Keith Richards: No Regrets

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Did heroin affect your music, for better or worse?
Thinking about it, I would probably say yeah, I'd probably have been better, played better, off of it I mean, sometimes people think they play better on dope, but it's . . . in actual fact, when I was onstage playing, or recording, and I was doped up, you know, and I listen to it now — I mean, sometimes I still have to play what I played then. "Right, I've gotta play this goddamn junkie music? Me? Now? I've been through it." And I still gotta play my junk licks. But I can't imagine what else I would have played, no matter whether I was drunk, on dope or on Preparation H — they sniff it, you know.

The thing about smack is that you don't have any say in it. It's not your decision anymore. You need the dope, that's the only thing. "Why? I like it." It takes the decision off your shoulders. You'll go through all those incredible hassles to get it, and think nothing of it. Because that is the number-one priority: first the dope, then you can get home and do anything else that needs doing, like living. If you can.

Did you realize that you were addicted?
Oh, totally, yeah. I accepted that. It took me about two years to get addicted. The first two years, I played around with it. It's the greatest seduction in the world. The usual thing, snort it up. Then: "What do you mean I'm hooked? I've taken it for two days and I feel all right. I haven't had any for . . . all day." And then you think that's cool. And it draws you in, you know.

How do you get off junk?
You just have to want to reach that point. I mean, I kicked it loads of times. The problem is not how to get off of it, it's how to stay off of it. Yep, that's the one.

Do you still feel drawn toward it?
I always, um . . . never say never. But no, no.

Obviously, some of the Stones' greatest music was made on dope.
Yeah, Exile on Main St. was heavily into it. So was Sticky Fingers. . . .

Was it difficult for you to record those albums?
No, I mean, especially with the Stones, just because they've been at this sort of point for so long, where they're considered, you know, "the greatest rock & roll band in the world...." [Laughs] God, my God — you gotta be joking. Maybe one or two nights, yeah, you could stick them with that. My opinion is that on any given night, it's a different band that's the greatest rock & roll band in the world, you know? Because consistency is fatal for a rock & roll band. It's gotta go up and down. Otherwise, you wouldn't know the difference. It would be just a bland, straight line, like lookin' at a heart machine. And when that straight line happens, baby, you're dead, you know?

Rock has an awfully high death rate, it seems. Among your contemporaries, John Lennon, Keith Moon, John Bonham — when you see them go, does it worry you?
There are risks in doing anything. In this business, people tend to think it'll never happen to them. But what a way to make a living, you know? Looking at the record over the last twenty-odd years, it goes without saying, I should think, that there is a very high fatality rate in the rock & roll music business. Look at the list, man, look at who's been scythed down: Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran. The list is endless. And the greats, a lot of the greats have gone down. Otis, man. I mean, that one killed soul music.

I've always felt that Jimi Hendrix was the greatest loss. Did you know him?
Fairly well. By the period of his demise — to put it politely — he was at the point of totally putting down and negating everything that had made him what he was. I mean all the psychedelic stuff. He felt like he'd been forced to do it over and over again so many times, just because that's what he was known for. When I first heard him, he was playing straight-ahead R&B.

When was that?
I first heard him on the road with Curtis Knight, and then I used to see him play at a club called Ondine's in New York.

What did you think when you first heard him?
I thought I was watching someone just about to break. But as far as his being a guitar player, I mean, I was disappointed when the records started comin' out. Although, given the time and that period, and given the fact that he was forced into an "English psychedelic bag" and then had to live with it because that's what made him . . . one of the reasons that he was so down at the period when he died was because he couldn't find a way out of that. He wanted to just go back and start playing some funky music, and when he did, nobody wanted to know.

It was a weird period.
Yeah. Everybody got sort of carried on this tidal wave of success for doing outlandish things, until what they were really known for was the outlandishness of what they were doing, and not really what they were doing. I mean, even with Satanic Majesties, I was never hot on psychedelic music.

Everybody's always put Their Satanic Majesties Request down, but I've been listening to a clean copy of it recently and there's some good stuff on there, despite the ridiculous mix.
The only thing I can say, from the Stones' point of view, is that it was the first album we ever made off the road. Because we stopped touring; we just burned up by 1966. We finished Between the Buttons, you know, "Let's Spend the Night Together," and boom, we stopped working for like a year and a half. And in that year and a half, we had to make another album. And that was insane — on acid, busted, right? It was like such a fractured business, a total alien way of working to us at the time. So it kind of reflects. It's a fractured album. There are some good bits, and it's weird, and there's some real crap on it as well.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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