10/18/2012

Keith Richards: Rock's Rhythm Guitar King

It seems a bit surreal but no one under the age of 50 has known a world without Keith Richards.  
And in that half century--with and without but mostly with the Rolling Stones--the man who in many circles is considered the archetype of the modern rocker, has left an undeniable mark on the world of music and rock guitar in particular. Like his most obvious influence, the legendary rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry, Richards has created a signature style, one that has made him one of the instrumental standard bearers of his chosen genre. Widely regarded as one of rock's greatest rhythm guitarists, Keef's influence is both immensely recognizable, and seemingly ubiquitous. 

 Unlike his idol Berry, Richards was never interested in being a solo act and only became one in the '80s when his fractured relationship with Mick Jagger almost cracked, due to the Stones' frontman not being interested in making music with the band at the time.
Keef subsequently put together the X-pensive Winos, in which he shared guitar duties with noted musician and producer Waddy Wachtel and released two studio albums--Talk is Cheap [Virgin-1988]; Main Offender [Virgin-1992]--and Live at the Hollywood Palladium [Virgin-1991], before returning to the Rolling Stones.

Although his guitar was an important part of the Stones' sound during the first decade of the band, one could say that Keef's subsequent influence lies in the work he did immediately thereafter. Specifically, on the albums Sticky Fingers [Rolling Stones Records-1971] and Exile on Main Street [Rolling Stones Records-1972], iconic rock masterpieces both. However, many agree--including Richards himself--that his style was slightly curbed when he paired up with the great Mick Taylor, which made for a more uniform six-string approach, as Keef adapted to the role of rhythm guitarist while Taylor settled into the lead guitarist slot. And yes, although their roles were quite defined at the time, songs like "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" from Sticky Fingers, with its bold improvisation, would probably not exist in the same manner with a different configuration of guitarists.

The arrival of former Faces guitarist Ron Wood into the Stones' lineup in the mid-seventies, gave Richards a partner with whom he could switch between rhythm and lead in an improvised and more intuitive manner; effortlessly and sometimes within the same song, like a nimble four-limbed guitarist, a musical dynamic that's been going strong for almost 40 years at this point.

And yes, Keef will bury us all.


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