Keith Richards knows what you think about his trademark style of guitar playing: “All you need to play it is five strings, two notes, two fingers and one asshole.” Still, no one else has done more with a modified open-G riff — plus a few others — than the illustrious Rolling Stones guitarist.
The best part is his style is less about technique than instinct. “It doesn’t matter about the B.B. Kings, Eric Claptons and Mick Taylors, ’cause they do what they do but I know they can’t do what I do,” Richards once said. “They can play as many notes under the sun but they just can't hold that rhythm down, baby. I know what I can do and what I can't. Everything I do is strongly based on rhythm ’cause that’s what I’m best at. I’ve tried being a great guitar player and, like Chuck Berry, I have failed.”
Here are four of Keith’s greatest riffs:
Mick Jagger, who espoused a variety of taboo subjects covering sex and drugs in this track from 1971’s Sticky Fingers, actually came up with the appropriately raunchy guitar part but it’s Richards’ trademark voicing — created by removing his sixth string and tuning the rest to G, D, G, B, D — that makes it one of the most distinctive licks in rock and roll history.
“Start Me Up”
Richards’ most assertive, blues-soaked riff since “Satisfaction” nearly didn’t happen. The Rolling Stones famously did 60 takes of “Start Me Up” as a reggae song, starting in 1975 before giving up and shelving it. Five years later, Jagger went through the master tapes and discovered the version — knocked out while the band was on a break — that eventually conquered the world.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Having recently been given a Fuzz-Tone pedal by the local Gibson dealer while the Stones were at the RCA recording studio in Los Angeles, Richards was convinced he could replicate a horn sound with his guitar. It didn’t exactly work out that way but the riff idea he committed to tape the night before — “two minutes of 'Satisfaction' and 40 minutes of me snoring” — remains the band’s most recognizable piece of music.
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
If you’ve seen the Stones live, you’ve seen them play this song. Released in 1968, it represents the group’s return to its blues-rock roots following the brief, ill-suited foray into psychedelia. On record, Richards plays a Gibson Hummingbird [http://www2.gibson.com/Products/Acoustic-Instruments/Square-Shoulder/Gibson-Acoustic/Hummingbird.aspx] with an open D tuning. “It’s really ‘Satisfaction’ in reverse,” the guitarist said. “Almost an interchangeable riff, except it’s played on chords instead of a Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone.”