Keith Richards seems genuinely moved that, after 57 years as a band, the Rolling Stones will be playing to stadium crowds this spring in the U.S. – the country he calls the band’s “original hunting ground.” “I really can’t put words on it,” he tells Rolling Stone, when asked what a 20-year-old Keith Richards would have thought about playing stadium shows when the band first played stateside in 1964. “It’s just amazing, man. I never expected to get around to Louis Armstrong status, you know?”
The latest leg of the band’s No Filter tour, which kicks off April 20th at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, will mark the group’s first U.S. shows since 2015’s Zip Code tour, and include cities like Jacksonville, Florida, which they haven’t played in decades. Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. Here, Richards talks about what songs he wants to play, the magic of Charlie Watts and the Stones’ first original album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang.
What have you been up to?
Lately, uhh, not a lot. Mick and I got together for a few days a month or so ago in the studio, just playing around. Apart from that, there might be a session sometime in December, but I’m not crossing my fingers on that.
How was the session with Mick?
It was great, man. We knocked out a few songs together with [producer] Don Was. We’re just working things through. We had a great time — got some nice stuff out of it.
Do you have any idea when you might put that record out?
Oh man, no. Like I say, early stages. I would say if I’m looking at it, we’re going to do this tour, so maybe this time next year, I would say. Maybe. That looks like a reasonable projection.
Anything you can say about the sounds you guys are making in the studio?
No, I can’t describe it – you know that! It’s guitars, drums and bass.
“You can’t just jump in after nine months and expect it all to fall together.”
And you have a lot of stuff coming up. I saw the tour’s second leg opening night in Dublin. How did that leg feel to you?
I remember that show – it was a cold night, but a very warm crowd [laughs]. Actually it’s probably one of the reasons we’re doing this one. It felt so good, that last tour. And it was mostly Britain. But it ended and everyone looked at each other saying, “No, we’re just getting going!” In a way, that feeling is why the idea came to especially play the states – which we haven’t done for a while – and it’s really our first hunting grounds.
How do you decide to do a tour? Is there a meeting where you all get in a room or is it just emails and phone calls?
Well, actually I think the idea was thrown out just at the end of that last tour. And in its very basic forms, it’s, “Lets do another one — and where?” Sometimes it seems to be quite haphazard, how it happens. But in a way there’s an inner clock in the Stones when they feel that they’re timing things right – as a band and for themselves. After all, we’ll have been off the road nearly nine months by the time we start this one. And so we’re going to have quite a long rehearsal [period], because we have to. You can’t just jump in after nine months and expect it all to fall together. Quite a lot of work goes in beforehand, you know.
After playing for decades, what is the necessity of rehearsal?
On the surface of it, I understand that question. But if you’re not doing it all the time, it’s a matter of all of us getting together again and clicking through the gears. It’s kind of like pulling out a great car that’s been sitting on the blocks for nine months. You’ve got to break it in again. Also, rehearsals are great fun. They’re great times where you can say, “Hold on, let’s try that again or let’s try this.” It’s where the actual show takes its form – the setlist, how you’re gonna start it. It grows during the rehearsals.
What are the biggest differences touring the U.S. since when you first came here?
The difference is we used to do it in a station wagon. America was a very different place in the middle Sixties. Quite honestly, I can’t believe I’ve been around this long, man. I’ve watched this country grow up. I know it better than most Americans, because I’m older!
What do you make of where the country is right now?
Right now? I’m not gonna get into it because it’s not worth talking about. We all know what’s what. God help you. [Laughs]
What do you like about playing stadiums? Are they better than playing arenas?
I kind of like the mix. I love stadiums when the weather’s perfect, when there’s not too much wind, because you’re kind of in God’s hands. I do like to play indoors; it’s a controlled environment. But at the same time, you take chances outside. It could be pissing rain.
Personally, what do you get out of playing? What still drives you to do it?
It’s a living [laughs]. Um, it’s what I do, man. Give me 50,000 people and I feel right at home. The whole band does. As Ronnie and I often say before we go on, “Let’s get onstage and get some peace and quiet.”
“Give me 50,000 people and I feel right at home.”
It’s incredible. Do you see the blues continuing as an art form into the next generation?
Yeah. I hear a lot of new blues players. It seems to be really alive and kicking. Some great players. I don’t know their names, but great little bands I’ve heard. This is an essential part. It will always be there.
The new Gary Clark Jr. record coming out is incredible.
Yeah? Yeah, man. I love him.
So it’s still the No Filter tour, but you guys are going to get together and rehearse. It sounds like it might be a whole different kind of show than the one you’ve been doing.
Yeah. Different orders. We’ll try different things out. Mick sometimes has different ideas about staging for a certain number and you’ve got to figure things out. But basically just when we get the band into top form and top gear flight by April.
So you were doing “Like a Rolling Stone” on the last tour almost every night. What prompted that?
It was feeling great. Mick was having a lot of fun with it, especially with the harp at the end, which extends the song out a little bit. It’s a lovely song. Hats off to Bob Dylan, one of the best.
In Europe, the band played “She’s a Rainbow” which you don’t do a lot.
I know, it’s strange playing that. Because that song is like a music box. But it really is just that era, you know, we were trying different things. And also [organist] Nicky Hopkins really made that song so beautiful.
You also were doing “Sweet Virginia” and “Dead Flowers.” What are you going to be campaigning to play this time?
I was already throwing in the last time, but it didn’t get to the show, but it was “Cry to Me,” the old Solomon Burke thing we did. So I want to try that one on for size. See how it goes.
The video of you and Solomon doing “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” on the Licks tour is incredible. Do you ever see the Stones doing a theater tour again?
I don’t know. I take it one tour at a time really. I don’t really plan out. I’d love to. I love playing theaters: that’s heaven, you know.
Drumming is so physical and Charlie Watts is 77. How does he do it?
He’s a very secretive man [Laughs]. I think it’s just him. I don’t think he does anything particularly. That is just Charlie. That’s what’s so amazing about the man. It’s my privilege to play with Charlie Watts.
Do you stay up with Charlie and talk at the hotel sometimes?
No. Charlie usually keeps very much to himself on the road. And usually by the time you get back from a show, you’re kind of knackered. But if we go to the bar or something, he’ll pop in. And we’ll throw dinners occasionally. But yeah otherwise you’re usually very much in working mode on the road.
What about you and Mick? Did you have some good times on the most recent tour?
Yeah. Once you’re actually on the road, everybody pretty much does their own thing. There’s a couple nights you hang and a couple you don’t. We don’t all get in one room and play, being the Rolling Stones or anything. It’s a very professional event.
In the last year there have been a lot of retirement tours. What do you make of those? Rod Stewart recently said that Elton John’s three-year farewell tour was “dishonest” and “stinks of selling tickets.”
Well, you can look at it either way. If you mean it, that’s the way it is. I just haven’t gotten around to thinking in that head yet. I don’t know if you never know. Maybe this will be the last one, I don’t know.
Do you do anything physically to prepare for a tour?
I get up. [Laughs]