dimanche, septembre 05, 2004

Keith Richards - Guitar World 1999

Sitting in the New York office of his manager, Keith Richards recounts a meeting he had with Babyface, the slick r&b; producer Mick Jagger hired to do one track on the new Rolling Stones album, Bridges to Babylon: "I said, `So you're Babyface?' " The guitarist pauses for emphasis, drawing on a Marlboro. " `You gonna cut with Mick, your face is gonna look like mine. You may be Babyface now, but you're gonna be Fuckface like me after you get out of the studio with that guy!' "
The deep lines on Richards' wizened face may not all have been put there by his legendary squabbles with his lead singer, songwriting partner and Glimmer Twin of some 37 years' standing. But it's safe to say they were etched there by a life lived 100 percent for rock and roll. Keef's profound devotion to rock has carried him safely through four decades of mayhem and madness with the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band, through jailings, grievous bodily harm, poxed groupies, marriages and relationships with sundry dangerous blondes, a decade-long entanglement with Dame Heroin and Lord knows what other substances.
His vital connection with rock and roll cuts deeper than all those things, way down into the music's blues roots out through the branches of rock's African Diaspora cousins: reggae, funk and soul. Who else but Keith Richards could cut a rip-snortin' rockabilly track for the recent Scotty Moore tribute disc All the Kings Men, then turn around and do an album of earthy Nyabinghi drumming and chanting with the Wingless Angels, a circle of his Rastafarian "bredren" at his house in Jamaica?
Richards carries all this music not just in his heart or his head, but in his whole body. It's there in the snaky way he walks across a room, even at age 53. And it's certainly there in the way he attacks a guitar, arms flailing, his spinal column whipping to the beat. Keef has always been a very physical guitarist, right from the Stones' early days as a lawless, unwashed alternative to the Beatles. Pete Townshend even copped his signature "windmill" strum from Keith Richards. The chunky drive of Richards' guitar work propelled the Stones through their first incarnation as a British Invasion singles band par excellence, with hits like "Satisfaction," "The Last Time," "Get Off of My Cloud," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Paint It Black," "Mother's Little Helper," "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?" and "Ruby Tuesday." With sinewy rhythms and landmark solos, his guitar took the Rolling Stones into their late Sixties/early Seventies apotheosis as one of the all-time greatest album-rock bands via their mighty tetralogy: Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street.
Richards stuck with his guitar while his original Stones co-guitarist Brian Jones grew absorbed with sitars, dulcimers, recorders and Moroccan drums and fell by the wayside, dead at age 27. With Mick Taylor at his side, Keef expanded the Stones' guitar palette. His discovery of five-string open G tuning brought forth monumental hooks like those in "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar" and "Start Me Up." The Keith Richards guitar style remained a rock-solid constant as Taylor was replaced by Ronnie Wood, and as the Stones slogged through their "disco" period ("Miss You"). The craggy-faced guitarist even kept the faith during a protracted and bitter feud with Mick Jagger over the latter's solo career. It looked like the end of the Rolling Stones. But the group reunited with 1989's solid Steel Wheels.
Though they may bicker like an old married couple on an RV vacation, the bottom line is Jagger and Richards need each other. Richards' solo work without Jagger has tended to sound like Rolling Stones rhythm tracks before the vocal melodies get put on. And Jagger's solo outings have generally offered great melodies and wry lyrics on a disposable bed of flavor-of-the-month jello. It's only when the legendary duo works together that the sparks really fly, musically and otherwise.
"Mick brings the pop element," says Richards. "He's more interested in what's happening now. I'm more interested in keeping the Stones what they are and not following trends."
The Mick `n Keef polarity was fully charged when the Rolling Stones set up camp at Oceanway Studios in L.A. to record Bridges to Babylon, which finds the Stones dabbling in everything from hip hop samples to Indonesian gamelan sounds. Even at their age, rock's perennial adventurers still have a few aces up their sleeves.
GUITAR WORLD: The new Stones album takes in a broad range of styles.
KEITH RICHARDS: I feel like it's the first one where we've really been able to push the boundaries since we've come back together after the five years of World War Three between Mick and me. Steel Wheels was us getting back together and seeing if we could incorporate the things we'd learned from playing with other people into the Rolling Stones II, as it were. With Voodoo Lounge we were definitely getting back on the track a little more. But this is the first one where I think we were really able to push the limits, stylistically. Maybe it was the world touring. You listen to a lot of shit over two and half years' time, going from South Africa to Japan: different local music all the time. Because you always want to check out what the local cats are doing. And what goes in must come out, in one way or another. You have to be careful what you listen to, if you want to write songs.
GW:Are there songs on there where you and Mick just sat down together in a room with a guitar and wrote, like in the old days?
RICHARDS: Oh yeah. That's the way it always starts. We began writing this album `round November, down in the Village [Greenwich Village in New York City], in a little demo studio called Dangerous Music. I wanted to cut the whole album there, it was sounding so good, but it was a bit too small for everybody. We got five or six tracks together in a week there, and did a little bit in London in December. And then we started working in L.A., in February. The songs came pretty easy. They usually do. Our problem is what to leave off. It's the Solomon thing: cut the baby in half. "Well you can't have that off." "I refuse to leave that off. No way." But I suppose that's a better problem than not having enough.
GW: What is it that makes you such a prolific songwriter?
RICHARDS: Personally, I don't consider that you create or write anything. The best way to think about it, for me anyway, is that you're an antenna. I sit down at an instrument-guitar, piano, bass or whatever-and play somebody else's songs. And usually within 20 minutes, more or less, suddenly something's coming. And that's when the antenna goes up. [He wets his finger and raises it in the air.] Incoming! So you get this sort of gift. You work it up a bit and then transmit it. The idea that "I wrote that," or "I created that" is an overblown artistic sort of thing that people love to put on writing songs. It can screw you up. If you think that it's all down to you, you've got another thing coming.
GW: You've played with nearly all the guitar greats: Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy . . .
RICHARDS: Lucky old me. I know, it's amazing.
GW: Is there a key, for you, to meshing with another guitarist? What's your secret?
RICHARDS: First of all, you really have to want it. I knew all those guys' stuff so well. Their styles. So it was, "Just give me a crack at it, man." For me, to be second guitar to Chuck Berry on Hail! Hail! Rock `n' Roll, I looked up and realized, "Shit man, when you started, you'd have died and gone to heaven. This was all you ever wanted." But what I found out is that all of the great players are basically such gentlemen. B.B. and Muddy Waters, both straight up guys. They've got nothing to fear. They always encourage. They're always concerned about other people. They're never self centered. When I look back and think, "Shit, I played with those guys," that's enough. I don't want no money. I mean, thanks for the money, but to have Muddy Waters say to you, "Hey, show me that lick you did..." Everybody's a perennial teenager when it comes to shit like that.
GW: Were any of those guys a little more frightening than others?
RICHARDS: Well, Chuck's difficult. He's just a loner and he doesn't have many friends. That's why he has a little chip on his shoulder. But if you get him going, he's another gent. An absolute prize. Energy and knowledge. Just a lot of mood swings. That's the only difference between him and the other cats. And he's hard to handle at times. Which is why he's never kept a band together since he got rid of the original one: Johnny Johnson and Ebby Harding and Willie [Dixon]. And he never made a record that sounds as good, either. A little cheap too, that way. That's why he plays with the worst band in town whenever he turns up. But at the same time he's a sweet guy. He's just more fragile.
GW: The video of you guys playing with Muddy Waters is pretty amazing. Mick was really good.
RICHARDS: The man can get up there next to Muddy Waters and hold his own. That's a hell of a task. But sometimes Mick, like anybody with a talent, he takes it for granted. He'll say like, "Oh no, not another blues, man." But Mick, that's what you're great at. I suppose he feels that he's done it so many times. But I don't think you could ever do the blues too many times, quite honestly. It's one of the most fascinating forms of music I know, and I listen to a lot of styles. It's such a honed-down form. It travels well. It can pick up on what's happening and be a viable vehicle for songwriting. It's probably the most important thing that America has ever given to the world. From Leadbelly to B.B. King to Buddy Guy and all the stops in between, it's just such an amazingly flexible form.
GW: I think the basic simplicity of it is what allows that variety.
RICHARDS: Exactly. That very strict form can be very restricting for people that can't play it properly. But very little blues is actually 12 bars. It's more like 13 1/2 or 11 1/2. Jimmy Reed was famous for adding on an extra half bar here and there. Just letting it hang. But it's a musical form that just seems to be inexhaustible in its potential.
GW: Why do these African-derived forms-blues, reggae-speak so deeply to us white Europeans?
RICHARDS: It's bones. `Cause probably we all come from Africa. We just went north and turned white. But if you cut anybody open, bones is white and blood is red, man. It's kind of deep, you know. And I think maybe it speaks to us in that way. Ancient bone marrow responding to the source. That's the only one I can come up with. Why else should we recognize it? All it points out is the superficiality of racial differences. [Flashing his skull ring] That's why I wear this; beauty's skin deep.
GW: Would you say that you're a spiritual person?
RICHARDS: Yeah, but not religious. Spirit is all around me. Very much. That's why I did the Wingless Angels album: very spiritual music. But mine is a very nebulous spirituality. I wouldn't care to put a name on it. [laughs] I don't want to place any bets. [assumes American game-show host accent]: "Oh, you picked the wrong god. Sorry, it's Allah." Religion is like Las Vegas. Placing bets on something. I prefer to take the larger point of view. Hey, give thanks and praises, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you are. I never got a post card from anybody that left. Maybe they don't sell stamps up there.
GW: The Dust Brothers told me you and Ronnie had pretty much every cool guitar and amp in the world at Oceanway Studios.
RICHARDS: It did look kind of like an elitist showroom: lines and lines of old Fender amps. We pick them up wherever we can. You probably don't use half of them in the studio. But if you leave one behind, that's the one you're gonna want. And there was an elegant array of guitars there, from Thirties Gibsons and Martins to brand new ones people would bring by. I'd try so many guitars and amps by now, I have no idea which takes were used and which guitars I was using on which take.
GW: In the earliest days of the Stones, you were using mainly Les Pauls and semi-acoustic Epiphones. What attracted you to those guitars?
RICHARDS: Well, the Les Paul was just the best guitar available at that time. It was my first touch with a really great, classic rock and roll electric guitar. And so I fell in love with them for a while. It wasn't until I got to the States that I finally started getting my hands on some good old Telecasters. I'd always liked Telecasters. That Fender sound-dry. James Burton-king! But they were hard to find in England in those days. There were newer ones. New then, that is. We're talking `62! I slowly got into Telecasters the more I worked in the States. And Strats too. Even now, in the studio, I'd still say it's about 50/50.
But there's a lot of guys making good guitars today. Music Man made me a beautiful six-string bass, which I used that a lot on the Wingless Angels stuff. They've also built me some five and six-string guitars which are really compact, great instruments, especially for the stage. They're a nice size. Hey, makes you look bigger.