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Keith Richard: The Rolling Stone Interview

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He was a good guitar player then. He had the touch and was just peaking. He was already out of school, he'd been kicked out of university and had a variety of jobs. He was already into living on his own and trying to find a pad for his old lady. Whereas Mick and I were just kicking around in back rooms, still living at home.

I left art school and I didn't even bother to get a job. We were still kids. Mick was still serious, he thought he was, everyone told him he ought to be serious about a career in economics. He was very much into it.

But Brian, he was already working at it. We said, "We're just amateurs, man, but we dig to play." He invited me up to listen to what he was getting together in some pub in London. It's then it starts getting into back rooms of pubs in Soho and places. That's where I met Stew [Ian Stewart]. He was with Brian. They'd just met. He used to play boogie-woogie piano in jazz clubs, apart from his regular job. He blew my head off too, when he started to play. I never heard a white piano like that before. Real Albert Ammons stuff. This is all '62.

A lot of these old cats had been playin' blues in those clubs for ages, or thought they were playin' blues. Just because they'd met Big Bill Broonzy at a party or played with him once, they thought they were the king's asshole.

Music was their love. They all wanted to be professional but in those days a recording contract was a voice from heaven. It was that rare. Not like now when you get a band together and hustle an advance. It was a closed shop.

Were you and Mick and Brian very strange for them?
That's right. They couldn't figure us out. Especially when I tried to lay Chuck Berry shit on them. "What are ya hangin' with them rock and rollers for?" they'd ask. Brian kicked a lot of them out and I really dug it. He turned around and said, "Fuck off, you bastards, you're a load of shit and I'm going to get it together with these cats." This cat Dick Taylor shifted to bass by then. We were really looking for drums. Stew drifted with us for some reason. I sort of put him with those other cats because he had a job. But he said no too. "I'll stick around and see what happens with you."

So we got another back room in a different pub. Competition. Not that anybody came. Just rehearsin'.

Stew at that time used to turn up at rehearsals in a pair of shorts, on his bike. His piano used to be by the window and his biggest fear, the only thing that really stopped him at piano, was the thought that his bike might get nicked while he was playin'. So every now and then when someone walked past his bike, he'd stretch up and put his head out the window and keep playin', sit down again and then he'd see someone else lookin' at his bike. Up and up, still playing.

Were you playing electric then?
Yeah. With homemade amps, old wireless sets. It took a while longer to get the electric bit together. At the time we thought, "Oh, it just makes it louder," but it ain't quite as simple at that.

Brian was the one who kept us all together then. Mick was still going to school. I'd dropped out. So we decided we got to live in London to get it together. Time to break loose. So everybody left home, upped and got this pad in London. Chelsea.

Different Chelsea than now?
Edith Grove. World's End. That place . . . every room got condemned slowly. It was like we slowly moved till we were all in the end room. Every room was shut up and stunk to hell, man. Terrible. Brian's only possession was a radio-record player. That, and a few beds and a little gas fire. We kept on playin', playin', playin'.

Brian kicked his job. He was in a department store. He got into a very heavy scene for nickin' some bread and just managed to work his way out of it. So he thought, "Fuck it. If I work anymore I'm gonna get in real trouble." Get into jail or something.

He only nicked two pound . . . but he quit his job and his old lady had gone back to Cheltenham so he was on the loose again.

Are you gigging?
We didn't dare, man, we didn't dare. We were rehearsin' drummers. Mick Avery came by, the drummer of the Kinks. He was terrible, then. Couldn't find that off beat. Couldn't pick up on that Jimmy Reed stuff.

Is everybody still straight?
It was very hard to find anything. No one could afford to buy anything anyway. A little bit of grass might turn up occasionally but . . . everybody'd dig it . . . everybody's turn-on was just playing. It didn't matter if you were pissed. That was it. That was the big shot.

Mick was the only one who was still hovering because he was more heavily committed to the London School of Economics and he was being supported by a government grant, and his parents and all that. So he had a heavier scene to break away from than me because they were very pleased to kick me out anyway. And Brian too, they were glad to kick out. From university for making some chick pregnant or something.

Brian and I were the sort of people they were glad to kick out. They'd say, "You're nothing' but bums, you're gonna end up on skid row," and that sort of thing. Probably will anyway. But Mick was still doing the two things. Brian and me'd be home in this pad all day tryin' to make one foray a day to either pick up some beer bottles from a party and sell 'em back for thruppence deposit or raid the local supermarket. Try and get some potatoes or some eggs or something.

I went out one morning and came back in the evening and Brian was blowing harp, man. He's got it together. He's standin' at the top of the stairs sayin', "Listen to this." Whooooow. Whooow. All these blues notes comin' out. "I've learned how to do it. I've figured it out." One day.

So then he started to really work on the harp. He dropped the guitar. He still dug to play it and was still into it and played very well but the harp became his thing. He'd walk around all the time playing his harp.

Is there anything going in London in terms of music then?
Alexis had that club together and we'd go down once a week to see what they were doing and they wanted to know what we were doing. "It's coming," we'd tell 'em. "We'll be gigging soon." We didn't know where the fuck do ya start? Where do ya go to play?

But you were living together, unlike Cyril Davies or the older blues musicians, because you were young and broke . . .
Yeah. Just Mick and myself and Brian. We knew Charlie. He was a friend. He was gigging at the time, playing with Alexis. He was Korner's drummer. We couldn't afford him.

One day we picked up a drummer called Tony Chapman who was our first regular drummer. Terrible. One of the worst . . . cat would start a number and end up either four times as fast as he started it or three times as slow. But never stay the same.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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