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I spoke to Keith Richards once. It must’ve been about ’67 or ’68. It was at the Revolution Club, or the Speakeasy Club, or one of those. My cousin Jim, (James Carter-Fea) if you want to be highfalutin, held the purse strings for those two establishments. James had been a photographer, and then he fell…
I spoke to Keith Richards once. It must’ve been about ’67 or ’68. It was at the Revolution Club, or the Speakeasy Club, or one of those. My cousin Jim, (James Carter-Fea) if you want to be highfalutin, held the purse strings for those two establishments. James had been a photographer, and then he fell into a partnership with Stirling Moss the racing driver. How he ended up managing bands no one alive probably knows. Jim is long gone, and gone too young. He wasn’t even a musician, he hardly drank, I never saw him use any illegal substances. He just died of a heart attack one day.
I’ve just finished rereading the book with Keith Richards name on it, it’s called https://www.amazon.com/Life-Keith-Richards/dp/031603441X and the actual writer is a journalist called James Fox. Well I have to point that out because there is no mention of James Fox on the cover, you have to delve around inside first. Okay, no issue with that, James Fox has known Keith Richards since the 70s and he probably got well paid for the gig.
Anyway, I would have been about twenty, and still in the Navy. I was practising for the career that I had chosen for myself when the Navy no longer wanted me. I was sure that would be soon, after all if I’d been the Navy I wouldn’t have wanted me! It was a full seven years from going in to coming out, and even then I was only twenty-two. So there I was already married to a sweet American girl… (Hi Becky!) Becky was a hot rocking singer who could cover anything from Jefferson Aeroplane to Aretha Franklin. She could also handle terribly tragic songs like Thumpers song. When you’re down to your last leaf of lettuce/And the world seems lonely and blue/just go thumpetty thump thump thumpetty thump thump thump/and the world will smile with you/… Like that. That girl had a voice like an angel with one foot on Satan’s balls. The problem aside from the drugs, was her inability to stand in front of a crowd and scream into a microphone. At least, not unless she had dropped some green micro dots or purple haze, or shared a large Spliff. We were all a bit colourful back then. Drugs were a little different. You could get nice little blocks of Moroccan hash, or perfectly good pharmaceutical cocaine. Seldom seen today. Everyone is on crack, or, if they think they’ve got cocaine it’s more likely they’ve been ripped off with amphetamine. So many dishonest drug dealers around these days!
Back to Keith Richards. Hanging at the Revolution or the Speakeasy was the way to meet up with and chat to some of the top bands, celebrities, film stars, you name it! Even the infamous Kray twins Ronnie and Reggie were regulars. It was a great place for a budding gonzo journalist. (My influences at that time were Jack Kerouac and Hunter S Thompson.) The place to rock was the Marquee Club, but after hours and into the wee smalls the Revolution and the Speakeasy were clubs where you could just hang. Sure, the top bands played at both, but it was late at night and into the early morning when those who might have been mobbed elsewhere could settle down to some serious drinking, stoning, interviewing, or business dealing. For anyone wanting to get a grounding in music journalism, cousin Jim created the ideal places!
So, some years before I entered the profession honourably, Keith Richards became my first ever interview. I had managed to get my hands on a copy of ‘Aftermath’, on the Decca label. It was a mono version! Every album in the top ten at that time was a total favourite! Number one, the Beatles with Revolver, number two Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, number three, Pet Sounds, the Beach boys, number four, already mentioned Aftermath, number five the Yardbirds, Roger The Engineer, number six the Mamas and Papas, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, number seven The Who, A Quick One, number eight, the Temptations, Getting Ready, number nine, The Mothers of Invention, Freak out, and rounding out the top ten, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off with those magnificent Grace Slick vocals! from memory. There are some things you never forget!
Keith was looking ragged. Midnight had come and gone, and the music was not live. I thought if I presented my pristine copy of Aftermath I might get at least an autograph, even if the interview was not forthcoming. “Mr Richards? Would it be all right to talk to you a little? “
He turned his head slowly and for a split second it seemed like it was going to be an ‘Exorcist’ moment. Back then, I would have believed him if he had told me that he had experienced one of those Robert Johnson moments, and made a deal at the crossroads with the devil.
His elbows, perfectly aligned on the bar stayed where they were. The turning of the head was very slow. His dark brown eyes had pinpricks for pupils,
“Jack!” A languid arm raised, two fingers. “Jack!”
Cousin Jim had half a dozen comfortable barstools around the small but well stocked bar. I sat on the one next to Keith, and waited. With a surprising economy of movement he drew a halo around his head, a pair of horns on Mick Jagger’s, wrote BILL above Bill Wyman’s head, next to him stood Charlie Watts, above his head he wrote CHAR. Perhaps he’d had a fight with Brian, because he scrawled out his face, leaving only blonde locks to identify the not-long-for-this-world Rolling Stone.
An unopened bottle of Jack Daniels appeared on the bar. Yes, he poured me a drink. I scored a beautifully defaced autograph on my favourite album, and shared a drink! Way to go!
We sat, drinking quietly, and Keith hardly moved. Then that head turned again, slowly, and he blinked like an owl. “You said you wanted to talk.” “Yes.” I said with some eagerness.
“Well, you have. Now fuck off!”
That was my first attempt at an interview. Fortunate that I still had the Royal Navy to fall back on. It wasn’t until 1970 that I figured out that if you want to interview a rock star, and you don’t go through the right channels you won’t get the good stuff. And not even the good stuff is half true. They are rock stars for crying out loud! Not that it matters! Everyone else just makes stuff up.
Keith Richards is five years my senior. Way back in 1968 Keith still had another ten years of rampant drug use and experimentation. Lots of people hold Keith Richards up as proof that rock stars can grow old despite pickling themselves. Here is a piece of information that, as Michael Caine would say ‘Not many people know that you know!’ 2018 marks forty years since Keith Richards gave up heroin. Forty years! Granted, he didn’t quit the joys of cocaine until about 2006, but it was very pure. Not amphetamine with cocaine prices. Even that’s over ten years!
So, when Keith Richards is being held up as proof that you can still muck around, just remember that he was rich, lucky, and careful. And had probably been to the Crossroads too!