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Keith Richards

 

When the Rolling Stones released their monster hit, �(I Can�t Get No) Satisfaction� in 1965, Keith Richards� name became known throughout the world as its co-writer and guitarist. It reached the top of the charts in both the US and UK within months of its release, and became a symbol of the �Rock and Roll Generation� of the 1960�s. Richards himself, tells the story that he composed the piece�s signature riff in the middle of the night. He says that he woke up, recorded the chorus with the words �I can�t get no satisfaction,� and the famous guitar lick, and went back to sleep. In the morning, he heard a cassette with �two minutes of �Satisfaction,� and forty minutes of snoring.�
 
It sounds like an effortless way to produce a mega-hit, and those who have watched Keith playing and writing songs often remark that he makes it all look so easy. The fact remains, however, that Richards has put in thousands of hours of work in order to hone his craft and enhance his natural-born talent. The story of his career is one that should inspire would-be guitarists, and offer some cautionary instruction, as well.
 
Keith Richards was born in 1943 in Dartford, Kent in England. His father was a factory worker who did not have any kind of musical background. His mother Doris, however, was the daughter of �Big Gus� Dupree, a big band jazz musician who had toured Britain professionally. She encouraged Keith�s interest in music and exposed him to the jazz sounds of Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, among others. She also helped him secure a place in a children�s choir that sang at Westminster Abbey, and held one performance for Queen Elizabeth. Keith�s mother was the person who bought him his first guitar when he was 15, a Rosetti acoustic.
 
He was enamored with the instrument right away, took some lessons from his grandfather, and spent hours strumming on it. He recalls how his dad would come home from work night after night to find Keith sitting on the stairs playing his guitar and pounding on the wall to provide percussion sounds. Richards says that his father would often mutter, �Stop that bloody noise,� but was actually great about letting him practice. As a youngster, Keith loved American rock and roll and idolized, Scotty Moore, the guitarist who became famous for accompanying Elvis Presley in the 50�s.
 
Keith was expelled from his school for truancy at the age of 16, but his headmaster recognized his creativity and encouraged him to try attending Sidcup Art School. While there he met Dick Taylor who would eventually become a musical colleague and they spent a lot of time listening to blues recordings of artists like Muddy Waters. Keith could play most of the solos written by Chuck Berry while he was still a schoolboy. About that time he traded a large stack of records for his first electric guitar, a hollow body Hoffner.
 
Richards and Mick Jagger, of Rolling Stones fame, were classmates in grade school and lived near each other. They lost touch when the Richards family moved in 1954, but later became reacquainted through Dick Taylor who was playing with Jagger in a blues band. Keith attended a rehearsal of the group and soon joined the band. By the middle of 1962, Richards left school and united with Jagger and Brian Jones to form a new group they called the Rolling Stones. The three moved to London to become flat mates and pursue a full time music career. They recruited bass player Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts, to join them and complete the group.
 
The members of the Rolling Stones absorbed influences from many styles of music, including the blues that Richards and Jagger loved produced by Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. In fact, they got the name for their group from a Waters song called  �Rollin� Stone Blues.� Their early work included covers of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley rockabilly songs, and discerning listeners will hear country, R&B, gospel and soul influences. Richards and Brian Jones developed an interesting give-and-take style between their lead and rhythm guitar parts.
 
Richards and Mick Jagger, in the meantime, developed their talent as a songwriting team and the group began playing original songs.  The Stones� first self-titled album was released in 1964, but it was �Satisfaction� that made them a household name during the next year. It reached #1 in both the UK and US, and with its suggestive and rebellious lyrics, made the Rolling Stones the �bad boys� of rock. Newsweek magazine called its instantly identifiable riff �five notes that shook the world,� and the song became the calling card for every Stones concert. Richards used a Gibson Maestro Fuzzbox to get the unique guitar sound, and the fuzz boxes became the most popular guitar accessories in the world. In fact, the Gibson Company sold completely out of the device by the end of 1965.
 
The Rolling Stones was at the height of its popularity at about the same time the Beatles decided to stop playing live concerts in 1966, so the Stones became the �biggest ticket in the world� for a time. They toured almost non-stop for three years and kept updating their show to include new hits like �Let�s Spend the Night Together,� and �Honky-tonk Woman.� While Mick Jagger was always the flamboyant showman on stage, it was Richards� consistently brilliant guitar work that kept the critics happy.
 
British authorities were worried that the anti-establishment attitude of the Rolling Stones could prove to be a bad influence on the youth of England, and in 1967, police raided Keith Richards� home. They found amphetamines in the coat pocket of Mick Jagger�s girlfriend, and Richards was sentenced to a year in prison for allowing illegal activity to take place on his property. There was a large public outcry, however, which pointed out the circumstantial nature of the evidence in the case, and the decision was reversed. Richards is quoted as saying he never had any trouble with drugs, just with cops, but this first incident was followed by a series of run-ins with the law.
 
Keith Richards loved to experiment with open guitar tunings and borrowed one of his favorite variations from the Everly Brothers� Don Everly. It is a GDGBD tuning with a droning sixth string and was used on Stones classics like �Brown Sugar� and �Start Me Up.� He often used Fender Telecaster guitars and usually outfitted them with Gibson PAF humbucker pickups in the neck position. In the years since 1997, Keith has used a black Gibson ES-355 equipped with a Bigsby tailpiece.
Richards has consistently maintained that every guitar player should become accomplished at playing an acoustic. He has always used one to practice at home and recommends that habit to anyone who is serious about learning the instrument. He believes that playing the simple, unplugged, instrument is the best way for a guitarist to maintain his touch. Richards played acoustic on many of the Stones� releases including �Brown Sugar,� �Street Fighting Man,� and �Almost Hear You Sigh.�
 
Even though the Rolling Stones� popularity was astronomical, in 1969, the group had to replace Brian Jones because of drug and alcohol addiction. He died later that year in his own swimming pool amidst suspicions of drug overdose. Both Jagger and Richards took his death hard, and were dismayed by press coverage that somehow managed to blame them for their friend�s demise.
 
In the early 1970�s Richards and Jagger had a resurgence of creativity that led to some top-selling albums such as Sticky Fingers (1971) and hits like �Wild Horses� and �Angie.� Throughout the 70�s, the only band that could begin to rival the Rolling Stones was Led Zeppelin. In 1977, the welfare of the group was seriously threatened when Richards was busted for heroin possession in Toronto. He only managed to avoid jail time because he agreed to perform a benefit concert for the blind and to enter drug rehab in the US.
 
After successful treatment, during the 80�s and 90�s and beyond, Keith Richards has continued to write and perform, sometimes with Jagger and the Stones, and sometimes by himself. He has also collaborated with many other artists including Norah Jones and Aretha Franklin. His friendship with Johnny Depp led to an appearance as Jack Sparrow�s father in the 2007 film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World�s End.
 
During more than 45 years as a musician, Richards has been a part of 55 albums released by the Rolling Stones and numerous other projects as well. In spite of the ups and downs of personal crises and changing band members, he has been a consistently great guitarist that has influenced scores of musicians that followed him. He has never lost his commitment to producing great music, even while making it all look easy.

     

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Chuck Berry
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