Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has signed a long-term record deal with Virgin Records worldwide and will soon begin work on his first solo album. Richards has long resisted the lure of a solo career because of his loyalty to the Stones, and his signing with Virgin is a further sign of fissures within the band. Richards, however, denies that the Stones have officially broken up.
"The whole idea is, I gotta work," Richards says. "I can't sit on my ass – I go crazy, you know? And so it went from, like, 'Well, what do I want to do?' to 'I'll never know until I start.'"
Richards sees the new album as an opportunity to do something different from his work with the Stones. Consequently, he plans to write new songs, rather than use material he's gathered over the years. He also plans to work with new people and has been jamming with a host of players. "It is a kind of break," he says. "I'm going to do it in new studios, with new engineers. I mean, the Stones have worked in Paris for ten years – the same goddamn room every day, same guys. And so it's a way for me to branch out a bit and meet a few more people."
Among the musicians Richards has played with recently are guitarist Robert Cray, keyboardist Ivan Neville, guitarist Waddy Wachtel, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, bassist Charley Drayton and drummer Steve Jordan. Jordan, whom Richards worked with on Aretha Franklin's single "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, the soon-to-be-released movie about Chuck Berry, has proved an especially powerful stimulus. "Steve is an amazing cat – what a drummer," Richards says. "To me, the idea of working with anybody but Charlie Watts was, like, unforgivable. I thought the task was just beyond me, quite honestly. So to fall in with Steve, who has Charlie's blessing – I mean, they're great mates."
Richards wasn't always excited about organizing the solo project. "I was approaching the whole thing with immense trepidation," he says. "But it's becoming fun, and there's an incredible amount of enthusiasm from the guys . . . With the Stones, if I stopped playing, if I sort of collapsed trying to get an idea together, everybody else would stop. 'Okay, he's stopped,' you know, and you'd have to crank it all up and start again. But these cats, they don't let me stop. I've never been kicked in the ass like that."
Nonetheless, Richards says it's much too early to write off the Stones. "I think after twenty-five years, we all needed a bit of a break," he says. "I mean, it was getting a little bit sticky. The fun was going out of it, because Mick and I were hassling about everything, for whatever reasons. He probably doesn't know the full reason, nor do I. So the best thing is to let it go for a bit."
Does that mean the Stones will play together again? "I don't see any reason why not," Richards says. "Let us have a break, see what else we can do. We'll come back with renewed energy, hopefully."
Additional reporting by Kurt Loder.
This story is from the September 10th, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone.