Who the hell is Keith Richards?


I unknowingly encountered Keef on my first album purchase as a 7-year-old. It was bought second hand at the Lifeline Book Fair. It was probably about 50 cents. And it was a vinyl LP.

What self-respecting ratbag could go past this image.

Dynasty by KISS. Side 1. Track 1. ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You, Baby’.

I played that one song repeatedly on our turntable. If I was late to lift the stylus off the record and return it to the beginning of the track, it’d continue around the groove to Track 2. The more I heard the intro to this second song, the more I let it revolve. Eventually I skipped the first song altogether.

‘2000 Man’ was Track 2, written by Jagger/Richards. It was solid. It was futuristic, rebellious and beautifully obscure, check out the lyrics. But really, it was the guitar. I loved how heavy it was. It would get in your bones.

I didn’t get to the Stones version of 2000 Man for at least another 20 years.

I left KISS there, Side 1. Track 2; but it was the precursor to my love of loud guitar driven noise, and my deafness.

So, who wrote this driving riff and the many, many others? Who the hell is Keith Richards?

William Burroughs sat across from Keith Richards at the International Rock Awards in 89. Burroughs reported that Richards had been ‘sobriety itself’ throughout the evening but had then ‘immediately switched on a slurring, knockabout routine once at the podium’ to receive his Living Legend Award. But who would trust Burroughs for a character reference?

Keef. The Man. The Living Legend. The Myth. How long have you got?

At the moment I am living, breathing and sleeping (or not, hello 4am) all things Keith.

There’s mountains written on this man. Many myths. Near death experiences; electrocutions, go kart and car accidents, fires, and coconut trees, not to mention the drugs, the busts, the blood transfusions, and the snorting of his fathers’ ashes incident. Even his surname has conjecture surrounding it.

What is certain is that he is a bona fide living legend. He defies the odds, tries everything twice and is known for his incredible constitution and stamina. Keith’s a survivor. An endurance man. Seemingly eternal. Salt of the earth. He almost single-handedly invented the archetypal rock n roll bad boy. 

He is also one of the greatest rock n roll guitarists of all time. 

Keef has what we want. Whatever he is selling, we’re buying it. The rebel, the anti-hero, he’s the antithesis of everything we’re told we should be. He’s winking at us, daring us to do it. Whatever it is. He’s constantly been on the most-likely-to-die list over the centuries, and here he is, outliving us all, with a swig of vodka and a cackle.

“I kind of felt everybody else was writing the script for me, ‘You’re going to do what I can’t’ ‘Okay’, it was a very easy role to slip into. There was a slot available and it was just built for me..”

It started when he bumped into Jagger on a misty train station. Mick had a collection of Rhythm & Blues records under his arm and Keith wanted in, Mick introduced Keith to Brian and so begat The Rolling Stones.

Originally, they were a cover band. Their love of the rhythm & blues drove them to replicate their masters such as Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddly, Lead Belly and Robert Johnson, until their manager Andrew ‘Loog’ Oldham forced them into a bathroom, or was it a kitchen, and refused to let them out til they’d written a song. That song may or may not have been As Tears Go By. It was nothing like the songs they were going for, so they gave it away. Oldham had Marianne Faithfull take it to number 9 in the UK in 1964 instead.

Right at the beginning there were riots, mosh pits and the inkling of stage diving. Frenzied fans would turn up to gigs with unabated energy, ready to let loose.

The violence at their gigs became commonplace, venues grew nervous and banned them, and the headline was ‘Would you let your daughter go with a Rolling Stone?’ The clothes became more outrageous. The drugs became more outrageous. Brian Jones had three sons with three different women and called them all Julian.

Here’s kinda where it should stop. And for Brian and others it did.

But for The Glimmer Twins; Jagger and Richards, it seems they gather no moss. They’re in their early 70’s and still filling stadiums. Together, with Charlie, they are responsible for creating decades of great rock n roll and in turn, passing it on, like Buddy Guy and the others before them.

Keef has grown into his own myth. He’s a working class everyman, who’s done it. He fought the law and he’s won, and we’re all sitting back in awe. How?  Tell us..ya bastard.

An elegantly wasted, working class, picaro, piratical rock n roller, a philosopher, an alien, a cockroach, upon an elephant upon a turtle or something like that.


Lucinda Gleeson

A Riff on Keef: The Human Myth
by Benito Di Fonzo
25 November- 12 December 2015