The Origin of the Species

Published in The Riff

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Photo of Keith Richards taken at a concert in Warsaw on April 18, 2018, Jerzy Bednarski — Wikimedia Commons

The gags are endless —

After the Apocalypse, it will be only the rats and Keith Richards.

We can’t take drugs anymore because Keith Richards has taken them all.

God boomed, “Adam this is Eve. You are to love her forever. Adam replied, “Okay, but who is that?” God shrugged. “Oh, that’s Keith Richards. He was here when I got here.”

Fidel Castro is dead. Looks like the Queen of England and Keith Richards are in the final.

But Keith Richards is more Jedi than Joker.

Rock n’ Roll Icon or Sacred Philosopher?

The Rolling Stones were formed in 1962. 1962! 58 years ago.

There have been over 2,000 gigs. 30 studio albums. 28 live albums. 120 singles.

He’s a survivor is old Keef. He says,

“I’m timeless now, I’m beyond time.”

That has good as anything Socrates or Plato will dish out.

Aristotle says —

“The hardest victory is over self.”

Keith says,

“I’m here today because I have taken the trouble to find out who I am.”

Two sides of the same bacon. Over two millennia apart.

10 Rules For Life — Keith Richards

With gems like the following —

“I’ve never had inner turmoil about all this. You find a lot of people these days who cannot stand to be alone. You could lock me up in solitary for weeks on end, and I’d keep myself amused.”

Or —

“We age not by holding on to youth, but by letting ourselves grow and embracing whatever youthful parts remain.”

We need to be following the Keith Richards philosophy, and because he is unlikely to do anything as self aggrandizing as compile his 10 Rules For Life, I have.

1. Bury your Ego

After an uncharacteristic dip in form on the Stones album Their Satanic Majesties Request, Keith reckoned that they could have done what is unimaginable to us, they could have foundered. Hooking up with Jimmy Miller, injected a dose of something else into The Stones. They entered a different level on Beggars Banquet. Miller had produced the Spencer Davis Group and worked with Traffic and Blind Faith. He was the drummer on the Stones’ Happy and was the original drummer on ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ He got groove. He got the Stones’ groove.

The Stones played Chicago blues. Raw. Raucous. Dirty. Distorted. Sounds gelling into one another. One sound. Miller got that down on Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street and Goats Head Soup — the Golden Age of the Stones.

Keith had long known that the Rolling Stones were a sum of their parts, evidenced by what he referred to as the ancient art of weaving.

Keith had developed the weaving guitar style with Brian Jones, but with Mick Taylor in the band the division between the lead and rhythm melted away and the same occurs again with Ronnie Wood.

“There’s something beautifully friendly and elevating about a bunch of guys playing music together. This wonderful little world that is unassailable. It’s really teamwork, one guy supporting the others, and it’s all for one purpose, and there’s no flies in the ointment, for a while. And nobody conducting, it’s all up to you. It’s really jazz that’s the big secret. Rock and roll ain’t nothing but jazz with a hard backbeat.”

2. Always Be Yourself

Beggars Banquet isoften cited as the beginning of The Stones’ imperial phase and one of the great rock and roll records. Yet Country, Blues and Folk permeate Beggars Banquet. The only rock and roll tracks on it are Sympathy for the Devil and Street Fighting Man.

They never wrote to order.

“You’re sitting with some guys, and you’re playing and you go, “Ooh, yeah!” That feeling is worth more than anything. There’s a certain moment when you realize that you’ve actually just left the planet for a bit and that nobody can touch you. You’re elevated because you’re with a bunch of guys that want to do the same thing as you. And when it works, baby, you’ve got wings. You know you’ve been somewhere most people will never get; you’ve been to a special place.”

3. Always Be Working on Your Art

Even when the gig was over, staying in crummy motels. Keith was still working. He recorded into cassette recorders — they gave him that grinding, dirty sound — a mini studio. An acoustic guitar played back on it sounded like an electric, the cassette player was both recorder and an amplifier

Keith described it as the acoustic guitar being dry, the electric guitar being like an electric eel. But the acoustic through the cassette player is something else. In the studio, he plugged the cassette player into a little extension speaker and put a microphone in front of the extension speaker to give it breadth and depth and that is what we hear on Street Fighting Man, there is no electric on it! Same with Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

“We were in Mississippi. We’d been playing this music, and it had all been very respectful, but then we were actually there sniffing it. You want to be a blues player, the next minute you fucking well are and you’re stuck right amongst them, and there’s Muddy Waters standing next to you. It happens so fast that you really can’t register all of the impressions that are coming at you. It comes later on, the flashbacks, because it’s all so much. It’s one thing to play a Muddy Waters song. It’s another thing to play with him.”

4. Possess The Way

Everyone needs to find the power. Luke used The Force. Keith used Open Five String Tuning. He used it on Honky Tonk Women, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Tumbling Dice, Happy, Start Me Up and Satisfaction.

In the 1920s, Sears and Roebuck offered the Gibson guitar for really cheap. Banjos had been their most popular selling instrument. When Gibson put out their really cheap guitar, all the banjo players tuned it to a five string banjo tuning.

Open tuning means that the guitar is pretuned to a ready made major chord, but there are different configurations. Keith had been using open D and open E. He learned that Don Everly, who he reckoned one of the finest rhythm guitarists, used open tuning on Wake up Little Susie and Bye Bye Love. He had used the barre chord, the finger across the neck. Ry Cooder was the first he saw play the open G chord. But Cooder had used it strictly for slide playing which Keith found too limiting. He also found that the bottom string would not stay in tune, so he took it off and used the fifth sting as the bottom note. Few think about playing minor chords in an open major tuning. This is one of the reasons that you don’t hear many cover bands doing Stones tracks. Keith compared it to it being like our piano is turned upside down and the black notes white and the white notes black.

With five string open G tuning, you only have three notes — the other two are repetitions of each other an octave apart. It’s tuned GDGBD. Certain strings run through the whole song, so you get a drone going all the time, and because its electric they reverberate. Creating a resonance and ring. You can hear chords that you are not actually playing behind the chord that you are playing. Defies logic. Keith called it the drone note.

Tribesmen of Africa did it. As did Mozart and Vivaldi.

It’s more roll than rock. You can almost play the melody through the chords because of the notes that you throw in. Instead of hearing two guitars you hear an orchestra and you don’t know who is playing what — the ancient dark art of weaving.

You cannot play songs like Can’t You Hear Me Knocking if the guitar is not in that tuning.

“And you listen to some of that meticulous Mozart stuff and Vivaldi and you realize that they knew that too. They knew when to leave one note just hanging up there where it illegally belongs and let it dangle in the wind and turn a dead body into a living beauty.”

5. Get out of your Comfort Zone

Keith wrote classic records — Out Of Our HeadsAftermath and Between the Buttons on guitar.

Prevailing thinking would elicit to continue doing the same. In the summer of 1968 Keith met Gram Parsons after a Byrds gig, it was an instant friendship. Gram was supposed to fly out the next day to tour South Africa with the Byrds, but upon learning about the sanctions and ban on playing South Africa, he opted out. He spent the rest of the summer with Keith mostly at Redlands, Keith’s house in Sussex. Gram taught him country music. Playing it all on a piano, differentiating between the Bakersfield and Nashville sounds. He taught him piano and Keith started writing songs on it.

Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. ensued.

“A gut-string classical Spanish guitar, a sweet, lovely little lady. The smell of it. Even now, to open a guitar case, when it’s an old wooden guitar, I could crawl in and close the lid.”

6. Sometimes The Muse comes Fast, Fast

In December 1969, the Stones shored up at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama. They cut Wild Horses, Brown Sugar and You Gotta Move. Three tracks in three days. Three tracks that will be played until the planet stops spinning. They had been on the road, touring with Ike and Tina Turner and were red hot. They landed in the Rolling Stones plane at the tiny strip at Muscle Shoals airport. Brown Sugar and Wild Horses were cut in two takes. Beyond that they wrote them or at least finished them while they were in the studio. Mick wrote the lyrics to Brown Sugar in less than an hour. On the last night, Richards and Jagger stood at the microphone together with a fifth of bourbon, passing it back and forth, and sand the lead and harmony into one microphone on all three songs.

I think we realized, like any young guys, that blues are not learned in a monastery. You’ve got to go out there and get your heart broke and then come back and then you can sing the blues.”

7. Sometimes The Muse comes Slow, Slow

The Stones worked on Start Me Up, laying down 40 or 50 takes during sessions in Rotterdam for the Black and Blue record. They came back to it a few times and then five years later, it came out on the album Tattoo You.

Before They Make Me Run on the Some Girls record. Keith stayed in the studio for five days without leaving. He got it done and then crawled under the booth and fell asleep, rudely awakened by the Paris police listening to playback. Keith staring out at red striped pantaloons listening to La Marseillaise.

“In fact, I take the view that God, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t bother to spring for two joints — heaven and hell. They’re the same place, but heaven is when you get everything you want and you meet Mummy and Daddy and your best friends and you all have a hug and a kiss and play your harps. Hell is the same place — no fire and brimstone — but they all pass by and don’t see you. There’s nothing, no recognition. You’re waving, “It’s me, your father,” but you’re invisible. You’re on a cloud, you’ve got your harp, but you can’t play with nobody because they don’t see you. That’s hell.”

8. Remember your Karma

In 1977, Keith was busted in the Harbour Castle Hotel in Toronto by Canadian Mounties. He was put out on bond but his passport was confiscated and he was restricted to the hotel. He was facing two years imprisonment. It went to trial in October 1978.

His blind angel

This girl Rita, was blind, she used to hitchhike to all the Rolling Stones gigs, thumbing through the darkness to hear the sound. Keith saw to it that she got lifts to and from the gigs and that she got fed. This same Rita, this cool chick upon hearing about the bust had went to the Judge and provided a character reference.

The Judge found him guilty but did not incarcerate him once he continued his rehabilitation and played a free concert for the blind.

“It’s really good to be here and as I always say, it’s really good to be anywhere!”

9. Always Possess One or Two Great Signature Dishes

Keith Richards’ Mum’s Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

3 pounds potatoes, “Tumbling Diced”
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds ground beef
2 large onions, chopped
2 large carrots, grated
1 12-ounce can beef stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Place potatoes in large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until tender. Drain. Using electric mixer or whisk, mash potatoes and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat large skillet. Add beef and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Add carrots and stock. Mix in cornstarch, cook 10 minutes. Pour meat mixture into pie dish and top with mashed potatoes. Place under broiler until potatoes begin to turn brown.

Keith’s recipe for Bangers and Mash

First off, find a butcher who makes his sausages fresh. Fry up a mixture of onions and bacon and seasoning. Get the spuds on the boil with a dash of vinegar, some chopped onions and salt (seasoning to taste). Chuck in some peas with the spuds. (Throw in some chopped carrots too, if you like.) Now we’re talking. Now, you have a choice of grilling or broiling your bangers or frying. Throw them on low heat with the simmering bacon and onions (or in the cold pan, as the TV lady said, and add the onions and bacon in a bit) and let the fuckers rock gently, turning every few minutes. Mash yer spuds and whatever. Bangers are now fat free (as possible!). Gravy if desired. HP sauce, every man to his own.”

I’ve been through more cold turkeys than there are freezers.”

10. Just because you said you’d do 10, don’t feel you have to do 10

WRITTEN BYWill Russell

Freelance Writer —, The Start Up, Noteworthy, Slackjaw, MuddyUm, PS I Love You, Hotpress, Atlas Obscura




Will Russell

Freelance Writer —, The Start Up, Noteworthy, Slackjaw, MuddyUm, PS I Love You, Hotpress, Atlas Obscura

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