Keith Richards: The Rolling Stone Interview
Keith plays in a rock & roll band. Anita is a movie star queen. They currently reside in a large white marble house that everyone describes as “decadent looking.” The British Admiral who built it had trees brought from all over the world in ships of the line, pine and cypress and palm. There is an exotic colored bird in a cage in the front garden and a rabbit called Boots that lives in the back. A dog named Oakie sleeps where he wants.
Meals are the only recurring reality and 23 at a table is not an unusual number. The ceilings are 30 feet from the floor and some nights, pink lightning hangs over the bay and the nearby town of Ville France, which waits for the fleet to come back so its hotels can turn again into whorehouses.
There is a private beach down a flight of stairs and a waterbed on the porch. Good reference points for the whole mise-en-scene are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night and the Shirelles’ greatest hits. There is a piano in the living room and guitars in the TV room. Between George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry, Keith Richard manages to sneak in a lick now and then like a great acoustic version of “The Jerk” by the Larks one morning at 4 a.m.
A recording studio will soon be completed in the basement and the Stones will go to work on some tracks for the new album, Mick Jagger having returned from his honeymoon. They will tour the States soon.
Most of it is in the tapes, in the background. Two cogent statements, both made by Keith may be kept in mind while reading the questions and answers (which were asked and answered over a 10-day period at odd hours).
“It’s a pretty good house; we’re doing our best to fill it up with kids and rock ‘n’ roll.”
“You know that thing that Blind Willie said? ‘I don’t like the suits and ties/They don’t seem to harmonize.'”
What were you doing right at the beginning?
I was hanging out at art school. Yeah. Suburban art school. I mean in England, if you’re lucky you get into art school. It’s somewhere they put you if they can’t put you anywhere else. If you can’t saw wood straight or file metal. It’s where they put me to learn graphic design because I happened to be good at drawing apples or something. Fifteen – I was there for three years and meanwhile I learned how to play guitar. Lotta guitar players in art school. A lot of terrible artists too. It’s funny.
Your parents weren’t musical?
Nah. My grandfather was. He used to have a dance band in the Thirties. Played the sax. Was in a country band in the late Fifties, too, playin’ the US bases in England. Gus Dupree, King of the Country Fiddle. He was a groove, y’know. A good musician. He was never professional for more than a few years in the Thirties.
What did your father do?
He had a variety of professions. He was a baker for a while. I know he got shot up in the First World War. Gassed or something.
Were you raised middle class?
Working class. English working class – struggling, thinking they were middle class. Moved into a tough neighborhood when I was about 10. I used to be with Mick before that. We used to live close together. Then I moved to what they’d call in the States a housing project. Just been built. Thousands and thousands of houses, everyone wondering what the fuck was going on. Everyone was displaced. They were still building it and really there were gangs everywhere. Coming to Teddy Boys. Just before rock and roll hit England. But they were all waiting for it. They were practicing.
Were you one of the boys?
Rock and roll got me into being one of the boys. Before that I just got me ass kicked all over the place. Learned how to ride a punch.
It’s strange, ’cause I knew Mick when I was really young – five, six, seven. We used to hang out together. Then I moved and didn’t see him for a long time. I once met him selling ice creams outside the public library. I bought one. He was tryin’ to make extra money.
Rock and roll got to England about ’53, ’54, you were 11.
Yeah. Presley hit first. Actually, the music from Blackboard Jungle, “Rock Around the Clock,” hit first. Not the movie, just the music. People saying, “Ah, did ya hear that music, man.” Because in England, we had never heard anything. It’s still the same scene: BBC controls it.
Then, everybody stood up for that music. I didn’t think of playing it. I just wanted to go and listen to it. It took ’em a year or so before anyone in England could make that music. The first big things that hit were skiffle. Simple three-chord stuff. It wasn’t really rock and roll. It was a lot more folky, a lot more strummy. Tea chest basses. A very crude sort of rock and roll. Lonnie Donegan’s the only cat to come out of skiffle.
But we were really listening to what was coming from over the Atlantic. The ones that were hitting hard were Little Richard and Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Chuck Berry was never really that big in England. They dug him but – all his big, big hits made it – but maybe because he never came over. Maybe because the movies he made like Go Johnny Go never got over because of distribution problems. Fats Domino was big. Freddie Bell and the Bellboys too. All kinds of weird people that never made it in America.
They loved the piano. Looking back on it, all the piano boys really had it together for England. More than just the cat that stood there with the guitar.
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