Keith Richard is undeniably Mr. Rock and Roll. He epitomises the rock ‘n roll life style, women, illegal substances, feuds and fights, and like all the Stones, is an unparalleled showman. But musically, Keith is famous for two things – riffs and rhythm, and that’s it, there isn’t anything else. A knighthood for creativity? I don’t think so.
Brilliantly talented guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, who once played lead guitar for Mick on his solo tour, studied with the reclusive jazz musician Lennie Tristano. He is always in the top 3 when the best rock guitarists are being listed, often at number one and has taught many musicians who went on to have major success, including Steve Vai of G3 and Kirk Hammett of Metallica. He has been hugely successful himself, nominated for 14 Grammies and selling over 100 million records. Deeply creative, he had to sue Coldplay for copying his music.
On the subject of Keith, in his book Masters of Rock Guitar, Joe praises Keith’s rock persona, but says ” Famous for his riffs and rhythms, his excessive use of drugs ruined his creativity. His technique is not refined, and his solos are not legendary. The distance between him and legendary rock guitarists is huge.”
Blues guitarist Mick Taylor played with the Stones, but it wasn’t a happy experience. At the age of 17, he played with the famous John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers, developing a guitar style that is blues based with Latin and jazz influences. In 1969, the Stones had to replace Brian Jones and they picked Taylor. When Keith couldn’t play or rehearse “for whatever reasons”, Taylor worked with Jagger on tracks for Let It Bleed and he wrote Sway and Moonlight Mile. He also contributed hugely to It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.
In 1971, Keith came back. Taylor said “Keith and I used to fight and argue all the time.” Mick Taylor was appalled at how bad the Stones sounded live. Was the reason for the fighting that Keith realised he was being outplayed by a truly creative musician? Keith himself has admitted he is a purely rhythmic guitarist and he quipped “I can make all types of guitar sound the same”. Taylor was also upset he had received no credit for the songs he had co-written with Jagger. In 1974, Taylor quit.
In 1995, Jagger was interviewed by Rolling Stone and he said “I think he (Taylor) made a big contribution. He made it very musical. He was a very fluent, melodic player, which we never had, and we don’t have now. Neither Keith nor [Ronnie Wood] plays that. What came out of playing with him were musically some of the best things we have ever done”. As far as credits and backdated royalties are concerned though, Mick Taylor is still waiting.
In his book A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones, the author, Robert Greenfield describes how Truman Capote came along on a Stones tour to write his impressions of the band for Rolling Stone. Apparently, Capote was so disgusted with the venal, money grubbing attitude of the principals, and the lack of care and concern for the music, that he declined to write the piece. He did say “they are evanescent people of no importance. Jagger is really a businessman. He has the facility of being able to focus on the cash receipts while beating his whip in Midnight Rambler. He is about as sexy as a p…….. toad.”
Maybe part of creativity involves creating an unforgettable persona, and by that yardstick, Keith possibly might qualify. Musically, he doesn’t make the top 10 best guitarists, or even come close. If, as has been suggested, he should be knighted for his creativity, how much more worthy of that honour are the truly talented Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and a host of others? If the yardstick is musical talent, is Jagger himself a worthy recipient?
The Stones are terrific showmen, and they know how to get down and dirty, but they don’t love their craft. They haven’t bother to develope as musicians, like the brilliant Jeff Beck, or Led Zeppelin, who would play together for hours just for the pleasure of playing together, or Carlos Santana, who would die for his music. When the Stones paid a visit to Hugh Hefner’s mansion, the stories that leaked out are part of rock and roll legend. Let’s hope for the sake of his lovers that Keef’s lovemaking isn’t like his music, no kiss kiss and all bang bang.
UPDATE. Oh God. I have realised that Boris’s article is a windup and now I feel like a complete idiot.
References: A Journey Through America by Robert Greenfield. Exile on Main Street by Robert Greenfield. Up and Down with the Rolling Stones by Tony Sanchez. Masters of Rock Guitar by Joe Santriani.