dimanche, septembre 05, 2004

Keith Richards - 1995

Keith Richards Interview
by Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema RAYGUN Issue number 22 January 1995

Royal Trux (guitarist Neil Hagerty and singer Jennifer Herrema) first came together in 1985 and have since recorded four albums and assorted singles full of sonic confusion and seemingly random noise. Melody Maker once claimed that Royal Trux "were drawing out the most decadent excesses of the Rolling Stones' bluesiest period in their druggy, distracted, fogged haze." They have been called "unclassifiable."
Keith Richards has lived the archetypal rock n roll myth for 30 years with seemingly supernatural powers of survival. He's taken illicit substances and chugged down enough Jack Daniels to kill off the average army platoon. Everyone seems to have a favorite Keith story, just as they have a favorite riff---the drug busts, the blood transfusions, the complete disregard for authority and celebrity. Now he's 50 and happily married with children. Keith says he now has two families and they all get on just fine, which pleases him just fine. With so many inlaws, most people would find it impossible to play the part of outlaw, but he is still as removed, as outside, as much of a loner as ever.
Seems like a good idea to introduce these people... We were down in Memphis, Tennessee, mixing our first record for Virgin, and the Stones were playing the Liberty Bowl. We'd been there about a week. On the eve of the concert, we got home from the studio around four AM, and some idiot stopped and asked to see our room keys. Jennifer noticed the armed guards around the ornate lobby of the Peabody hotel. The Stones had arrived.
In the afternoon around 4:20pm I went downstairs for breakfast tea and the bellboy asked me if I was in town for the concert. I said, "Yes, I'm doing an interview with Keith Richards." That shut him up. And yet, it was true. Someone had decided that it owuld be nice to pair up the demi-monde genii Royal Trux and Keith Richards in an interview.My first reaction was no fucking way, but Jennifer said she would do the interview, and all I had to do was pose for some pictures, so I said okay. Now here we are getting into a couple of chauffered Town Cars and heading to the Liberty Bowl for the Stones sound check.
The Stones were sprawled out on the huge Voodoo Lounge stage. Mick Jagger suggested they play "Can't Get Next To You." The band lit into it, the Al Green arrangement. It was great. I'd like to hear music this size in my front yard. The women from the concession stands came dancing into the bleachers and then, of course, the security guards chased us all away. Even my precious backstage pass was useless. We retreated to the "meet and greet" area, the nobody land inside the Stones' backstage compound.
The interview began soon after in Keith's trailer. Jennifer went in, and I waited for the photographer to fetch me. I saw Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart walking around.
{The guitarist once known as the most elegantly wasted man in rock 'n' roll burst into the trailer looking suitably svelte and ragged. He was wearing the trademarked spray-on black drainpipes, unbuttoned white shirt, skull ring, and a pair of black t-shirt sleeves rolled up his arm like skateboard pads.}
Keith Richards: I'm saving up for the whole shirt. Got the sleeves, now I'm working on the collar.
{The first thing one notices about the rock 'n' roll anti-hero is that he's extremely affable and nothing like the dark lord legend portrays. Keith claims he learned how to be well-mannered during his most strung-out, drugged-out days of neglect.}
KR: Dealing with those kind of people taught me how to be not like them, taught me how to be a gentleman.
Jennifer Herrema: Our engineer says you blew up his speakers once. You plugged in a bass, hit the shit out of it and blew the mains.
KR: I can't exactly remember that. It sounds very likely. These things keep happening to me.
JH: Have you seen the ducks in the Peabody Hotel? They march them around every afternoon at five.
KR: Darling, at five I'm either asleep or I ain't around.
{People on the tour claim that Keith still keeps the hours of a vampire. He's been described as the walking dead, or walking undead. Either way, he's rarely seen out at night, and is more rarely spotted in daylight. Last night was an exception.}
JH: Did you go down to Beale Street?
KR: Last night, I played a number at BB King's joint. It was a sing for your supper kind of deal. They asked me up on stage and I just said "Forget it, it's my day off." Then they offered to cancel the check, so of course I played. We love playing clubs. I mean, the Rolling Stones could kill a club. Trying to drag a stadium into shape is another thing. We're still trying to figure out how to communicate good music to a stadium. God joins the goddamn band every night in the form of wind, rain, and lightning. It sounds like old time show biz, but an audience that size really can turn you on. You can have a temperature of 130 degrees and feel like shit, but the moment you hit the stage, it doesn't matter because they give you the adrenaline. As you know, there have been times in the past when I've arrived on stage in not the best shape in the world and only the crowd kept me going. Gigs are all about an exhange of adrenaline. Quite often, you come off stage feeling better because you've sweat it out.
JH: So the Rolling Stones have discovered the cure for the common cold?
KR: Yes, play stadiums.
JH: Do you remember the first time you played a big stage?
KR: After palying clubs for two or three years, we finally hit our first 3,000 capacity theater. The stage we have now fo rthe Voodoo Lounge tour is supposed to be the biggest in the world, yet nothing can ever seem bigger than that first big stage. It was '63 and I remember we played with Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and the Everly Brothers. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! The Stones in a club is still the ultimate rush. THAT IS IT. Everything else we've doen is simply adjusting to conditions. Rock 'n' roll is really a small room thing. Over the years, we've had to learn to do it bigger. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It's like some kind of Frankenstein's monster, some huge juggernaut. And you can end up working for it, rather than it working for you. It can get so fucking big you can't do what you want to do anymore, which means you have to deal with a whole lot of frustration. That's why the Beatles stopped. We never did, and everytime we come back to touring they have more high-tech gizmos that you've got to learn how to work. Now we're working for the huge stadium screen. The first ten, twenty rows may be looking at the stage, but everyone else is looking at the screen, which means the band are working with the cameramen...I've always been suspicious of TV, I've always found music and video to be an unhappy marriage. MTV turned it into a money-making proposition by making people look at songs, but you're supposed to listen. They're selling records by eyesight, you know? You're confusing the senses. If you had a blindfold on, you can get into music ten times more effectively than watching pre-conceived images of what the song means. Music suffered for it in the Eighties, when what looked good was more important than what sounded good...Good music comes out of people playing together, knowing what they want to do and going for it. You have to sweat over it and bug it to death. You can't do it by pushing buttons and watching a TV screen.
JH: Yeah, sometimes when Neil is playing guitar with our new bass player it sounds so good, I forget to sing.
KR: I know how that is. We just got a new bass player ourselves, Darryl. He's fantastic. Old Bill, I guess we just wore him out.
{Keith's conversation is littered with one-liner's and random musings. His laugh lines are etched so deep, he's beginning to resemble the blues legends he has spent a lifetime lionizing. He gives the impression that if you crossed him, he'd probably crack the same wide smile while nailing your hands and feet to the nearest piece of furniture. It's probably best not to mess with Keith. When a fan leapt onstage in '81, Richards felled the tresspasser with his guitar because "He was on my stage."}
JH: How many tracks did you record for this record?
KR: We recorded 40. We wrote about 150. Then we cut it down to 15 songs. We thought, "That's a lot of tracks for an album," but them we considered that it would be okay because it's been five years since the last album. Besides, if we had tried to cut any more tracks off the album there'd have been shooting--we'd have killed each other. None of us back down easily...Someone once asked me if we still fight about this stuff. Was Sharon Tate's living room a mess? Of course we still fight, but it's also an argument within yourself. I was just talking to Ronnie (Wood) about our record Exile On Main Street. There's so much on it, there's a long way to go. Now that album is held up in our face as the criteria by which all Stones albums must be judged, but when it was actually released, it got terrible reviews. It was a double album, there was so much on it and no one knew what to make of it.
JH: Yeah, I know how that is.
{A tour staffer asks Keith what he thinks of all the bands at present who seem obsessed by the Keith Richards image...}
KR: It's quite flattering really. I keep seeing myself on the TV. Everybody starts by imitating their heroes. For me it was Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. I say good luck to people who want to emulate me, but they better realize what they're getting into; they better know that there's more to this than attitude. It's about the music; it's about the blues. That's what sustains me. It's an amazing form of music that has a strength and vulnerability which seems to me to be translated throughout someone's life. At nine or 90, it's utterly timeless. But I'd never discourage a bunch of guys and girls getting together to play music. It's the one thing that may retain their sanity. You don't have to be a fucking star. Music is something from your own heart for your own home. There's a part of me that's saying, "What, you mean people really like me?" It's a funny business, and it's just as much a mystery to me now as when we started.
{Tour staffer brings in Neil and the photographer...}
Alan Messer: It's been a long time. I did shoot with you in 1969 at Hyde Park.
KR: AH....Hyde Park...1969...a good year...a good year for some.
{Tour staffer introduces Neil...}
KR: She was just talking about you.
NH: Oh? That's cool, I guess.
{Tour staffer asks Keith about his motivation when he writes songs...}
KR: I look for ambiguity when I'm writing because life is ambiguous. I have no idea what the audience makes of me. Sometimes I don't know whether I'm going under their heads or over their heads. Writing songs is a peculiar practice anyway. I never feel I write them, I'm just an antenna and the songs ae already zooming through the room, and I hope to pick up something. I sit with a guitar or at the piano and play my favorite Buddy Holly or Otis Redding songs and, with a bit of luck, something suddenly happens and you're off on your own track. Maybe it's because I never deliberately sit down to write songs that it still happens. I've written more lately than ever before. I recieve and transmit-it's that simple. If I actually believe I created something, I'd be in big fucking trouble. There's no godhead ego, I don't believe in the grand bold type "WRITTEN BY KEITH RICHARDS." I just pick up the songs and pass them on. They aren't mine, they're everybody's. To me, the best songs are the ones that come to you in dreams. I wake up, put it down on a cassette next to the bed, turn over and go back to sleep. I wrote "Satisfaction" that way.
NH: Yeah, but when I dream a song now, I dream the video.
KR: That's MTV for you, fucking with the senses. I never lose faith in the power of music to get through, though. When the scenes go dead, there will still be the music...and I'll still be there playing it.
{Tour staffer asks Keith if he ever met the devil at the crossroads again, what kind of deal would he ask for this time...}
KR: A better one! The devil doesn't bother me, it's God that pisses me off. Him and his rain. You wait until I meet the motherfucker. Doesn't he know who we are? We're the Rolling Stones!
{At this point another tour staffer comes into the trailer...}
TS: They need this trailer. Keith has to go to wardrobe.
NH/JH: Have a good show. (blah, blah, blah)
KR: Right, keep the faith, rock on. (blah, blah, blah)
We go out front to watch the Rolling Stones make their entrance. Our comp seats were great. The girl in front of us wanted to bet that "Not Fade Away" would be their opening number. She was right. It was a good version. We stayed until this woman behind us asked me to sit down. I shot her a "what's your fucking problem" look and left. I didn't smell much pot smoke. We went back and watched the rest of the show from a special roped-off section at the side of the stage. A woman in high-heels slipped on the seats in front of us and rolled three rows. She got up when Mick Jagger came our way on the luminous catwalk that flanked the stage. She got up dancing. The song was "Monkey Man." Keith did a brilliant, strong guitar solo on "Satisfaction," of all songs. Ronnie Wood had a slide solo on "Shattered." Mick Jagger danced with a gigantic projection of a cartoon she-devil during "Beast of Burden." It was a much better concert than the '81/'82 show we saw in DC.At the end of the encore, there was a big pyrotechnic display. This, as we later learned, functions as a diversion while the Rolling Stones make their escape from the stadium in unmarked vans. Anyway, we watched the fireworks and called our driver.
All in all, Keith was a perfect gentleman. He lit Jennifer's cigarettes for her throughout the interview.