Keith Richards: A 1969 Rant

The Stones guistarist opens up about what to expect on 'Let It Bleed,' the upcoming U.S. tour, and what he thinks of his contemporaries

Rolling Stones Keith Richards
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Keith Richards poses for a portrait circa 1969.
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The news that the Rolling Stones are to resume personal appearances is likely to gladden hearts everywhere. The Stones always were the most important performing group to come out of England. At the Stones' office behind Oxford Circus in London recently, guitarist-composer Keith Richards discussed the tour, Mick's foray into films and the next Stones' album, to be called Let It Bleed.

"The whole tour thing is very strange man, because I still don't really believe it. We did the Hyde Park concert and it felt really good, and I guess the tour will feel even better. And we need to do it. Apart from people wanting to see us, we really need to do a tour, because we haven't played live for so long.

"A tour's the only thing that knocks you into shape. Especially now that we've got Mick Taylor in the band, we really need to go through the paces again to really get back together."

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Although the intinerary has yet to be confirmed, there will be at least a dozen gigs in North America plus a concert in London, another in the North of England, and a short tour of the Continent. George Harrison told me that he thought the reason the Stones were going on the road again was money, and Richards didn't deny it.

"Yeah, well, that's how it is. We were going to do the Memphis Blues Festival but things got screwed up. Brian wasn't in that good a shape and we had various problems. I personally missed the road.

"After you've been doing gigs every night for four or five years, it's strange just to suddenly stop. It's exactly three years since we quit now. What decided us to get back into it was Hyde Park. It was such a unique feeling.

"But in all the future gigs, we want to keep the audiences as small as possible. We'd rather play to four shows of 5,000 people each, than one mammoth 50,000 sort of number. I think we're playing at Madison Square Garden in New York, but it will be a reduced audience, because we're not going to allow them to sell all the seats.

"I'm going to meet Mick in California about mid-way through October and we're going to have to rehearse like hell. That whole film thing in Australia was a bit of a drag. I mean, it sounds dangerous to me. He's had his hand blown off, and he had to get his hair cut short. But Mick thinks he needs to do those things. We've often talked about it, and I've asked him why the hell does he want to be a film star.

"But he says, 'Well, Keith, you're a musician and that's a complete thing in itself, but I don't play anything.' So I said that anyone who sings and dances the way he does shouldn't need to do anything else. But he doesn't agree so I guess that's cool.

"The trouble is that it has disorganized our plans; it happened just as we got Mick Taylor into the band, and just as we were finishing the album. We had one track to do and we accidently wiped Mick's voice off when we were messing around with the tape. And there's Mick stuck down in Australia, about 3,000 miles from the nearest studio. It's pretty far out."

Mick's absence has also been felt in other areas. The Stones have not been able to record a followup single to "Honky Tonk Women," which was the second biggest selling record of their career, after "Satisfaction."

"I have a couple of ideas for the next record," Keith said, "and I think we'll cut it in Los Angeles when I meet Mick. I'd like to record again in Los Angeles because it's been a long time since we worked in the studios there. 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?' was the last track we did in L.A.

"Plus, we'll get the album, Let It Bleed, finished. I think it will be the best album we've ever done. It will have some of the things which we did at the Hyde Park concert. There's a blues thing called 'Midnight Rambler' which goes through a lot of changes; a very basic Chicago sound.

"The biggest production number is 'You Can't Always Get What You Want,' which runs about seven minutes. But most of the album is fairly simple. There's a lot of bottleneck guitar playing, an awful lot, probably too much, come to think of it. But I really got hung up on that when we were doing 'Sympathy for the Devil' on Beggar's Banquet.

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"There's three really hard blues tracks, and one funky rock and roll thing. Not the 'Street Fighting Man' sort, but as basic as that. There's a slow country song, because we always like to do one of them. All of the tracks are long, four, five and six minutes. There's about four tracks to each side, but the sides run 20 minutes.

"Let It Bleed will also have the original Hank Williams-like version of 'Honky Tonk Women,' which was one of my songs. Last Christmas, Mick and I went to Brazil and spent some time on a ranch. I suddenly got into cowboy songs. I wrote 'Honky Tonk Women' as a straight Hank Williams-Jimmy Rodgers sort of number. Later when we were fooling around with it — trying to make it sound funkier — we hit on the sound we had on the single. We all thought, wow, this has got to be a hit single.

"And it was and it did fantastically well; probably because it's the sort of song which transcends all tastes."

While we were talking, the muffled sounds of a Creedence Clearwater Revival album could be heard in another office, and I wondered if Keith was impressed by the group?

"Yeah, I'm into a very weird thing with that band. When I first heard them, I was really knocked out, but I became bored with them very quickly. After a few times, it started to annoy me. They're so basic and simple that maybe it's a little too much."

Blood, Sweat & Tears? "I don't really like them . . . I don't really dig that sort of music but I suppose that's a bit unfair because I haven't heard very much by them. It's just not my scene, because I like a really tight band and anyway, I prefer guitars with maybe a keyboard. The only brass that ever knocked me out was a few soul bands."

Led Zeppelin? "I played their album quite a few times when I first got it, but then the guy's voice started to get on my nerves. I don't know why; maybe he's a little too acrobatic. But Jimmy Paige is a great guitar player, and a very respected one."

Blind Faith? "Having the same producer, Jimmy Miller, we're aware of some of the problems he had with Blind Faith. I don't like the Buddy Holly song, 'Well All Right,' at all, because Buddy's version was ten times better. It's not worth doing an old song unless you're gong to add to it.

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"I liked Eric's song, 'In the Presence of the Lord,' and Ginger's 'Do What You Like.' But I don't think Stevie's got himself together. He's an incredible singer and an incredible guitarist and an incredible organist but he never does the things I want to hear him do. I'm still digging 'I'm a Man' and a few of the other things he did with Spencer Davis. But he's not into that scene anymore."

Jethro Tull? "We picked up on them quickly. Mick had their first album and we featured the group on the Rock and Roll Circus TV show we taped last December (which still hasn't come out, but hope remains).

"I really liked the band then but I haven't heard it recently. I hope Ian Anderson doesn't get into a cliché thing with his leg routine. You have to work so goddam hard to make it in America, and it's very easy to end up being a parody of yourself. But he plays a nice flute and the guitar player he had with him was good. I think he left and started his own group, Blodwyn Pig. I haven't heard that lot yet."

The Band? "I saw them at the Dylan gig on the Isle of Wight and I was disappointed. Dylan was beautiful, especially when he did the songs by himself. He has a unique rhythm which only seems to come off when he's performing solo.

"The Band were just too strict. They've been playing together for a long, long time, and what I couldn't understand was their lack of spontaneity. They sounded note for note like their records.

"It was like they were just playing the records on stage and at a fairly low volume, with very clear sound. I personally like some distortion, especially if something starts happening on stage. But they just didn't seem to come alive by themselves. I think that they're essentially an accompanying band. When they were backing up Dylan, there was a couple of times when they did get off. But they were just a little too perfect for me."

The Bee Gees? "Well, they're in their own little fantasy world. You only have to read what they talk about in interviews . . . how many suits they've got and that kind of crap. It's all kid stuff, isn't it?"

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Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? "I thought the album was nice, really pretty. The Hollies went through all that personality thing before Graham left them. The problem was that Graham was the only one getting stoned, and everybody else was really straight Manchester stock. That doesn't help."

The Beatles? "I think it's impossible for them to do a tour. Mick has said it before, but it's worth repeating . . . the Beatles are primarily a recording group.

"Even though they drew the biggest crowds of their era in North America, I think the Beatles had passed their performing peak even before they were famous. They are a recording band, while our scene is the concerts and many of our records were roughly made, on purpose. Our sort of scene is to have a really good time with the audience.

"It's always been the Stones' thing to get up on stage and kick the crap out of everything. We had three years of that before we made it, and we were only just getting it together when we became famous. We still had plenty to do on stage and I think we still have. That's why the tour should be such a groove for us."

This story is from the November 15, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 46: November 15, 1969
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