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).

Here’s an early US clip from 1954, with the Stones playing Berry’s “Carol” on The Mike Douglas Show:

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 Famousavailable 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 etc etc etc



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