Tuesday, August 9, 2011
My summer beach reading (sans sand) has taken me back in time to the late 1950s when Keith Richards and I were listening to the same twangy guitars and the voices of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Young Londoners attending the Sidcup Arts College with Keith couldn't get enough of American music and status was determined by who got the first releases of blues and (country) rock from the U.S.
In his autobiography, Life, Keith talks about how he listened to Ricky Nelson and the Everly Brothers but especially "The Chirping Crickets" and "A Date With Elvis", whose backup bands were Keith's first music heroes. Listening to a YouTube version of Elvis doing "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone," you can hear the progression from Texas-Memphis twangy guitar to "Sweet Virginia" (Exile on Main Street).
Even more interesting is Keith's wonder at the power of the music on vinyl:
"I’ve learned everything I know off of records. Being able to replay something immediatley without the terrible stricture of written music, the prison of those bars, those five lines. Being able to hear recorded music freed up loads of musicians that couldn’t necessarily afford to learn to read music, like me.
It was the emancipation of music...It surely can’t be any coincidence that jazz and blues started to take over the world the minute recording started, within a few years, just like that...I'don't need this paper, I'm going to play it straight from the ear, straight from here, straight from the heart to the fingers."
In Keith's version The Rolling Stones started at a chance meeting on a train in Darford Station in 1961: "Did we hit it off? You get in a cariage with a guy that’s got "Rockin’ at the Hops" by Chuck Berry on Chess Records and "The Best of Muddy Waters" also under his arm, you are gonna hit it off…..I realize now I’d met him once before outside Dartford Town Hall when he was selling ice creams for a summer job...he mentioned doing a dance doing Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran stuff.
In a letter he wrote his Aunt Pat a few months later, Keith remembered that his calling card was also a Chuck Berry record. "A guy I knew at primary school 7-11 years, y'know, came up to me. He's got every Chuck Berry ever made, all his mates have too, they're all rhythm and blues fans.
When Keith decided to drop in at their regular Saturday morning juke joint, The Carousel, the rest as they say became history.
I can't help wondering two things. First was this the inspiration for "I'm Just Waiting for a Train?" Second, would there ever have been the greatest rock and roll band of all time if two young Londoners, instead of carrying bulky cardboard album covers (readable at long distances) had been listening to ipods with earbuds?
There is no doubt, you'll be hearing more Keith stories before the summer (and perhaps fall) is over because this a big book with lots of great stories and a terrific read.
One final anecdote from Keith's "college" days. He talks about how Sidcup produced a lot of great pickers because the musicians went to art school to hang out together. Wizz Jones was one of the best. He got "Cocaine" from Jack Elliott who got it from Reverend Gary Davis.
“Wizz Jones was a watched man, watched by Clapton and Jimmy Page at the time, so they say.”