Band: The Rolling Stones
Main Guitar: Fender Telecaster
Compulsory listening: Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’
The human riff, the monkey man, the toxic twin… Keith Richards is a fascinating enigma, even beyond the musical field. Scientists still don’t understand how one can stay alive after such a life of excess of all kinds.
But Richards is not only a picturesque romantic character, he is a brilliant musician first and foremost. He invented his own style and influenced most rock guitarists in the process. When he formed his band with Jagger in 1960 (the band was not called the Rolling Stones yet), Richards was deeply influenced by Chuck Berry, who has always remained his hero. Keith’s playing has integrated Berry’s riffs mixed up with blues bends from his favorite Delta records.
The Stones’ music has evolved and changed throughout the sixties, and by the time of the Let It Bleed album, they had mastered a bluesy and sticky style of rock that remains unique to this day. This is when Richards wrote his best riffs using the G open tuning. That new color, inspired by Ry Cooder, allowed Keith to develop a new rawer and stinging approach that perfectly matched the band’s harder sound and the introduction of Mick Taylor as the other guitarist in the band.
Richards is a rhythm guitar player, with all the nobility implied by that crucial and seemingly modest task. He holds the music together, he pushes the band forward and gives it the elastic sound of two guitars perfectly complementing each other. His complementarity with Ron Wood is almost telepathic, they both play off each other without ever stepping on the other’s toe.
Then there’s Keith’s sound, between a merciless Telecaster sting and a softer but vicious Gibson acoustic. Whether in his main band, with his side project X-Pensive Winos, on his great solo albums or as a guest star with Tom Waits, Richards’ touch is unmistakably his.