Keith Richards is an internationally recognized iconic figure in contemporary culture and popular music as a singer, guitar player, songwriter, film actor, and public figure. He was voted 10th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, and was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, as founding member of the legendary rock band The Rolling Stones. Together with his song-writing partner, Mick Jagger, he wrote and recorded hundreds of songs, including their monster hit ‘Satisfaction’, one of the defining songs of the era.
He was born on December 18, 1943, in Dartford, Kent, England, UK. His father, Bert Richards, a factory worker, was injured during the WWII. His mother, Doris (Dupree), introduced him to music of jazz, and also encouraged his singing performances with a choir in Westminster Abbey. Keith Richards met Mick Jagger when he attended primary school during the 1950s, albeit when they went into secondary schools they lost touch for a while. But one day in 1960 they accidentally met on a train and talked about starting up a band. Eventually, Richards and Jagger made their dream come true. They established one of the most legendary life-long songwriting partnerships, following the example of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting for The Beatles. Besides their main success in popular music and entertainment, Richards and Jagger had carried on their early image of unkempt and surly youth that many others would emulate, and spread their influence across traditional boundaries of genres and styles into filmmaking, art, fashion, and contemporary lifestyle, thus turning Jagger and Richards into cross-cultural trend-setters.
Since The Rolling Stones were formed in 1962, Richards and Jagger were continuously absorbing from many musical styles and assimilated various genres and artistic influences, ultimately creating their very own inimitable style. Together they undergone transformation from semi-amateur local musicians to the leading international superstars. Both Richards and Jagger became poster boys for excess, however, they had survived ups and downs in their careers and personal lives, and remained the core of the band. Initially they shared a flat with the late Brian Jones in London, in 1962. The first lineup of the Stones consisted of Mick Jagger on lead vocal and harmonica Keith Richards on guitar, Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on drums and Brian Jones on guitar. In 1964 they released their first album titled “The Rolling Stones.” In 1965 Richards and Jagger wrote their single, “The Last Time,” that became their first number 1 hit in the UK. Then came “Satisfaction” (1965), which was composed by Keith Richards in his sleep, and with the addition of provocative lyrics by Mick Jagger it became the greatest hit and their calling card on each and every show.
In 1966, after The Beatles stopped giving live performances, The Rolling Stones took over as the unofficial “biggest touring band in the world” for the next few years. During 1966-1969 they toured the world, and constantly updated their song-list with many great hits like “Lets Spend the night together” (1967), “Sympathy for the Devil” (1968) and “Honky tonk woman” (1969). The incredible international success of the Stones came with a sad side, caused by Brian’s drug and alcohol abuse that impaired his speech and appearance, so the band-mates had to replace him. In July 1969, Brian Jones died of drowning in his swimming pool while having signs of drug overdose. Upon Richards’s and Jagger’s approval, guitarist Mick Taylor took Brian’s place. Brian’s death at age 27 made him one of the first members of the infamous “27 Club” of rock stars who died at that age. Although Brian’s estrangement from his band-mates, and his numerous arrests were caused by his personal problems with drugs, both Richards and Jagger were blamed at the time for Brian’s death. The loss of one of their founding members was a painful moment for the Stones. However, at the end of the 1960s their creativity reached the new highs. Their albums “Beggars Banquet” (1968) and “Sticky Fingers” (1971) were among the most popular albums they ever made, having such hits as “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar.”
During the 1970s The Rolling Stones remained the biggest band in the world, albeit they were rivaled by the Led Zeppelin. The Stones made thousands of live performances and multi-million record sales with hits like “Angie” (1973), “It’s Only Rock and Roll” (1974), “Hot Stuff” (1976) and “Respectable” (1978). At that time both Keith Richards and Mick Jagger had individual ambitions, and applied their untamed creativity in various projects outside the Stones. Keith released his own single. In 1974 Ron Wood had replaced Mick Taylor on guitar and Keith and Ron both played lead guitars. During the decade Keith Richards had a family crisis on his hands, and suffered through emotional pain and drug abuse, albeit it didn’t stop him from being himself. In 1980 the group released “Emotional Rescue” which Keith Richards didn’t care for, and the group didn’t even tour to promote the album. In 1981 with the release of ‘Tattoo You’, the group went on a major world tour filling stadiums in the US and in Europe. In 1983 the Stones recorded the album “Undercover” at the Compass Point in Nassau and during this time Mick and Keith were having arguments over rights of the group. After having created tens of albums and over a hundred popular songs together, their legendary song-writing partnership was undergoing the most painful test: the bitter rivalry between two enormously talented and equally ambitious superstars.
Outside of The Rolling Stones, Richards toured with The New Barbarians, and also was the front-man of the X-Pensive Winos in the 1980s. In 1985 Keith Richards took part in the “Artists United Against Apartheid” charity project, and has been a participant in many more charitable concerts ever since. In 1992 he released his solo album titled ‘Main Offender’, which got him back on the road with a promotional tour. Also during the tour he continued singing a few Stones songs. But individual career and solo performances did not bring Richards as much satisfaction as he experienced together with his writing partner. Eventually, Jagger and Richards got together in Barbados and started to write new songs for the album “Steel Wheels.” After the Stones recorded it they went back on the road. It was the first tour of The Rolling Stones in 7 years. But in 1992 Bill Wyman announced that he was going to leave the group. In 1993 Keith Richards and his band released an album and toured for a few months. However, his artistic and personal connection with the Stones had eventually prevailed, and Richards reunited with his former band-mates.
In 1994 The Rolling Stones got back together again and recorded the album “Voodoo Lounge” and toured the world extensively. In 1995 an album of their warm up gig in a pub in Denmark was released. It was an acoustic live album called “Stripped”. In 1997 they released the album “Bridges to Babylon” and started a new tour promoting the album. In 1998 a live album “No Security” was released. Their 1999 the tour ended and the group hasn’t performed together until 2002. At that time Keith Richards continued playing guitar for various projects and artists, such as Norah Jones, and Aretha Franklin among others. Richards has been good friends with Johnny Depp, who modeled the character of Capt. Jack Sparrow after him, including his voice, his mannerisms, his personality, and aspects of his appearance. In return, Johnny Depp invited Keith Richards to play his father, Captain Teague, in the third installment of the “Pirates” franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007).
The Rolling Stones have released 55 albums of original work and compilations, and sold over 200 million records word-wide during their career spanning over 45 years. “The Stones” played in all kinds of spaces from small clubs to big stadium arenas, they remained one of the biggest entertainment acts touring the world with a retinue of jet-set hangers-on. Their inimitable shows, no matter the best, or the worst, has been played with fire and emotion, giving their audiences the kind of music they do best – it’s only rock’n roll. In 2007 they even rocked the Tsar’s Winter Palace with fifty thousand fans in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the communist revolution took place. They gave more large-scale shows internationally than any other existing band in the world, culminating in their 2005-2007 “A Bigger Band” tour with 147 concerts, the highest grossing tour of all time with $559 million earned. At their shows, even if you don’t shake your hips like Mick Jagger, just hold on to your hat as tears go by, and they can start you up and get you rocking. You can make it if you try.
Since 1962, during the career spanning over 45 years, Keith Richards has been the lead guitarist and primary musical force behind The Rolling Stones, as well as songwriter for the band. He also continues making numerous guest performances as guitarist, as well as actor and producer active in various other projects. Besides his favorite Telecaster and Gibson guitars, Keith Richards owns a valuable collection of about one thousand vintage guitars of various brands, many of which he takes along on concert tours and studio gigs.
Since Richards wrote the signature “Satisfaction” guitar riff, that was called by Newsweek “five notes that took the world,” his influence on popular music had never stopped. In his own words, Keith Richards has been dedicated to “grow this music up” beyond the theatrics of the rock’s past and “keep it fresh.”
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