The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards: An 'Exile' In France Released in 1972, The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street was a fat collection of rock 'n' roll at its roughest and bluesiest. Nearly four decades later, it's a classic. In the center of the veritable circus surrounding the band was Keith Richards' villa in the south of France, where the album was recorded.
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Keith Richards: An 'Exile' In France

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Keith Richards: An 'Exile' In France

Keith Richards: An 'Exile' In France

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In the summer of 1971, guitarist Keith Richards worked up a riff to a song we'll probably be dancing to forever.


MONTAGNE: (Singing) Women think I'm tasty, always try to waste me. Make me burn the candle all night. But baby, baby...

MONTAGNE: As the lyrics had it, just call me the tumbling dice. And as Keith Richards remembers it...

MONTAGNE: I loved the riff. And "Tumbling Dice" is very much like rolling stone, you know...


MONTAGNE: It has the same connotations.


MONTAGNE: (Singing) Baby. I know, baby...

MONTAGNE: At the center of it all was Keith Richards' villa and the basement where they began to make the music.


MONTAGNE: How did it happen that you ended up recording many of these songs in a basement?

MONTAGNE: Basically because we could not find a studio in France - in the south of France, that we felt that we could record in. We thought, well, we'll just rehearse in my basement there and while we find a place to record in. And after a couple of weeks, we just looked at each other and sort of gave up looking anywhere else and said, we've got it here, you know?


MONTAGNE: (Singing) Yeah, let it all come down tonight. Let it loose. Let it all come down. Let it all come down. Let it loose. Let it all come down. Maybe all let's dance...

MONTAGNE: From what I gather of those stories, and it's a legendary moment in The Stones when The Rolling Stones are recording, the house was full of other people.

MONTAGNE: And we'd be down there all night. You know, we used to have a little table to play cards on when we were not required.

MONTAGNE: Just to keep...

MONTAGNE: Yeah, you start to become a troglodyte or something.


MONTAGNE: It was hot and dusty and I can still smell it, actually.

MONTAGNE: What did it smell like?

MONTAGNE: It's sort of indescribable. I'll leave it to your imagination.

MONTAGNE: It was so hot and stifling, the Stones came up with this song, "Ventilator Blues."


MONTAGNE: (Singing) When your spine is crackling and your hands, they shake...

MONTAGNE: It's just a pretty dark, heavy blues. And I believe I'm playing slide on it, which is - I don't do very often.


MONTAGNE: (Singing) Woman's cussing, you can hear her scream. Feel like murder in the first degree.

MONTAGNE: There's another song on "Exile on Main Street" that's very happy.

MONTAGNE: Oh, yes.

MONTAGNE: In fact, it's called "Happy." Do you remember recording that song?

MONTAGNE: Yes. It was afternoon and I was trying to put some songs together for the evening. And suddenly I just hit those chords, those opening chords.


MONTAGNE: Soundbite of song, "Happy")

MONTAGNE: (Singing) Well, I never kept a dollar past sunset. I always burned a hole in my pants...

MONTAGNE: And I think I did it in two takes, with Bobby Keys playing baritone sax and Jimmy Miller played drums. And that's what you got.

MONTAGNE: (Singing) I need a love to keep me happy. I need a love to keep me happy. Baby, baby...

MONTAGNE: It's the way you like them - songs that just crop up out of nowhere, and before the sun goes down, it's in the can, you know.

MONTAGNE: The lyrics on this one: I never kept a dollar past sunset. It always burned a hole in my pants. You never made a school mama happy. Never blew a second chance. Those are just coming to you? They just arrive?

MONTAGNE: A lot of them, yeah. You can start off with one line, and you've got maybe two seconds to come up with another one. I mean you're bypassing the thought process. You know?


MONTAGNE: And you're just seeing what comes out. I mean if it doesn't work, then you just, you know, rewrite. A lot of the time, you want to do these things on the knife edge. You know, you really do not know what you're going to say next. And it saves a lot of paper.

MONTAGNE: Keith Richards saved a lot of paper for The Rolling Stones. Recordings of his improvisations were buried in warehouses for decades. On this reissue of the original "Exile," the bonus tracks include several alternate takes of well-known songs, including this version of "Soul Survivor," where Keith Richards can be heard riffing random phrases.


MONTAGNE: (Singing) I just came on by with my big blind eye and my swollen nose...

MONTAGNE: Every time she walks by, blind eye, and I think I heard swollen nose in there...


MONTAGNE: At the very end, this is what you hear.


MONTAGNE: (Singing) Et cetera.

MONTAGNE: Et cetera.


MONTAGNE: Et cetera. Yeah, you can get that on the original.

MONTAGNE: What were you doing - just riffing?

MONTAGNE: Well, we were on a fadeout and you kind of like to let them rock as long as they are going. But there's a point where they, you know, et cetera, et cetera. You know?


MONTAGNE: And you know it's time to stop.

MONTAGNE: Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Tomorrow, we talk to Mick Jagger.

MONTAGNE: A lot of this stuff was quite finished and quite controlled. So, though it was a relatively undisciplined bunch of sessions, when we actually got into the sessions I think that the playing was quite disciplined.


MONTAGNE: (Singing) You're sitting in the darkness. You're dancing in the light. You really...

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Lynn Neary.


MONTAGNE: (Singing) You're dancing in the light. I'm waiting for the train that never will arrive. You left me twisting in the wind, dangling in the night. You're the Mr. Christian and I'm the Captain Bligh...

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