Keith Richards On 'Life' With The Rolling Stones

Keith Richards i i

Keith Richards is ranked 10th on  Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Deborah Feingold hide caption

itoggle caption Deborah Feingold
Keith Richards

Keith Richards is ranked 10th on  Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Deborah Feingold

This week on Fresh Air, we're marking the year's end by revisiting some of the most memorable conversations we've had in 2010. This interview was originally broadcast on October 25, 2010.

With his songwriting partner Mick Jagger, Keith Richards created some of the most iconic rock 'n' roll songs of the 20th century. But the opening line of one of The Rolling Stones' most famous hits — "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" — wasn't a collaboration. The riff came to Richards during a dream.

In an interview on Fresh Air, Richards recounts how he woke up just long enough to record the famous opening riff of "Satisfaction" on a cassette player he'd placed next to his bed.

"I go to bed as usual with my guitar, and I wake up the next morning, and I see that the tape is run to the very end," Richards tells Terry Gross. "And I think, 'Well, I didn't do anything. Maybe I hit a button when I was asleep.' So I put it back to the beginning and pushed play and there, in some sort of ghostly version, is [the opening lines to 'Satisfaction']. It was a whole verse of it. And after that, there's 40 minutes of me snoring. But there's the song in its embryo, and I actually dreamt the damned thing."

Life by Keith Richards
Little, Brown and Company

The 66-year-old lead guitarist has written Life, a memoir about his early musical influences, his time on the road with The Rolling Stones, his run-ins with the law and his occasionally contentious relationship with Jagger, the Stones' lead vocalist.

"You think, in a 50-year relationship doing this stuff, that there's not going to be some conflict, some disagreements? Of course there's going to be," Richards says. "...[Jagger] got used to holding the reins, and that was a bit of a shock to me at the time. But I got to live with it. And anyway, actually, what happened is we ended up sharing the reins again. But at the time, yeah, that did shock me, or disappointed me. Shock, I'm beyond."

Recently, Richards has made guest appearances on albums released by Willie Nelson and Lee "Scratch" Perry, among others, and recorded several tracks with Jack White. His albums with The Rolling Stones have sold an estimated 200 million copies worldwide, but he says the band has no plans to slow down.

"Quite honestly, I think the band wants to play. The boys want to play together, and hopefully we can get on the ups here," he says. "We're thinking ahead. I know, obviously, because of the book, and there's a lot of retro going on and stuff. But as far as I'm concerned, get over it. Get on ahead. We want to make some records, and we want to do some good shows, and we believe that we have it in us to do that."

Richards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. In 2008, The Rolling Stones was ranked No. 4 in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. A new collection of Richards' solo studio records, entitled Vintage Vinos, will be released on Nov. 2.


Vintage Vinos

Interview Highlights

On What Chuck Berry's Music Meant To Him

"To us in England and to people like Mick and myself, and many other people including Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Chuck arrived [with] incredible lyrics and [an] incredible 'devil-may-care' attitude and great records. At the time, we were starving [for good music] in England. We only had two radio stations in the country. We didn't have the dial-twisting. Everything you picked up was secondhand or in a juke joint or a coffee bar or something. And so music, when [people would] say, 'Did you hear that? Did you hear that?' — it wasn't immediately available to you. You had to go search for music. That is what we were doing in England."

On Being The Anti-Beatles

"If you're talking image-wise, we probably did make a decision to not be The Fab Four. They were basically differences between the bands. The Beatles were basically a vocal band. They all sang and one song, John would take the lead. Another, Paul [would] or George and sometimes Ringo. Our band set up totally differently — with one frontman, one lead singer, and what I loved about it is that there's an incredible difference in it between The Beatles and ourselves, but at the same time, we were there at the same time, and you're dealing with each other. And it was a very, very fruitful and great relationship between the Stones and The Beatles. It was very, very friendly. The competition thing didn't come into it as far as we were concerned."

On Groupies

"The most graphic is trying a theater in the north of England, and they brought the cops up to try to control the crowd, which consisted of young teenage girls. Everybody rushes through, the whole band, to get in the car. I'm the last one out of the stage door and silly me, I was wearing a chain around my neck and some chick from the left got hold of one side and some chick from the right got the other side, and to cut a long story short, quite honestly, I woke up in the garbage can to see the Stones' car, minus a door, zooming off in the horizon. And I'm just left laying there with half a shirt and a shoe. And everybody just left me. It's crazy."

Excerpt: 'Life'

Life
Life
By Keith Richards with James Fox
Hardcover, 576 pages
Little, Brown and Company
List price: $29.99

I think the first record I bought was Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally." Fantastic record, even to this day. Good records just get better with age. But the one that really turned me on, like an explosion one night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little radio when I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, was "Heartbreak Hotel." That was the stunner. I'd never heard it before, or anything like it. I'd never heard of Elvis before. It was almost as if I'd been waiting for it to happen. When I woke up the next day I was a different guy. Suddenly I was getting overwhelmed: Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Fats. Radio Luxembourg was notoriously difficult to keep on station. I had a little aerial and walked round the room, holding the radio up to my ear and twisting the aerial. Trying to keep it down because I'd wake Mum and Dad up. If I could get the signal right, I could take the radio under the blankets on the bed and keep the aerial outside and twist it there. I'm supposed to be asleep; I'm supposed to be going to school in the morning. Loads of ads for James Walker, the jewelers "in every high street," and the Irish sweepstakes, with which Radio Lux had some deal. The signal was perfect for the ads, "and now we have Fats Domino, ‘Blueberry Hill,'" and shit, then it would fade.

Then, "Since my baby left me" — it was just the sound. It was the last trigger. That was the first rock and roll I heard. It was a totally different way of delivering a song, a totally different sound, stripped down, burnt, no bullshit, no violins and ladies' choruses and schmaltz, totally different. It was bare, right to the roots that you had a feeling were there but hadn't yet heard. I've got to take my hat off to Elvis for that. The silence is your canvas, that's your frame, that's what you work on; don't try and deafen it out. That's what "Heartbreak Hotel" did to me. It was the first time I'd heard something so stark. Then I had to go back to what this cat had done before. Luckily I caught his name. The Radio Luxembourg signal came back in. "That was Elvis Presley, with ‘Heartbreak Hotel.'" Shit!

Around 1959, when I was fifteen, Doris bought me my first guitar. I was already playing, when I could get one, but you can only tinker when you haven't got one of your own. It was a Rosetti. And it was about ten quid. Doris didn't have the credit to buy it on hire purchase, so she got someone else to do it, and he defaulted on the payment — big kerfuffle. It was a huge amount of money for her and Bert. But Gus must have had something to do with it too. It was a gut-string job. I started where every good guitar player should start — down there on acoustic, on gut strings. You can get to wire later on. Anyway, I couldn't afford an electric. But I found just playing that Spanish, an old workman, and starting from there, it gave me something to build on. And then you got to steel strings and then finally, wow! Electricity! I mean, probably if I had been born a few years later, I would have leapt on the electric guitar. But if you want to get to the top, you've got to start at the bottom, same with anything. Same with running a whorehouse. I would just play every spare moment I got. People describe me then as being oblivious to my surroundings — I'd sit in a corner of a room when a party was going on or a family gathering, and be playing. Some indication of my love of my new instrument is Aunt Marje telling me that when Doris went to hospital and I stayed with Gus for a while, I was never parted from my guitar. I took it everywhere and I went to sleep with my arm laid across it.

I have my sketchbook and notebook of that year. The date is more or less 1959, the crucial year when I was, mostly, fifteen years old. It's a neat, obsessive piece of work in blue Biro. The pages are divided by columns and headings, and page two (after a crucial page about Boy Scouting, of which more later) is called "Record List. 45 rpm." The first entry: "Title: Peggy Sue Got Married, Artiste(s): Buddy Holly." Underneath that, in a less neat scrawl, are the encircled names of girls. Mary (crossed out) Jenny (ticked) Janet, Marilyn, Veronica. And so on. "Long Players" are The Buddy Holly Story, A Date with Elvis, Wilde about Marty (Marty Wilde, of course, for those who don't know), The "Chirping" Crickets. The lists include the usuals — Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran, Everly Brothers, Cliff Richard ("Travellin' Light")  — but also Johnny Restivo ("The Shape I'm In"), which was number three on one of my lists, "The Fickle Chicken" by the Atmospheres, "Always" by Sammy Turner — forgotten jewels. These were the record lists of the Awakening — the birth of rock and roll on UK shores. Elvis dominated the landscape at this point. He had a section in the notebook all to himself. The very first album I bought. "Mystery Train," "Money Honey," "Blue Suede Shoes," "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone." The crème de la crème of his Sun stuff. I slowly acquired a few more, but that was my baby. As impressed as I was with Elvis, I was even more impressed by Scotty Moore and the band. It was the same with Ricky Nelson. I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record. It was the bands behind them that impressed me just as much as the front men. Little Richard's band, which was basically the same as Fats Domino's band, was actually Dave Bartholomew's band. I knew all this. I was just impressed by ensemble playing. It was how guys interacted with one another, natural exuberance and seemingly effortless delivery. There was a beautiful flippancy, it seemed to me. And of course that goes even more for Chuck Berry's band. But from the start it wasn't just the singer. What had to impress me behind the singer would be the band.

Excerpted from Life by Keith Richards. Copyright 2010 by Keith Richards. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown and Company.

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