John Lee Hooker With The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton — Boogie Chillin' (Atlantic City, 1989)

Keith Richards

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Keith Richards
Keith Richards Photo Jerzy Bednarski.jpg
Richards in 2018
Born18 December 1943 (age 78)
Dartford, England
EducationDartford Technical School
Sidcup Art College
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • actor
Years active1960–present
(m. 1983)
Partner(s)Anita Pallenberg (1967–1980)
Children5, including Theodora Dupree and Alexandra Nicole
Musical career
  • Guitar
Associated acts

Keith Richards (born 18 December 1943), often referred to during the 1960s and 1970s as Keith Richard, is an English musician, singer, and songwriter, who has achieved international fame as the co-founder, guitarist, secondary vocalist, and co-principal songwriter of the Rolling Stones. His songwriting partnership with Mick Jagger is one of the most successful in history. Richards is widely considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. His career spans over six decades and his guitar playing style has been a trademark of the Rolling Stones throughout the band's career. Richards gained press notoriety for his romantic involvements, illicit drug use and was often portrayed as a countercultural figure.

Richards was born in and grew up in DartfordKent. He studied at the Dartford Technical School and Sidcup Art College. After graduating, Richards befriended Jagger, Bill WymanCharlie Watts and Brian Jones, and joined the Rolling Stones. As a member of the Rolling Stones, Richards is the only member, aside from Jagger, to sing lead on some Stones songs. Richards typically sings lead on at least one song a concert, including "Happy", "Before They Make Me Run", and "Connection". Outside of his career with the Rolling Stones, Richards has also played with his own side-project, The X-Pensive Winos. He also appeared in three Pirates of the Caribbean films as Captain Teague, father of Jack Sparrow, whose look and characterization was inspired by Richards himself.

In 1989, Richards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2004 into the UK Music Hall of Fame with the Rolling Stones. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him fourth on its list of 100 best guitarists in 2011. The magazine lists fourteen songs that Richards wrote with the Rolling Stones' lead vocalist Jagger on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list.

Early life

Richards was born on 18 December 1943 at Livingston Hospital, in Dartford, Kent, England.[1] He is the only child of Doris Maud Lydia (née Dupree) and Herbert William Richards. His father was a factory worker who was wounded in the Second World War during the Normandy invasion.[2] Richards's paternal grandparents, Ernie and Eliza Richards, were socialists and civic leaders, whom he credited as "more or less creat[ing] the Walthamstow Labour Party", and both were mayors of the Municipal Borough of Walthamstow in Essex, with Eliza becoming mayor in 1941.[3][4] His great-grandfather's family originated from Wales.[2][5][6]

His maternal grandfather, Augustus Theodore "Gus" Dupree, who toured Britain with a jazz big band, Gus Dupree and His Boys, fostered Richards's interest in the guitar.[7] Richards has said that it was Dupree who gave him his first guitar.[8] His grandfather 'teased' the young Richards with a guitar that was on a shelf that Richards couldn't reach at the time. Finally, Dupree told Richards that if Richards could reach the guitar, he could have it.[9] Richards then devised all manner of ways of reaching the guitar, including putting books and cushions on a chair, until finally getting hold of the instrument, after which his grandfather taught him the rudiments of Richards's first tune, "Malagueña".[9] He worked on the number 'like mad', and then his grandfather let him keep the guitar, which he called 'the prize of the century'. Richards played at home, listening to recordings by Billie HolidayLouis ArmstrongDuke Ellington, and others.[10] His father, on the other hand, disparaged his son's musical enthusiasm.[11] One of Richards's first guitar heroes was Elvis's guitarist Scotty Moore.[12]

Richards attended Wentworth Primary School with Mick Jagger[13] and was his neighbour until 1954 when the Richards and Jagger families both moved.[14] From 1955 to 1959, Richards attended Dartford Technical High School for Boys.[15][16] Recruited by Dartford Tech's choirmaster, R. W. "Jake" Clare, he sang in a trio of boy sopranos at, among other occasions, Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth II.[17] In 1959, Richards was expelled from Dartford Tech for truancy and transferred to Sidcup Art College,[18][19] where he met Dick Taylor.[20][21] At Sidcup, he was diverted from his studies proper and devoted more time to playing guitar with other students in the boys' room. At this point, Richards had learned most of Chuck Berry's solos.[22]

Richards in 1965

Richards met Jagger again by chance on a train platform when Jagger was heading for classes at the London School of Economics.[23] The mail-order rhythm & blues albums from Chess Records by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters that Jagger was carrying revealed a mutual interest[24][25] and led to a renewal of their friendship. Along with mutual friend Dick Taylor, Jagger was singing in an amateur band, Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, which Richards soon joined.[26][27] The Blue Boys folded when Brian Jones, after sharing thoughts on their joint interest in the blues music, invited Mick and Keith to the Bricklayers Arms pub, where they then met Ian Stewart.[28][29]

By mid-1962 Richards had left Sidcup Art College[30] to devote himself to music, and moved into a London flat with Jagger and Jones. His parents divorced at about the same time, resulting in his staying close to his mother and remaining estranged from his father until 1982.[31]

After the Rolling Stones signed to Decca Records in 1963, the band's manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, dropped the s from Richards's surname, believing that "Keith Richard", in his words, "looked more pop".[32] During the late 1970s, Richards re-established the s in his surname.[33]


Richards plays both lead and rhythm guitar parts, often in the same song; the Stones are generally known for their guitar interplay of rhythm and lead ("weaving") between him and the other guitarist in the band – Brian Jones (1962–1969), Mick Taylor (1969–1975), or Ronnie Wood (1975–present). In the recording studio Richards sometimes plays all of the guitar parts, notably on the songs "Paint It Black", "Ruby Tuesday", "Sympathy for the Devil", and "Gimme Shelter". He is also a vocalist, singing backing vocals on many Rolling Stones songs as well as occasional lead vocals, such as on the Rolling Stones' 1972 single "Happy", as well as with his side project, the X-Pensive Winos.


Since the departure of Brian Jones, Richards and Mick Jagger have shared primary songwriting and production duties (credited as the Glimmer Twins) for the Stones. Former keyboardist Ian Stewart once said that Richards was the Rolling Stones' bandleader; however, Richards has said that his job is merely "oiling the machinery". Unlike many bands where the drummer sets the pace and acts as a timesetter for a song, Richards fills that role for the Rolling Stones. Both former bassist Bill Wyman and current guitarist Ronnie Wood have said that the Stones do not follow the band's long-time drummer, Charlie Watts, but rather follow Richards, as there was "no way of 'not' following" him.[34][35]


Richards playing guitar in concert, 1973

Chris Spedding calls Richards's guitar playing "direct, incisive and unpretentious".[36] Richards says he focuses on chords and rhythms, avoiding flamboyant and competitive virtuosity and trying not to be the "fastest gun in the west".[34] Richards prefers teaming with at least one other guitarist and has almost never toured without one.[37] Chuck Berry has been an inspiration for Richards,[38] and, with Jagger, he introduced Berry's songs to the Rolling Stones' early repertoire. In the late 1960s Brian Jones's declining contributions led Richards to record all guitar parts on many tracks, including slide guitar. Jones's replacement, Mick Taylor, played guitar with the Rolling Stones from 1969 to 1974. Taylor's virtuosity on lead guitar led to a pronounced separation between lead and rhythm guitar roles, most notably onstage.[34] In 1975 Taylor was replaced by Wood, whose arrival marked a return to a guitar interplay Richards called "the ancient art of weaving", which he and Jones had gleaned from Chicago blues.[39]

A break in touring during 1967–1968 allowed Richards to experiment with open tunings. He primarily used open tunings for fingered chording, developing a distinctive style of syncopated and ringing I–IV chording heard on "Street Fighting Man" and "Start Me Up".[40] Richards's favoured – but not exclusively used – open tuning is a five-string open G tuning: GDGBD. Richards often removes the lowest string from his guitar, playing with only five strings, as the lower string just "gets in the way" of Richards's playing, letting the band's bass player pick up those notes.[41] Several of his Telecasters are tuned this way. This tuning is prominent on Rolling Stones recordings, including "Honky Tonk Women", "Brown Sugar", and "Start Me Up".[42] Richards has stated that banjo tuning was the inspiration for this tuning.[43]

Richards regards acoustic guitar as the basis for his playing,[44] believing that the limitations of electric guitar would cause him to "lose that touch" if he stopped playing an acoustic.[42] Richards plays acoustic guitar on many Rolling Stones tracks, including "Play with Fire", "Brown Sugar", and "Angie". All guitars on the studio versions of "Street Fighting Man" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" feature acoustic guitars overloaded to a cassette recorder, then re-amped through a loudspeaker in the studio.[45]

Vocals and other instruments

Richards sang in a school choir – most notably for Queen Elizabeth II – until adolescence's effect on his voice forced him out of it.[46] He has sung backing vocals on every Rolling Stones album. Since Between the Buttons (1967), he has sung lead or co-lead on at least one track (see list below) of every Rolling Stones studio album except Their Satanic Majesties RequestSticky FingersIt's Only Rock 'n Roll, and Blue & Lonesome.

Richards is the only band member of the Stones, aside from Jagger, to ever share or have a lead vocal role in concert and on official releases. He has sung lead on more than ten Rolling Stones songs, including "Happy", "You Got the Silver", and "Connection".[47] During the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour, the Richards-sung "Happy" entered into their concert repertoire, and since then he has sung lead vocals on one or two songs each concert[48][49][50] in order to give Jagger time to change his outfit.[49] Keith usually starts with Max Miller routines such as "It's nice to be here – it's nice to be anywhere", in order to give the audience a moment to catch its proverbial breath.[49] During the 2006 and 2007 Rolling Stones' tours, Richards sang "You Got the Silver" (1969) without playing any instrument.[51]


Richards and Jagger began their songwriting partnership in 1963 at the insistence of manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who saw no long career for them in playing cover songs.[52] The earliest Jagger/Richards collaborations were recorded by other artists, including Gene Pitney, whose rendition of "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" was their first top ten single in the UK.[53] They scored another top ten hit in 1964 with the debut single written for Marianne Faithfull, "As Tears Go By".

The first top-ten hit for the Rolling Stones with a Jagger and Richards original was "The Last Time" in early 1965;[54] "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (also 1965) was their first international number one recording. Richards has stated that the "Satisfaction" riff came to him in his sleep; he woke up just long enough to record it on a cassette player by his bed.[55] Since Aftermath (1966) most Rolling Stones albums have consisted mainly of Jagger and Richards originals. Their songs reflect the influence of blues, R&B, rock & roll, pop, soulgospel, and country, as well as forays into psychedelia and Dylanesque social commentary. Their work in the 1970s and beyond has incorporated elements of funkdiscoreggae, and punk.[56] Richards has also written and recorded slow torchy ballads, such as "You Got the Silver" (1969), "Coming Down Again" (1973), "All About You" (1980) and "Slipping Away" (1989). His songwriting partnership with Mick Jagger is one of the most successful in history.[57][58]

In his solo career, Richards has often shared co-writing credits with drummer and co-producer, Steve Jordan. Richards has stated, "I've always thought songs written by two people are better than those written by one. You get another angle on it."[56]

Richards has frequently expressed that he feels less like a creator than a conduit when writing songs: "I don't have that God aspect about it. I prefer to think of myself as an antenna. There's only one song, and Adam and Eve wrote it; the rest is a variation on a theme."[56] Richards was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1993.[59]

Record production

Richards has been active as a music producer since the 1960s. He was credited as producer and musical director on the 1966 album Today's Pop Symphony, one of manager Andrew Loog Oldham's side projects, although there are doubts about how much Richards was actually involved with it.[60] On the Rolling Stones' 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request, the entire band was credited as producer, but since 1974, Richards and Mick Jagger have frequently co-produced both Rolling Stones records and those by other artists under the name "the Glimmer Twins", often in collaboration with other producers.

In early 1973, Jagger and Richards developed an interest in the band Kracker, resulting in a deal whereby the band's second album was licensed for distribution outside America by Rolling Stones Records, making Kracker the first band on that label.[61][62][63]

Since the 1980s Richards has chalked up numerous production and co-production credits on projects with other artists including Aretha FranklinJohnnie Johnson, and Ronnie Spector, as well as on his own albums with the X-Pensive Winos (see below). In the 1990s Richards co-produced and added guitar and vocals to a recording of nyabinghi Rastafarian chanting and drumming entitled "Wingless Angels", released on Richards's own record label, Mindless Records, in 1997.[64]

Solo recordings

Richards has released few solo recordings. His first solo single, released in 1978, was a cover of Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run", backed with his version of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come". In 1987, after Jagger pursued a solo recording and touring career, Richards formed the "X-Pensive Winos" with co-songwriter and co-producer Steve Jordan, whom Richards assembled for his Chuck Berry documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll.[65]

Additional members of the X-Pensive Winos included guitarist Waddy Wachtel, saxophonist Bobby Keys, keyboardist Ivan Neville, and Charley Drayton on bass. The first Winos' record, Talk Is Cheap, also featured Bernie WorrellBootsy Collins, and Maceo Parker. Since its release, Talk Is Cheap has gone gold and has sold consistently. Its release was followed by the first of the two US tours Richards has done as a solo artist. Live at the Hollywood Palladium, 15 December 1988 documents the first of these tours. In 1992 the Winos' second studio record, Main Offender, was released, also followed by a tour.[66] Although the Winos featured on both albums, the albums were credited to Richards as a solo artist.

A third Richards album, Crosseyed Heart, was released in September 2015.[67]