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10 Things You May Not Know About Keith Richards

04.20.2013 Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones are gearing up to their “50 Years and Counting” tour. You’ll know all the songs they’ll play. But, perhaps, you don’t know some things about Keith Richards...

1. Keith Doesn’t Sleep

In his Life autobiography, Richards reckons that on average, he slept only two nights a week for many years of the Stones’ glory years. “This means that I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes,” he calculated. No sleep, and he can still do the math! A related aside: Keith claims he wrote the “Satisfaction” riff in his sleep.

2. Keith Got The Blues When 3

Keith says he got the music bug aged at just three years old. His favorites were Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Big Bill Broonzy and Louis Armstrong. Richards was in awe after seeing the 1956 film, Low Light and Blue Smoke: Big Bill Blues, in which Broonzy performed the standard, blues-style. “It was a classic video before its time,” says Richards.

The Stones’ Ronnie Wood is also a Broonzy fan. In Q magazine interview (2007) Wood hails Broonzy’s "Guitar Shuffle." "It was one of the first tracks I learnt to play, but even to this day I can't play it exactly right."

3. Keith Was A Boy Scout

As a boy, Keith Richards was a Boy Scout. "It was mainly a chance to swagger around with a knife on your belt," he reckoned. Unfortunately for Keith, "you didn't get the knife until you got a few badges." Richards is known for his like of knives.

4. Keith Hears Toilets Cheer

Early on in the Stones’ career, Keith shared a flat with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones. They rigged up an improvised recording studio in their bathroom. Why? Because when the toilet was flushed after a performance, it sounded to them like applause. That’s what Keith says!

5. Keith Makes Acoustic Guitars Sound Evil

Richards is acclaimed for his electric guitar swagger. But wait! The original recordings of The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and “Jumpin' Jack Flash” don’t actually have any electric guitar on them. Instead, Richards created the sound by putting down successive layers of acoustic guitar filtered through a portable cassette tape player. He developed the technique when recording in small motels so he didn’t disturb the other guests. No doubt he was awake while everyone else slept.

So, how did he record “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”? He told Guitar World it was “a Gibson Hummingbird tuned to open D, six string [low to high: D A D F# A D]. Open D or open E [low to high: E B E G# B E], which is the same thing - same intervals - but it would be slackened down some for D. Then there was a capo on it, to get that really tight sound. And there was another guitar over the top of that, but tuned to Nashville tuning.“

In Nashville tuning – sometimes called “high-strung tuning” - the guitar is tuned E A D G B E, but the bottom four strings are replaced with thinner strings tuned one octave higher than normal. It sounds simple now.

6. Keith Used Epiphone Semis

In the early days of The Stones, Keith was often seen playing Epiphones. He told Guitar World, “I'm pretty sure that Epiphone was on "It's All Over Now" and probably some of the earlier ones from England. I used it for a good while, mainly because I had it. It was a nice guitar, because Epiphone was a branch of Gibson. It was a great guitar for studio work and in clubs.”

7. Keith’s Tour Home Is “Camp X-Ray”

On the Stones’ Bigger Bang tour in 2005, all members had their own dressing room, of course. Charlie Watts’ room was the "Cotton Club.” Wood’s was “Recovery.” What was Keith’s? He made sure promoters labelled it “Camp X-Ray”. It seems to be a reference to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Want to send Keith some flowers? His 2005 rider asked for “a medium white Casablanca lily arrangement with weeping eucalyptus.” Good taste.

8. Keith Drinks “Nuclear Waste”

Richards is no stranger to alcohol, we know that. But he’s coined a name for his preferred tipple. According to the man himself, “Whiskey wasn’t agreeing with me anymore. The old body couldn’t take it. Brandy is a killer, and wine is best with food, so somehow I settled on this.” His recipe is 2 oz. premium vodka. 1 oz. Sunkist or any orange soda. “Plenty of ice. Lovely.” Keith calls it Nuclear Waste.

9. Keith Will Never Let You Touch His Pie

Richards is known for loving shepherd’s pie. He demands it on tour. And when he’s touring that brings its own set of rules. Mick Jagger says of the Stones’ touring etiquette for staff and support: “Rule 1. You don’t play on the snooker table unless you’ve been asked. And, secondly, you never, ever, take the shepherd’s pie unless Keith Richards has broken the crust first.”

It sounds silly. But the late Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable once fell foul of Keith’s pie rules. “We were backstage when I saw the pie,” Cable wrote in his Demons And Cocktails book. “Like an excited 10-year-old at Christmas and I whacked several hefty spoonfuls onto my plate.” Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood intervened, and got it recrusted by catering staff before Keith could see the “damage.” According to Cable, the catering waitress “took it back and shook her head slowly and muttered: ‘Don’t you know the rules?’”

Allegedly, Keith once fired the Stones’ head of security and tour manager for nibbling his beloved pie before he had sat down to eat. Both were re-instated when it was realized the tour wouldn’t likely continue without them. But it’s a rule. Don’t mess with Keith’s pie.

10. Keith’s Richards’ Guitar Strings are Sacred

Keith Richards’s open-G tuning (with no lower string) is the stuff of guitar folklore. For his 5-string songs, he will only play his Ernie Ball Keith Richards Special 5-string set. They are custom-made, as far as gauge goes and are not for sale to anyone else. For the record, they are not particularly unusual, but boast a big B. They are .011, .015, .018 (unwound), .030, 042.

Wanna play like Keith?

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