Keith Richards’ snarling reaction to being told that the Sex Pistols said he should retire

Photo of ROLLING STONES and Keith RICHARDS, of the Rolling Stones, posed backstage at a Faces show next to Johnny Rotten performing with theSex Pistols, Copenhagen, July 13 1977
(Image credit: Graham Wiltshire/Jorgen Angel/Getty Images)

It was into a changing world that the Rolling Stones released their 1976 record Black And Blue, but there were shifting sands inside the group too. They’d put out a run of era-defining records from ’68-’72, culminating in Exile On Main St., but the hangover had seeped long into the next decade. Black And Blue was meant to restore the balance, melding their rock’n’roll swagger with reggae, funk and disco influences. However, the record wasn’t received with the open arms the band might have expected – far from it. Instead, critics lamented a group thought to be past their best.

It was into this context that Classic Rock’s John Ingham found himself backstage with Keith Richards in Frankfurt in April, 1976. Fellow journalist Charles Shaar Murray had already been admonished by Richards, as well as Jagger, for a lukewarm review of the new album and Ingham found himself getting involved. 

For the previous months, he'd been in the orbit of music’s next wave of gamechangers and, his brain perhaps clouded by the various substances being passed around, he wanted to relay the message to Keith. He recalled the encounter in Classic Rock. “Keith, there’s a band in London called the Sex Pistols,” he ventured to little reaction. He continued. “They think you’re old and should stop playing and get out the way.” This, as you can imagine, did illicit a reaction from the guitarist, Ingham describing a man with “ultrasheen eyes glaring and just below the surface a volcano is erupting.” 

Richards’ retort was not that of a man ready to hang up his plectrums just yet. “Just let them try,” he snarled at Ingham. “We’re the Rolling Stones. No one tells us what to do. We’ll stop when we feel like it.” And with that, Keith Richards pretty much laid down the blueprint for the Stones for decades to come, no matter how many new pretenders travelled in their slipstream. They’re the Stones, they’ll stop when they feel like it. It hasn’t happened yet.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.