Yes, the Rolling Stones are back. A fascinating sideshow to the Stones drama over the years has always been - what’s Keith Richards doing?
“Keef” has only released two bona fide solo albums - 1988’s Talk is Cheap and 1992’s Main Offender. And both remain gems of ramshackle rock’n’roll. But away from Mick Jagger and the Stones’ slow-moving juggernaut, Keith Richards has also played some interesting cameos.
Around the time his Life autobiography was published in 2010, Richards’ put out a compilation album, Vintage Vinos, a collection of songs from Richards’ solo career, featuring his ad-hoc back-up band the X-Pensive Winos. It added live cuts that he’s also sung: a version of "Happy," from the Rolling Stones' 1972 Exile on Main Street album, "Time Is on My Side," the Irma Thomas song that was an early 1964 hit for the Stones; "Too Rude," a remake of Half Pint’s "Winsome" from the Rolling Stones’ 1986 album Dirty Work; and "Connection," a song (from the Rolling Stones’ 1967 Between the Buttons album that originally featured Richards and Mick Jagger on duelling vocals…
Here’s Richards fronting the X-Pensive Winos on the single “Take It So Hard,” playing a rare black Gibson L-6.
But as a guest player / star turn, Richards has recorded more than you may realise. He’s guested on Aretha Franklin’s Jewels in the Crown, B.B. King’s Deuce’s Wild, Billy Preston’s That’s The Way God Planned It, Bobby Womack’s Resurrection, Bo Diddley’s A Man Amongst Men, John Lee Hooker’s Mr Lucky, as well as albums by Sheryl Crow, The New Barbarians (with whom Keith was majorly involved), Ivan Neville, Hubert Sumlin and numerous others.
If you are a Keef collector, you have a lot to buy. It all started with his version of Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” in 1978. The Christmas single came with a B-Side of Keef’s take on Jimmy Cliff’s "The Harder They Come." And it shows that Richards – sometimes derided as “sloppy” – can play tight, straight-up rock’n’roll guitar just like Berry.
Berry is, of course, one of Keith’s biggest heroes – the two worked together on the must-see Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll shows and movie of 1986/’87. In it, the two egos have a face-off about Berry’s amp sound which still looks it might spill into violence… although Keith and his drink look too “happy” to cause a real rock’n’roll ruckus.
Beyond the Stones
One of the best things about Richards’ solo work and collaborations is that it’s just-enough different to the Rolling Stones. For one, Richards often gets to sing – in a lazy drawl that mirrors the bluesmen that originally fired his imagination. A recent project was Thank You Les, with Lou Pallo and the Les Paul Trio. Richards was a close friend of Les Paul – and recorded and played live with him on many occasions. But Pallo recently told Gibson.com that Keef isn’t always the roughneck rocker some people think he is.
Pallo recalls, I said to Keith: let’s do the Bing Crosby song [“It’s Been a Long Long Time”] that Les always loved. Keith just went, OK! Keith has a very unique voice. I asked him to sing and I put the words on a music stand, and we made it loose. And Keith played lead guitar on that, I just backed him up. Y’know, Keith’s a great guitarist. He’s not just rock’n’roll, Keith loves the standards from the 1940s.” Read more about Thank You Les with Keith Richards
In his tell-all autobiography, Life, Richards says of his major solo excursion, the X-Pensive Winos, “I’ve always been incredibly lucky with the guys I’ve played with. And there’s no way you can stand in front of the Winos without getting off. It’s a surefire high.”
Richards added, “I thrive on collaboration.” And when Keith and Mick Jagger’s relationship was sour at the time of his solo excursions of the late ‘80s, Richards admitted of the time: “I wasn’t really writing much with Mick anymore. I didn’t realize until I worked with [the X-Pensive Winos’] Steve Jordan how much I missed that.”
Keef has long been a guest on other artists’ “…and friends” albums. So, when the Rolling Stones’ tour does end, how about a “Keith Richards and Friends” album?
Who out there would like to hear a Keith Richards solo album? This could be the last time…