Keith Richards, the Blues and Chuck Berry
Today is Keith Richards’ birthday (born 1943). I like the picture above; any dope can post according to expectations.
It speaks a lot to Keith’s integrity that public and critical respect for him remains undiminished even by widespread parody and even self-parody. That’s because the way he walks and dresses and carries himself are trappings. His playing has remained pure.
On the subject of drugs, his is at once a cautionary tale, and an inspirational one. In 1965 (see above) he looked like an errant schoolboy. Within about 3 or 4 years he looked like a cadaverous grandfather. In the 1980s, I expected he would be dead quite soon, what with his vampire-like weekly blood transfusions and all (an urban legend). Then, what’s he do? Kicks drugs, and becomes one of rock and roll’s grand old men, sharing old stories, dispensing words of wisdom from his rocking chair — not unlike those same blues heroes he so worshiped in his youth. What younger generations never seemed to understand about the rock musicians of the sixties (because of the more obvious fact that they were also smashing boundaries) was the subtler fact that they were also traditionalists, constantly seeking inspiration from the sounds of the past, whether it was folk, blues, jazz, tin pan alley or the rock ‘n’ roll of the previous decade.
Keith’s thing was (is) the blues, and more perhaps than any other practitioner he has raised widespread, mainstream awareness of artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf etc etc. His main enthusiasm, however was for Chuck Berry, who also came out of the blues tradition, but ended up inventing a new sound (see my post on him here).
So here are two contrasting clips. One, an early US clip from 1954, with the Stones playing Berry’s “Carol” on the Mike Douglas Show:
And then there’s this highly amusing clip from the 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll, in which Richards finally gets to work with his hero. Arrogance, it’s been said, is the child of insecurity, and Berry in these clips seems nothing if not insecure, as Richards very reasonably and diplomatically tries to navigate sound issues and strategies for playing together and Berry, thrust into uncharted waters, has a hard time dealing.
Now, of course, Keith is older than Berry was then! And it can’t be unknown to you that he and his band are touring in support of a new album at this very moment. Rather than provide that bloated franchise with a free commercial, however, I’ll just direct you to their web site: http://www.rollingstones.com/
To find out more about the variety arts past and present (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc