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Keith Richards

The Man. The Myth. The Legend.

The Life of Keith Richards

Keith Richards was born on the 18th of December 1943 and was the only child to Doris and Herbert Richards. He grew up in Dartford, Kent, England around relatives who had a profound influence over him. His grandfather, who was in a jazz band, is said to have given Richards his first guitar and encouraged him to practice ferociously, practicing along to jazz records. Richards has cited Scotty Moore (lead guitarist for Elvis Presley) as one of his first influences. Richards began to drift away from school, but rather playing guitar more frequently. He met Mick Jagger who shared an interest in the same music as Richards and they later joined to form the Rolling Stones in 1963.

After 1966, Richards and Jagger wrote most of the songs with Brian Jones, de facto bandleader, providing the structure for the band. Around the late 1960s, Richards began collaborating with other artists and a band he formed, which included Eric Clapton, John Lennon and more. Richards has been influenced by American music since his youth and was encouraged to write in a more country, roots and classic blues style throughout the 1970s. Richards’ personal life has been riddled with issues with the law and substance abuse. He has been arrested 5 times since 1967 and has a reputation as a “bad boy.” The Rolling Stones have reunited intermittently and Richards continues to perform, releasing his latest solo album in 1988. The Stones released an album of blues covers in 2016, called Blue & Lonesome, proving that Keith and The Rolling Stones still had their chops.

His Style of Music

Chuck Berry was an important influence on Richards and he has cited Berry as his inspiration for focusing on chords and rhythms, rather than trying to play flashy and outshine everyone else. Richards loved playing guitar off another guitar player in a technique he called weaving. The technique had been cherry picked from Chicago blues style and honed by Richards and follow band member, Brian Jones. Richards has explored different tuning styles throughout his career with his preferred tuning being a five-string tuning of GDGBD, removing the low string to “get it out of the way.”

Richards is not about virtuosic guitar playing or showing off, but rather about finding the rhythm and creating a riff that fits in with his groove and incredible songwriting. He tends to play to advance the song as a whole and to develop the rhythm. Richards generally writes songs using his acoustic guitar as he feels that it gives him a better touch than the electric guitar. He states that the way to determine whether a song is good enough is to strip away all the production technique and just play it on acoustic guitar with vocals. 

Keith's Guitars

In the Rolling Stones early years, Richards used a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, a Harmony Meteor and an Epiphone Casino. Richards collected guitars throughout his life and his taste in guitar was generally determined by the style of song he was playing. He has consistently used Gibson Les Paul’s across his career as well as a variety of Gibson ES-335. Richards most popular guitar is generally considered to be the Fender Telecaster, with which he has written some of the Rolling Stones most memorable tunes, including Brown Sugar and Honky Tonk Women. He has a Fender Stratocaster which was given to him by Ronnie Wood in 1982. For his acoustic songs, Richards has used a Gibson Hummingbird since the late 1960s.

Richards has generally stayed away from using effects pedals because he largely tries to pair the right guitar to the right amp to achieve the sound he wants. However, on certain songs where he deems it necessary he has used a wah-wah pedal, a phaser, and a Leslie Speaker. In terms of amplifiers, Richards has used mainly Fender amps that are low-powered while style providing ability to get a clean sound. He finds that they also allow for a distorted and overdriven sound using the Fender Twin, Champ and the Fender Harvard. 

How I See Keith Richards

As a die-hard Beatles fan, the Rolling Stones were originally the inferior band of the British Invasion. However, I soon heard the song "Satisfaction" and the guitar on that song completely changed my opinion of the Rolling Stones. Rolling Stone Magazine placed Keith Richards at number 4 on their list of all time greatest guitarists. Richards has evolved as a guitarist throughout his life, from his blues influenced roots in the London rhythm & blues scene to classic rock & roll and everywhere in between, providing a truly unique sound to the group and to classic rock forever. Despite Richards being a truly masterful guitar player, he has maintained a simple style of playing what needs to be played (for the purpose of the song) and not trying to show off. 

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