Blues Brothers: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards & Jack White

With their new Martin Scorsese-directed rock doc, the two Stones 'Shine a Light' on the roots of their music - and take White along for the ride

April 17, 2008
Mick Jagger Jack White Keith Richards Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger, Jack White, and Keith Richards on the cover of Rolling Stone
Photo by Max Vadukul

In the Rolling Stones' new concert movie, Shine a Light, there is a vintage interview with guitarist Keith Richards. A reporter asks Richards what he thinks about when he's onstage playing with the Stones. Richards coolly replies, "I don't think onstage. I feel." Directed by Martin Scorsese, Shine a Light captures the Stones in their current feral prime, in breathtaking close-up. Scorsese shot the band in 2006, during two intimate shows at New York's Beacon Theatre, with guest appearances by Buddy Guy, Christina Aguilera and Jack White of the White Stripes, who duets with Mick Jagger in a heated country-soul version of "Loving Cup," from 1972's Exile on Main Street. But Shine a Light – named after another Exile song and the latest in a long line of Stones documentaries, including Gimme Shelter (1970), Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones (1974) and Cocksucker Blues, Robert Frank's notorious, unreleased chronicle of the backstage excess on the Stones' '72 U.S. tour – is a testament to the power of feeling, the blues-band empathy and brotherly defiance that continue to drive and define Richards, Jagger, guitarist Ron Wood and drummer Charlie Watts in concert.

Shine a Light has also inspired a first: the following interview with Richards and White, in front of a roaring fire in a New York townhouse on a recent wet, cold afternoon. Born half a lifetime and a few rock revolutions apart, Richards, 64, and White, 32, had never talked at length before. In fact, White did not see the Stones live until the White Stripes opened two shows for them in 2002. But the two guitarists quickly bonded over their mutual love of the blues and the spontaneous joys of live performance. "It's like describing the Pyramids to someone who has never been there," White says, when asked what he feels in the middle of a hot guitar solo. "A man after my own heart," Richards agrees, smiling.

Richards, who, after a fall from a tree, underwent brain surgery a few months before the Beacon shows, brushes off doubts about his health. "I must be fine, because I'm not seeing any doctors," he growls cheerfully. As for a future Stones tour, "I've never heard anything about not going out again," Richards says. "I'm basically giving the guys a year off. I'm not pushing. But I might withdraw their wages," he adds with a cackle, "and see how they feel then."

Keith, what do you think of Shine a Light?
Richards: I'm just seeing what Marty Scorsese sees in the Stones. I was never aware of the cameras. I knew they were there. But once you go to work, your job is to give the audience what they want and, at the same time, get yourself off. I've no doubt that Mick was far more aware that he was making a movie. But once I get going, I just look at Charlie.

I've always been amazed by how much fuss goes on around us – the big screens, the technology. And it has to be coordinated. Mick loves to coordinate. But I'm selfish. I gotta feel good. I can't go up there worrying about things. I go onstage to get some fucking peace and quiet.

The Rolling Stones, 1963-1969: Behind-the-Scenes Snapshots

Jack, what did you learn about the Stones when you opened for them?
White: How good they were. You could see the comfort level between them, in Keith's guitar playing and Ron's slide playing. It's impressive, man, when that confidence is exuded. Someone once told me when I first started playing – you get a lot more respect if you act like you own the joint. If you fumble around, you don't gain respect.

Richards: You could have asked me that question back when we went from clubs to opening for Bo Diddley, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers on one tour [in 1963]. I learned more in those six weeks than I would have learned from listening to a million records.

What was the primary lesson?
Richards: Stagecraft – what works and how to feel comfortable onstage. The Everly Brothers were superb every night – those beautiful harmonies. We'd open, then climb the rafters and hang there, watching them. Watching Bo Diddley was university for me. Every set was twenty minutes long in those days. When he came off, if he had two strings left on the guitar, it was a fucking miracle. The Duchess was there [on guitar], and Jerome Green, with the maracas in each hand. It was my job to be Jerome's minder. I used to fetch him from the pub – "You're on, mate."

Photos: The White Stripes, From the Book 'Under Great White Northern Lights'

Jack, how did you and Mick choose "Loving Cup" as your duet?
White: Mick called me. I offered up six or seven songs, which were all shot down [laughs]. "Factory Girl" [on Beggars Banquet] was talked about. Another one was "Shake Your Hips" [the Slim Harpo cover on Exile on Main Street]. Then he said "Loving Cup." That was great – for years at White Stripes shows, we played "Loving Cup" [over the PA] as the crowd was leaving. I just wanted to harmonize with Mick. I didn't necessarily want my own verse. But he said, "Take one."

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