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Artist: Keith Richards

Keith Richards

Bio

Keith Richards (born 18 December 1943 in Dartford, Kent), is an English guitarist and songwriter, best known for his work with The Rolling Stones. Richards has played guitar on releases by Chuck Berry, Max Romeo, Hubert Sumlin, Les Paul, Tom Waits, Bono and The Edge of U2, Nona Hendryx, John Phillips and Aretha Franklin. He was first known to the public as Keith Richard because Andrew Loog Oldham, the first manager of the Stones, removed the "s" to resemble the name of popstar Cliff Richard; Richards later restored the "s" to his surname. "The Human Riff" and "Keef Riffhard" are lasting epithets. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.

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Keith Richards: Talk Is Cheap Mojo, May 1997

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KEITH RICHARDS says he’d never thought of making a solo album until Mick Jagger announced that he didn’t want to tour to promote the Rolling Stones’ dreary 1985 album Dirty Work.

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When Jagger went off to commence work on his own second solo project, Primitive Cool, Keith killed time by producing a rip-snorting version of 'Jumpin’ Jack Flash' for Aretha Franklin and acting as chief instigator and bandleader on the superb Chuck Berry movie Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!

Richards’ principal accomplice on both of these ventures was a dreadlocked New York drummer called Steve Jordan, who’d paid his dues playing in Paul Schaffer’s house band on Late Night With David Letterman. "Keith and I hit it off," Jordan remembers, "and it had to do with the truth of our love for music. We were both also a little tired of the situations we were in, me with Letterman and him with the Stones." After finishing the Berry film, Richards and Jordan began hanging out together in New York, jamming and writing in a little studio on Broadway in the Flatiron district of Manhattan - "a cute little pink room where people wouldn’t bother us," says Jordan.

"That’s where Steve and I became real tight," says Richards. "When you write with someone, you really get to know them. I’d only ever written with Mick before - apart from a few other things, like with Gram Parsons - and suddenly Steve and I had some songs. And then the idea came, y’know: let’s make a record." As the writing progressed, the "cute pink room" at Studio 900 became a kind of clubhouse, and the nucleus of a band, the X-Pensive Winos, began to coalesce around Richards and Jordan. Waddy Wachtel was a veteran LA guitarist and bandleader with whom Keith and Steve had long wanted to work. Charley Drayton was a brilliant young bass player who’d been involved with Jordan in a never-fully-realised band called Raging Hormones. And keyboard player Ivan Neville was a scion of the illustrious New Orleans music family Richards had known for years. "Almost without realising it, we’d put together this incredible machine, this band that was so hot nobody could believe it," says Keith. "After the first night, we looked at each other and it was like we’d been playing together ten years. And then I was hooked."

With engineer Don Smith in place, the only remaining question mark surrounded the album’s producer. "One night," says Jordan, "Waddy asked, ‘Who’s producing this thing anyway?’ And Keith turned around and said, ‘We are’. And that’s when the decision was made. Then we really got to work." The ideas came thick and fast at Studio 900 - the astonishing funk riffs of 'Big Enough' and 'It Means A Lot', the slow soul of 'Make No Mistake' and 'Locked Away', the dragging, booze-loosened bar-band rock of 'Take It So Hard' - but they took a while to become songs. "The trouble with me is I leave songs in a sort of half-finished state till somebody grabs it and says, Yeah!" admits Richards. "I have to wait for somebody to react to something that’s coming out of me. If I get shots of enthusiasm from the guys I’m playing with, then that kind of turns me on and I think, well, maybe I ain’t stupid after all."

Steve Jordan claims there were two turning points in the making of Talk Is Cheap. One was sitting down with Tom Waits one evening in LA and listening to an acetate of Frank’s Wild Years - "Virgin were trying to figure out what sort of record Keith should make, which just struck me as absurd, and hearing Frank’s Wild Years set us all free about the integrity of the project" - and the second was relocating to Bermuda to work on Richards’ vocal tracks. "My job up to that point had been writing songs for Mick to sing," says Richards. "I’d been confining songwriting to that point of view. So I guess really what Talk Is Cheap did for me was that suddenly I could take them in my direction. Most of the songs Mick could have sung, but they wouldn’t have taken such funny, quirky leaps, because I just sing differently and I hear different melodies."

Waddy Wachtel, who’d returned to LA after initial tracking for the album at Le Studio in Toronto, was blown away by the melodic transformation of the songs when he rejoined Richards and Jordan. "They’d sounded like Stones songs when I left," he remembers, "and when I came back there were melodies on there that the Stones could never have done. That’s where the liberation came in for Keith. I looked at Steve and said, ‘Did you do this?’ And he goes, ‘Not me, man, I didn’t make one change.’ Keith wanted it to be anti-formula, anti-commercial. He wanted it to be Art."

The resulting album, released in the fall of 1988, sounded to many ears like the best Stones album in a decade - or at least the best Stones album the Stones never made. Yes, there was filler on it - 'Struggle', 'How I Wish' and 'Whip It Up' were routine, bunged-together songs - but the rest of the record was the pure, unadulterated Keith Richards so many of us had longed to hear, free of Jagger’s posturings: an album at the very least fit to kiss the coat-tails of the revered Exile On Main Street, which Richards can barely remember recording. To hear Keith and Bootsy Collins sparring on 'Big Enough' (with Bernie Worrell and Maceo Parker working twirling and whoosing around them) was awesome; to hear Johnnie Johnson hammering the ivories on the Keith-does-Chuck homage 'I Could Have Stood You Up' warmed the cockles of the heart; and then there was former Labelle member Sarah Dash’s beautifully understated vocal on the sultry 'Make No Mistake', backed by Willie Mitchell and the Memphis Horns. As for the extraordinary J’accuse of 'You Don’t Move Me', as acerbic as Lennon’s anti-Macca 'How Do You Sleep?' it may have been, but it was also full of genuine pain at what the Stones had allowed to leak away over the decades. ("Mick’s never mentioned it to me, but Bernard Fowler told me that when he was on tour in Australia he’d walk out of the room every time someone put the album on. And hey, I’ve got a couple of others in reserve if he wants more!")

"For everyone involved in Talk Is Cheap, I think there was a sense of release," says Richards. "Everybody was doing something they wanted to do. There was a sense that we’d all been let out of school or something. In fact, I felt like I’d just got out of jail." Steve Jordan says simply that it was "the greatest record-making experience of my life". The sense of rejuvenation for Richards was obvious when 1989’s Steel Wheels - featuring 'Almost Hear You High' and 'Slipping Away', two sublime tracks born during the Talk Is Cheap sessions - turned out to be the best Stones album of the 80s.

"Talk Is Cheap didn’t just recharge my batteries," says Richards. "It brought me back to life."


*

Tracks: Big Enough/Take It So Hard/Struggle/I Could Have Stood You Up/Make No Mistake/You Don’t Move Me/How I Wish/Rockawhile/Whip It Up/Locked Away/It Means A Lot

Currently available as: Virgin CD

Singles extracted: Take It So Hard

Principal studios: Air, Monserrat; Le Studio, Montreal.

Producers: Keith Richards, Steve Jordan

Chart Peak: 37 (UK), 24 (US)

Main personnel: Keith Richards (vocals, guitars), Steve Jordan (drums, backing vocals), Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Charley Drayton (bass, backing vocals), Ivan Neville (keyboards), Sarah Dash (vocals and backing vocals). Others: Bootsy Collins (bass), Bernie Worrell (organ, clavinet), Bobby Keys (saxophones), Maceo Parker (alto sax), Chuck Leavell (organ), the Memphis Horns (er, horns), Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Dural (accordion), Patti Scialfa (backing vocals), Sam Butler (backing vocals), Michael Doucet (violin), Johnnie Johnson (piano), Joey Stampinato (bass), Mick Taylor (guitar)

Thanks to Keith Richards, Steve Jordan, Waddy Wachtel, Jane Rose, Bernard Docherty and Bill Flanagan.

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