If Mick Jagger is the face and the brain of the Rolling Stones, guitarist Keith Richards is its heart, the embodiment of the band's rakish rock and roll spirit and commitment to hard rhythm and blues. He's become one of the most iconic figures in music: a hard-drugging rock pirate who also happens to be a guitar innovator and great songwriter. At the heart of his appeal is his rhythm guitar playing: a fluid, easy, rambunctious style that puts feel and groove way before technical prowess. Apart from the Stones, he's released solo albums and collaborated with other legendary musicians ranging from Berry to country singer George Jones.
Born in Dartford, Kent, England, on December 18, 1943, Richards grew up around music. His maternal grandfather was a member of a jazz band and his mother introduced him to the music of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, and bought him his first acoustic guitar. He knew Jagger as a child in primary school, but had moved away from his old neighborhood and lost contact with his old friend until the early Sixties when the two bumped into each other on a train. By then Richards was attending art school, where he had discovered the American blues of artists like Little Walter and Big Bill Broonzy.
Richards and Jagger realized they shared similar musical interests and in 1962 formed the Rolling Stones along with fellow blues enthusiast Brian Jones. The combination of Richards' raw attack and interwoven rhythms and leads with Jones provided the fire behind Jagger's bluesy vocals on early Stones songs, mostly covers of rock & roll and R&B hits like Chuck Berry's "Come On" and Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness," and later workouts with subsequent Stones guitarists Mick Taylor and Ron Wood on classics like 1972's "Tumbling Dice" and 1981's "Start Me Up."
With Jagger, Richards has written some of the most recognizable songs in rock & roll including "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Honky Tonk Woman," and "Jumping Jack Flash," and he is the vocalist on a string of Stones classics including "Happy" and "You Got the Silver."
Beginning in the late 1960s, Richards began collaborating with other musicians, most notably as bassist of supergroup the Dirty Mac, which included Richards on bass along with Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell; their sole performance came in the Stones' 1968 Rock & Roll Circus TV special.
A longtime fan of American country and roots music, Richards also spent time in the late Sixties with country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, who inspired Richards to write more country- and folk-based melodies like that of "Wild Horses," from the Stones 1971 album Sticky Fingers. In the mid- to late-1970s he played on Faces (and future Stones) guitarist Ron Wood's three solo albums — I've Got My Own Album to Do (1974), Now Look (1975) and Gimme Some Neck (1979) — and toured the U.S. as part of Wood's late-Seventies band the New Barbarians.
In 1978 he released a solo single, featuring covers of Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" and Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come." In the Eighties and Nineties, Richards appeared on album credits as player or producer for such non-Stones-related artists as Tom Waits, George Jones, Aretha Franklin, Ronnie Spector and reggae singer Max Romeo. In 1986 Richards led the all-star band that backed Chuck Berry in the contentious documentary and performance film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll.
Long committed to the Stones, Richards was reluctant to do solo albums until 1988, when Jagger put the Stones on hold to focus on his own solo work. Richards' Talk is Cheap (Number 24, 1988) yielded the Number Three mainstream rock hit "Take It So Hard." The guitarist then hit the road with his band the X-pensive Winos, and three years later released a document of that tour, Live at the Hollywood Palladium, December 15, 1988; it was supplemented with Stones songs including "Happy." The following year Richards released his only other solo album, Main Offender, which reached Number 99.
Richards' personal life has been the topic of much rumor and speculation over the years due to his substance abuse and run-ins with the law. He's been arrested five times since 1967, the most serious of which came in 1977 when he was found with 22 grams of heroin in Canada. The charge was reduced to simple possession and he was given a suspended sentence and ordered to perform a benefit concert and undergo treatment. He's been romantically linked to two women: actress Anita Pallenberg, with whom he has three children between 1967 and 1979: Marlon and Angela; a third child died shortly after birth. In 1979 he began a romantic relationship with model Patti Hansen, whom he married in 1983. They have two daughters: Theodora and Alexandra.