolled in art school along with other future rockers such as John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, David Bowie and Ray Davies. Along the line, he also traded a stack of records for his first electric guitar, and then taught himself songs such as Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.”

Soon, Richards joined a band, the Human Riff, which played its first gig at a scout hall in 1960. The band played lots of country and western, very popular in England at the time. They did what they could with Elvis’ “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” While playing music in those days, Richards didn’t feel confident. “I always felt like my fly was open,” he said.

Enter the Rollin’ Stones


In the autumn of 1961, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, having known each other as kids, met again at a train station. Jagger was studying at the London School of Economics. Richards and Jagger began playing music together, bonding over the likes of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters.

Weeks later, at an Alex Korner concert, Richards and Jagger met blues guitarist Elmo Lewis, aka Brian Jones. Seeing Jones play slide guitar with virtuosity, Richards exclaimed to Jagger, “That guy’s a star!” Richards would eventually call Jones “a weird bunch of guys” and a “contradiction in blond.” And later, Jones’ shrink would state: “This individual vacillates between a passive, pathetically weak child on the one hand, and a pop idol on the other.”

The trio decided to form a rhythm and blues band which, in its earliest stages included pianist Ian Stewart, bassist Dick Taylor and drummer Tony Chapman. The band’s first gig was at the Marquee Club on July 12, 1962. They took the stage billed as Mick Jagger and the Rollin’ Stones. Brian Jones named the band after a song by Muddy Waters. By March of the following year, the Rollin’ Stones began attracting their first fans and groupies, particularly while playing at the famous – though very small - Crawdaddy Club.

Former Beatles’ publicist Andrew Oldham signed the band to a management deal in April 1963. The first thing Oldham did was shorten Keith Richards name to Richard. Oldham thought Richard sounded more Clockwork Orange , referring to the title of a popular book. (Richards would continue using that name until the late 1970s.) Oldham cut Ian Stewart from the band too. (Stewart was then made road manager and occasional pianist.) Oldham also became the band’s first record producer.

On June 7, 1963 Decca released the Rolling Stones’ first single, a Chuck Berry ditty entitled “Come On.” When Richards first got his hands on a copy of the 45, he cried, “It’s here! We’re pros now!”


Cover for the Rolling Stones first album
Cover for the Rolling Stones first album

The Clash of Egos Begins

 

When Keith Richards discovered that Brian Jones was getting a weekly bonus (£5.00) for being “headstone,” he launched stratospheric, opening a rift between him and Jones that was never bridged.

From the beginning, Richards and Jagger comprised the creative engine of the Rolling Stones, specifically Richards wrote the music, while he and Jagger fashioned the lyrics. In contrast, Brian Jones couldn’t produce marketable lyrics, only writing Tolkien-like words that didn’t impress his bandmates and went unrecorded. However, Jones’ musical prowess, particularly with the guitar and harmonica, were obvious to everyone. He seemed to have the talent to play just about any musical instrument he fancied.

Because of whom they were and the nature of the rock ‘n’ roll business, when doing gigs the Rolling Stones often got rough treatment. Richards said, “It was like they had the Battle of the Crimea going on . . . people gasping, tits hanging out. You took your life in your hands just to walk out there. I was strangled twice . . . It was climbing over rooftops, getaways down fire escapes, through laundry chutes, into bakery vans. It was all mad. We ended up like a cartoon without even realizing it.”

The Stones released their first album on April 17, 1964. Titled The Rolling Stones, the LP comprises a medley of early rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll favorites, including Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” Slim Harpo’s “King Bee,” Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” and “Carol” by Chuck Berry. There’s only one original song, “Tell Me.” The album quickly ascended to number one, selling 100,00 copies overnight and is still considered a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

The Stones Hit America

 

During the Stones’ first tour of the United States in June 1964, and after Richards got into a scuffle with a disgruntled customer backstage, he and bassist Bill Wyman bought Browning semiautomatic pistols. Richards would never again be without a handgun while touring the U.S.

At a hotel in Chicago, Illinois, Richards discovered that the maintenance man was none other than blues great Muddy Waters. Richards said, “He was painting the ceiling. He wasn’t selling records at the time, and this is the way he got treated. The man – he’s my god – and he’s out of work!”

Throughout the tour, wherever the Stones went, trouble – even riots - seemed to follow, and Keith Richards was the one who seemed ready to use his fists and/or his feet to fend off obnoxious folks and aggressors. One night at Carnegie Hall in New York City, unruly fans wouldn’t stop causing trouble. Forty-seven arrests were made, and when the curtain fell, a riot erupted.

In NYC, the fun never let up. While Richards and Jagger drove through Central Park one night, four or five men riding in a convertible called them “faggots.” Richards chased the men to the next light, jumped from his car and kicked one of the men.

On October 25, 1964, the Stones did the first of many gigs on the Ed Sullivan Show, playing “Around and Around” and “Time Is on My Side.” As the Stones performed, the switchboard at CBS lit up with the complaints of numerous outraged parents. After the show, Sullivan promised everyone the Stones wouldn’t be invited back on his show. Well, Sullivan lied.

The Stones were cursed elsewhere, even Down Under. Sydney’s Morning Herald declared the Stones to be a “blatantly wild bunch” that needed to be banned. “They’re shockers,” the article went on, “ugly looks, ugly speech and ugly manners.” Actually those insults were rather tame compared to what people often flung at them. Decent folks, those Aussies!

 

Anita Pallenberg
Anita Pallenberg
The drag queens
The drag queens

The Bucks Roll in

 

Financial genius Allen Klein became the Stones manager, replacing Andrew Oldham. Klein was known for recovering lost royalties for artists such as Bobby Darin, Bobby Vinton and Sam Cooke, and was currently handling the business affairs of folk singer Donovan. Klein promised to make the Stones millionaires within a year. By the middle of 1965 Klein got the Stones a royalty of 9.25 per cent, a rate better than the Beatles had snatched.

Soon thereafter, Richards created the signature lick for perhaps the greatest rock tune of all time – dant dant, da-da-da. Remember that one? “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” eventually became perhaps the Stones greatest hit of all time. The Stones debuted “Satisfaction” on American TV’s Shindig. And, hey, they played it live – no lip-synching!

Meanwhile, Brian Jones was causing the Stones lots of trouble. He was constantly playing Richards against Jagger, hoping for an advantage he could exploit. More times than not, he was ripped on inebriates as well, even during recording sessions and live performances, often falling asleep or passing out for long periods of time. Simply put, Brian Jones was becoming a super flake. Manager Andrew Oldham wanted to fire him.

Then Jones improved his position somewhat by bringing around Anita Pallenberg, this classy, drop-dead gorgeous blonde. Veteran of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, super model and budding movie star, Pallenberg dropped jaws wherever she went. Keith Richards was instantly enamored of her, but she was Brian’s lady, so what could he do?

Be patient, of course, which is what Richards seemingly did.

Rude or rowdy fans weren’t the only problem the Stones had to worry about while on the road. While playing at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California in December 1965, Richards touched an ungrounded microphone stand with his guitar and nearly electrocuted himself. The rubber soles on his shoes saved his life! (A fan in the crowd filmed this shocking event with an 8 mm movie camera.)

The Rolling Stones next great album was Aftermath, the first album filled with Keith Richards’ original compositions. This eclectic collection included stately ballads such as “Lady Jane,” slide guitar feasts such as “Doncha Bother Me,” and anti-feminist ones such as “Stupid Girl” and “Under My Thumb,” as well as the 12-minute-long “Going Home,” one of the long jamming tunes becoming the rage in rock. Aftermath skyrocketed to number one in the U.K. and U.S.

Now flush with cash, Richards bought a home near the sea in West Wittering, Sussex. It was called Redlands, and Richards would groove there for many years.

Developing a reputation as the band determined to shock anybody who cared, the Stones dressed as bad boys, er girls, that is, on the sleeve art for the 45, “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing in the Shadow?” After the photo shoot, the guys, still dressed in drag, went to a bar in Lower Manhattan and nobody said a word about their attire.

 

Richards in 1972
Richards in 1972
Young Anita Pallenberg
Young Anita Pallenberg

Let the Busts Commence

 

In February 1967 Richards had a party one night at Redlands. Everyone was in a good mood until the cops showed up at the door. They demanded to be let in and searched everyone - including George Harrison and his wife Patricia Boyd, as well as Marianne Faithful - and then searched the house itself. The cops found 24 heroin tablets, four pep pills in Mick Jagger’s coat and some utensils that could be considered narcotics paraphernalia. Since ownership of the heroin tablets was dubious, the owner of the house would have to take the rap.

After this drug bust, the Stones, particularly Richards and Jagger, became outcasts and, starting in April 1967, the Stones didn’t perform for the next two years. This also marked the last time the original Stones performed, as the days of Brian Jones as a Rolling Stone were numbered. Making matters even worse for himself and the Stones, Jones was busted for drug possession about the same time and given six months probation.

Richards and Jagger were eventually sentenced to jail, Richards for one year and Jagger three months. However, after spending just under 24 hours in jail, each was released on appeal. In the following July, Richards won his appeal and Jagger got 12 months probation instead of jail time.

About this time, Anita Pallenberg left Brian Jones, breaking his heart in the process, and moved in with Keith Richards. According to the book Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood, Richards said, “That was the final nail in the coffin with me and Brian. He'd never forgive me for that and I don't blame him, but hell, stuff happens."

Then Richards got a shag haircut, a style he kept for years and also acquired a new wardrobe, for which Pallenberg offered her chic advice.

Pallenberg bewitched the Stones. She was just about the hippest rock ‘n’ roll chick around; in fact, she was legendary in the pop business. A highly educated woman as well, she could say “screw you” in six languages!

Perhaps in response to the Beatles’ masterful Sergeant Pepper, the Stones released their own psychedelic offering, Their Satanic Majesties Request. (Only the Stones would have the balls to put the word “Satanic” in an album title!) The album, the first produced by the Rolling Stones, is astonishingly good, particular the cuts “Sing This All Together,” “Citadel” and the decidedly trippy “2000 Light Years from Home.” The album made the Stones their largest royalties to date, yet many critics hated the album.

In May of 1968, the Stones released another quintessential rock tune, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the riff of which is sometimes compared to Beethoven’s Fifth - in relative significance anyway. Richards said the song was “my favorite of all Stones’ songs.” His royalties for the tune topped seven figures.

Brian Jones
Brian Jones
Mick Taylor in 1972
Mick Taylor in 1972

The Stones Boot Brian


In June 1969 the Stones officially announced that guitarist Mick Taylor was replacing Brian Jones, mainly because of Jones’ escalating drug use and also because a drug conviction kept him from getting a work visa in the U.S. Afterwards, Jones began talking about forming his own group and releasing a single, though these aspirations never happened.

Then Brian Jones, the golden boy of pop, if you will, died on July 3, 1969. The official cause of death was by misadventure; that is, drowning in his swimming pool while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Brian’s trouble with asthma may have exacerbated conditions as well. To this day, some people suspect that caretaker Frank Thorogood, the last person to see Brian alive, may have murdered him. In fact, Thorogood’s alleged death-bed confession can be heard on YouTube.

For more information regarding the demise of Brian Jones, please click on Jones.

For a much happier note, on August 10, 1969 Anita Pallenberg gave birth to Keith Richards’ first child, a baby boy named Marlon Richards. From the beginning, Richards doted on the boy and gave him just about everything he ever wanted. At times, they were inseparable.

In the fall of 1969, the Stones, now with Mick Taylor, began their first tour after three years of turmoil, drama and death. Nevertheless, this was the time stage manager Sam Cutler began introducing the Stones as the GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND IN THE WORLD! Richards admitted to himself being “embarrassed” by all the hype. For the most part, the label has stuck ever since.

Regarding this tour, Richards said, “It had changed while we’d been off the road for three years. Now there’s an audience who’s listening to you instead of screaming chicks . . . Instead of playing full blast to try and penetrate the audience, now we gotta learn to play onstage again. So for us it was like a school, that ’69 tour.”

But success often has a price. At this time Richards began snorting heroin just about every day. Soon he was doing two and a half grams just to feel “normal.”

Two years after Satanic Majesties was released, Let It Bleed came out, following a year after Beggars Banquet, which had a retro sound, except for the timeless rock classic “Sympathy for the Devil.” However, Let It Bleed was positively progressive, perhaps even revolutionizing rock, judging from its numerous imitators. No one will soon forget its greatest hits, “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Though for every triumph - of the commercial variety at least - the Stones suffered through mayhem and death. On December 6, 1969, in a free concert at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco - in the dusty Diablo Mountains no less - the Hell Angels, supposedly providing security while swilling beer, wreaked havoc with the musicians and the audience. Keep in mind that many people in the audience were inebriated and constantly pushing toward the stage, provoking the Angels. (Incidentally, it has never been proven that the Stones “hired” the Angels by giving them all the beer they wanted.) And, to provide warmth in the chilly air, tires burned, turning the air smelly and black, equating with the bleak atmosphere of the event.

Sensing the bad vibes, the Grateful Dead refused to play, and Crosby, Stills and Nash hurried through their set. Perhaps the devil himself got his due as well, because while the Stones played “Sympathy for the Devil,” a fight erupted between a black man named Meredith Hunter and some Hell’s Angels. Fearing for his life, Hunter pulled out a pistol and then a Hell’s Angel, knife in hand, came up from behind and stabbed Hunter in the back. Hunter died at the scene.

On the day, there were over 300 injuries, many serious ODs and four deaths, three of them by accidents. This bummer concert was the anti-Woodstock, a tragic end to the Swinging Sixties; only the Charles Manson Murders topped this monstrous coda.

For the most part, people blamed the Rolling Stones. For example, in a book-length feature, Rolling Stone, rocker David Crosby said, “The big mistake was taking what was essentially a party and turning it into a star game . . . (the Stones) are on a grotesque, negative ego trip, especially the two leaders.” (Those leaders were Richards and Jagger, of course.)

The Stones in 1972
The Stones in 1972
Mick Taylor
Mick Taylor
Mick and Bianca wed.
Mick and Bianca wed.

It’s the Me Decade

 

As if the partying in the 1960s could be topped, that in the 1970s may have. While touring, the Stones brought along all the cocaine they could carry, hiding it in hollowed out pens, fake cans of shaving cream and under a false bottom in Keith Richards’ amp.

About this time, Jagger met Bianca Macias. Anita Pallenberg hated Bianca on sight, comparing her to Yoko Ono. The overall effect on the band wasn’t very good either. Richards said, “I think Bianca had a bigger negative influence on Mick than anyone would have thought possible. She stopped certain possibilities of us writing together because it happens in bursts; it’s not a steady thing. It made it a lot more difficult to write together, and a lot more difficult to hang out.”

Also, perhaps divining the future, Richards, seeking the help of William Burroughs, author of the junkie novel Naked Lunch, tried to kick heroin. Though this seemed like Casanova helping somebody quit womanizing! Anyway, the treatment included taking the drug apomorphine to bring about a painful though quick withdrawal. After three days of vomiting and hallucinations, Richards pronounced himself cured. But the very next day rocker Gram Parsons introduced Richards to speedballs (heroin and cocaine).

Next came the album, Sticky Fingers, 45 minutes of the Stones’ brand of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in the debauched, anything goes 1970s. The LP led off with “Brown Sugar,” a tune about loose chicks and Mexican brown heroin. (For this tune, Richards used his signature open-G, five-string tuning.) And if that song didn’t offer enough bawdy, druggie lyrics, “Sister Morphine” probably did! Interestingly, this was the Stones first album recorded on the band’s own label, Rolling Stones Records.

Then Richards leased Nellcôte on the Riviera. This private place was where Richards wanted to record the next album. At least some of double album set, Exile on Mainstreet, was recorded in the basement at Nellcôte. Exile sounded like a return to the Stones bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll roots, particularly the tunes “Happy,” “Soul Survivor” and “Tumbling Dice.”

In those days, Richards was looking decidedly burned out. On the cover of Rolling Stone magazine Richards looked thin, with cracked lips and a purple tongue. Even William Burroughs thought he looked sick. One smart-alecky writer who interviewed Richards at Nellcôte said “he looks like a millions bucks – green and wrinkled.”

While Richards was on tour later that year, the cops invaded Nellcôte and found a large amount of heroin, cocaine and hashish, the possession for which cost Keith a suspended sentence and a 5,000 franc fine.

Richards and Jagger finally got to jam with Richards’ rock mentor Chuck Berry at one of Berry’s concerts. Berry’s manager waved Richards and Jagger onstage, where Jagger danced to the beat of “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Then about the time Richards and Jagger split, Berry said, “I didn’t know who they were!”

The Stones next big hit single was “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Some people wondered if the Stones were parodying themselves.

 

Woody and Mick Jagger
Woody and Mick Jagger

The Guy Who Quit the Stones

Disgruntled because some of his music and lyrics were mistakenly credited to the Jagger-Richards songwriting duo, guitarist Mick Taylor quit the Stones just two days before the band was scheduled to begin recording a new album. Richards was furious. “Two days before the album!” he seethed. “No one leaves the Stones except in a pine box! That’s why Mick Taylor is a permanent failure to me.”

Jagger and Richards started the auditions for replacing Mick Taylor. Jeff Beck, Mick Ronson, Harvey Mandel, Rory Gallagher, Shuggie Otis and Geoff Bradford were given consideration. But Texan Wayne Perkins may have given Keith the deepest thought. Eventually, in March 1975, Richards settled on Ron Wood, formerly of Faces.

Woody, as he was called, was only considered a temporary replacement, however. Over the years Jagger and Richards would consider others as a replacement, even illustrious guitar slingers such as George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

More bad news: Richards’ son, Tara Richards, suffocated in his crib at the age of 72 days. Tara was Richards and Pallenberg’s third child. Richards said, “I’m sure the drugs had something to do with it. And I always felt very, very bad about the whole thing.”

By this time, Jagger and Richards, the so-called Glimmer Twins, were in their early thirties. Jagger wondered if he was becoming a rock ‘n’ roll dinosaur, while Richards partied like there was no tomorrow. Overall, in music and lifestyle, Richards seemed the Prince of Punk. Jagger said, “He’s the original punk. You can’t out punk Keith. It’s pointless.”

Musically, this was definitely a low point for the Stones as well as Keith Richards. They released a succession of mediocre albums – Goat’s Head Soup, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Black and Blue and lastly Love You Live, on which the Stones relived their old R&B days from 1963. But the album was considered little more than a joke.

Anita Pallenberg was having her trials with the dreaded H as well. Like other junkies such as Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield, she tried to kick by switching to alcohol. With or without alcohol, Richards tried to quit cold turkey. About then, Richards faced very serious charges of possession and trafficking for 22 grams of heroin and cocaine in Toronto, Canada. These charges could send him to prison for seven years.

As for the rap in Toronto, Richards received no fine or jail, just one year’s probation and within six months he had to give a free concert on behalf of the Canadian Institute for the Blind. This punishment seemed like the proverbial slap on the wrist, but Richards did have to pay a fortune in legal fees.

Patti Hansen
Patti Hansen
Middle-aged Anita Pallenberg
Middle-aged Anita Pallenberg

The Glitzy Eighties

 

Richards started the decade by kicking heroin, though he, like his wife Anita, had to drink plenty of alcohol to do it. He also occasionally took methadone, still snorted blow and smoked Marlboro Reds and pot. So Richards was hardly a human drug-free zone.

Perhaps in an effort to get the monkey off his back, Richards left Anita Pallenberg after 12 years. Pallenberg continued with her messy, drug addled life for another five years before she finally quit partying for good by the late 1980s.

In need of another gal, Richards began dating model and actress Patti Hansen, a fresh-faced, even-tempered blonde beauty. Hansen was definitely no druggie or groupie.

At the time, the Stones new album was Emotional Rescue, from which the critics offered no rescue, though it did contain the hit single “She’s So Cold.” And their compilation album, Sucking in the Seventies, released in 1981, definitely sucked something unpleasant. What was up with the Stones? Had Father Time swiped their cojones? Had drugging muddled their creativity? Or did they simply not give a damn anymore?

Even though the Stone’s music had degenerated somewhat, they still drew huge crowds willing to pay top dollar for tickets. A passage from the book Satisfaction elaborates: “But the whole paradox of the Stones was that, as the music got worse, the personal mythologies, mainly Keith’s, got bigger and better. Those two and a half million ticket requests became four million; Bill Graham added a dozen extra shows.”

In September 1981 the Stones began touring America. They played on a vast stage in huge arenas or football stadia. There were giant videos displays, glitzy décor, immense props, and Mick Jagger singing from atop a cherry picker. And these mega tours lasted for months rather than weeks, as was the case back in the mid 1960s. Were the Stones better now - or simply bigger?

These days, the Glimmer Twins fought almost constantly – or they simply didn’t speak to each other at all for weeks or months at a time. Richards often referred to Jagger as “Brenda” or the “bitch.” Perhaps it was simply a matter of creative differences. Richards aimed for timelessness, while Jagger wanted timeliness. Jagger kept telling Richards and Wood he wanted more modern guitar on their recent works.

On Richards’ fortieth birthday in 1983 he married Patti Hansen. At the ceremony he knelt at Patti’s feet and serenaded her with Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” The rock star most likely to die of an overdose had made it to middle age.

 

Richards with butterscotch Telecaster used for open G, five-string tuning
Richards with butterscotch Telecaster used for open G, five-string tuning
Keith after dying his hair
Keith after dying his hair

Turn of the Century Stones

 

One time, when asked about the band’s longevity, Keith and Mick answered as one: “Charlie Watts.” These statements probably set very well with Charlie, but when Jagger, now heavily into a solo career, starting getting possessive, Charlie may have changed his tune. In fact, one night after Jagger called Charlie on the telephone and referred to him as “my drummer,” Charlie got dressed and went over and punched Jagger. Watts cried, “Don’t ever call me your drummer. You’re my singer!”

Keith Richards, pissed off about Jagger’s solo career, resisted starting one of his own as well. Loyalty to the Stones mattered a great deal to him. Nevertheless, in June 1987 Richards signed a two-album deal with Virgin Records. Richards’s first solo album, Talk Is Cheap, was released in October 1988. The album has a modern sound, even jazzy at times, with some exciting horn work. Richards was stretching himself.

Once again the Stones went on tour. In addition to the Blade Runner-like stages developed in the early 1980s, their production now included a 15-piece show band complete with a horn section and three backing singers. This new format also included a new album and video, all of which called Steel Wheels, which included the hit single “Rock and a Hard Place.” The Stones ended the tour by playing with blues legend John Lee Hooker.

In October 1992, Richards released his second solo album, Main Offender. Also, that winter Richards landed on the cover of 22 magazines. At the time Keith said, “I love my kids and my wife most of the time. Music I love all the time. It’s the only constant joy in my life. You’re never alone with a guitar. It’s the one thing you can count on.”

After years and years of saying he would be quitting the Stones, bassist Bill Wyman finally did so in January 1993 – and he didn’t leave in a pine box, as Richards had warned some years before. Wyman was replaced by Darryl Jones, former bassist for Miles Davis.

In the late 1990s the Stones hit the apex of their career – financially anyway. The Bridges to Babylon album, tour and video made perhaps $300 million. Many critics called it their best album since Exile on Mainstreet. The album offers some of what could be called progressive rock, as well as a little of that oldtimey Stones’ R&B sound.

Richards plays Johnny Depp's father in "Pirates of the Caribbean III."
Richards plays Johnny Depp's father in "Pirates of the Caribbean III."
Keith Richards and Johnny Depp
Keith Richards and Johnny Depp

Final Words about Keith Richards


A standard gag is that after the nuclear holocaust only the cockroaches and Keith Richards will survive. Well, at this point, one would have to agree that Keith Richards is definitely a rock ‘n’ roll survivor. It appears that just about every crisis, party and bust is etched in his ancient, cadaverous visage. Is he really closing in on 70?!...

Yeah, Keith Richards is older than rock ‘n’ roll itself and nearly as old as the electric guitar. But is he the Prince of Punk? Richards certainly has the hard edge of a punk; just watch his onstage demeanor, how he moves in a menacing way and snarls like a pirate. If he’s got a feminine side, he doesn’t show it! And in the old days at least, Richards certainly could kick some ass. He’s no Sid Vicious – but Vicious didn’t stick around long enough to become legendary. Of course, in this context, calling Keith a punk is a term of endearment, because rockers love their punks, those defiant, rebellious guys, as long as they’re likeable, and Keith Richards is certainly one of those!

Keith Richards is truly the Prince of Punk!

If you'd like to watch some videos of Keith Richards, please click on the following link: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDA128CBC6D791DB9

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Comments 6 comments

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Fabulous - you really know your rock history. My husband and I are such fans of all the "stones" he actually wanted "Wild Horses" to be our wedding song:-). It was and I'm proud to say the words still have the same meaning for us! Thanks!


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the story about "Wild Horses." Apparently it started you on the right path! Anyway, the Stones have been around so long they're positively historical, you know? Later!


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Yeah that's what is so amazing about them - still entertaining the public in one way or another after all these years.


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

Be that as it may, they haven't toured since 2006 and if they don't do another one fairly soon, we may have seen the last of their live peformances. Later!


sonnyhodgin profile image

sonnyhodgin 4 years ago from Indiana

Such an in-depth and useful article. I'm a big Keith Richards fan myself (even went to his house one time in France). Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting!


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, sonnyhodgin. I spent lots of time on this hub. I figured Richards and the Stones deserved the attention. Later!

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