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Keith Richards: "This thing is designed to keep us apart, and everything we want to do is be together"

Keith Richards
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

It’s doubtful that there’s any single individual in the rock firmament more deserving of the accolade ‘needs no introduction’ than Keith Richards. In living the ‘Human Riff’ legend for almost 60 years, the Rolling Stones guitarist has attained near-mythic status. But coronavirus has no respect for reputation, so Keith’s in lockdown too. 

Cheerfully resigned to ‘hunkering down’ in his Connecticut bubble for the duration, Keith’s his usual effusive self, whether looking back on ‘solo’ years fronting the X-Pensive Winos or looking forward to a return to so-called ‘normal’.

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Did you find that playing with the X-Pensive Winos after so many years with the Rolling Stones was a liberating experience? 

Yeah, it was in a way. It was a different experience. Being a frontman was very unusual for me. I appreciated Mick [Jagger]’s job a lot more by the time I finished, I can tell you. Because [on stage] with the Stones I can go back and forth at my will and whim. I can hide there with Charlie [Watts] or I can go up front. But I realised the non-stop pressure of singing every song, though at the same time I was expecting it to be a challenge, and it was. It was just a matter of stepping up to it, really, and it was very enjoyable. 

In a roundabout way, if Mick had never made [’85 solo album] She’s The Boss you would never have put the Winos together. Although it probably wouldn’t have been your choice to work outside of the Stones, did working apart ultimately help you to work together again? 

Yeah, absolutely right. I think it was that time, around ’85, when Mick and I both realised that we had to take a break. So I just intended to take a break, but the next thing I know Mick’s off making records and all this stuff. After about a year I was like: “Oh, man. I’ve gotta do something.” 

I’d since been hanging around with Steve Jordan [drummer, producer, Winos all-rounder] and [drummer] Charley Drayton, and I’d got this gig with Aretha Franklin doing Jumping Jack Flash with Steve, and that led to Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll with Chuck Berry. By the time we’d finished doing that, it felt ready to try it on myself. 

Steve and I had started to write songs together, and we thought that we’d better do something with them. So I put this great band together: [bassist] Ivan Neville, [guitarist] Waddy Wachtel, and it was a pleasure to have [vocalist] Miss Sarah Dash as well. 

With time on your hands, in light of COVID-19, are you a habitual guitar player? Do you sit and play along with the television? 

[Laughs] Actually, the thing sits next to my usual chair, and I kind of do. But I do tend to have moments and little periods of time during the day when suddenly I’ll pick up the guitar and something will come to mind. I sit around writing songs, basically, or parts of songs, little bits.

Today’s Stones shows are massive tribal gatherings. Have you considered the possibility that these sort of events might not be possible in the foreseeable future? And if so, is there a plan B under consideration? 

At the moment, I can’t see any plan B coming. At the moment I think it’s all based on ‘Let’s get this thing over and done with as soon as possible. Let’s smarten up and…’ This thing is designed to keep us apart, and everything we want to do is be together. I think we’re all going to have to bite the bullet for a bit and hunker down, do as we’re told, wash our hands, wear our masks and do the best. 

Is the forthcoming Stones album likely to be released track by track, because that seems to be working well so far? 

Well, (Living In A) Ghost Town came out that way, and we got about four or five tracks down before the pandemic hit. Ghost Town was written and recorded before we knew anything about COVID-19. It was one of Mick’s really mysterious prophecies [laughs]. But otherwise? I don’t know. We can’t finish it until we can get back together again, and this pandemic might change the way we want to sound or what we want to write about, because I think it’s going to influence everything. 

You’re renowned for keeping quite the library. What have you read during the pandemic? 

Funnily enough, not a lot. For some reason I haven’t been able to settle down with anything. Actually, thanks for reminding me. I must catch up on what people are writing. I haven’t read anything new just lately, and I usually do. I think this pandemic has slowed me down or cut me off somewhat. 

Keith Richards And The X-Pensive Winos Live At The Hollywood Palladium is available now.

Ian Fortnam

Commissioning both album reviews and live reviews, Classic Rock reviews editor Ian has been fearlessly filtering the rock from the cock since 2003.