Jan 132017

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

keith richards

Over the years, the perception of Keith Richards has changed from “He’ll die any day now” to “How has he not died yet?” to “He’s never going to die.” In 2016, a year that wiped out Bowie, Prince, and Abe Vigoda, not to mention Emerson, Lake, and (Arnold) Palmer, the soul of the Stones kept right on glimmering. A popular meme shows him reading the paper and saying, “Hey, Mick, look who I outlived this week.” In a way, it’s self-fulfilling prophecy; Keith is rock and roll, and rock and roll – especially in the form of the Rolling Stones’ songs – will never die.

You don’t (co-)write as many classic songs as Keith has without having absorbed them into your being. He’s always been up front about his influences, and has covered a number of them with far more respect than he’s shown authority figures in the past, singing in a ragged but spirited voice that’s clearly more concerned with feeling than technique. Here are some of the songs that have meant enough to Keith that he took them on himself.

Keith Richards – Hickory Wind (The Byrds / Gram Parsons cover)

The Keith ‘n’ Gram bromance is the stuff of rock legend. “Like I know the blues, Gram Parsons knew country music,” Keith told Rolling Stone, and that meant that Keith was soon steeped in the songs of the American South. Here he is doing it live, more about emotion than perfection.

Keith Richards – The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff cover)

Keith getting his reggae on, singing Jimmy Cliff’s title track from the greatest movie ever made about the subject, The Harder They Come. One has to believe that the lines “I’d rather be a free man in my grave / Than living as a puppet or a slave” spoke loud and true to a man who proclaimed that he would walk before they made him run.

Keith Richards – All I Have To Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers cover)

March, 1977. Keith is trapped in Toronto, unable to leave the country after being busted for heroin, looking hard at the very real chance he had of going to jail for a long time. He responds by making music, taking comfort in covering old favorites and bringing out his most vulnerable heart. The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream” is one of the results, showing Keith at his loneliest and tenderest.

Keith Richards – You Win Again (Hank Williams cover)

Timeless, a Hank Williams tribute album from 2001, featured an all-star crew from Cash ‘n’ Dylan to Hank III, none of them phoning in their performances. Keith took on “You Win Again,” slowing it way down and adding some bluesy licks; his respect for the original is never in doubt, but he still manages to make it his own.

Keith Richards – Goodnight Irene (Leadbelly cover)

“I always loved Leadbelly,” Keith said, explaining why he covered “Goodnight Irene” on his recent solo album Crosseyed Heart. “I just sort of wanted to tip the hat that way. And then finding the original lyrics, you know, which is full of morphine – that is right up my alley.” The album-closing lullaby sounds made for his worn, dusty voice, and it serves as a fine valedictory – at least, until his next solo record…

Catch up on the latest Keith Richards news at www.keithrichards.com.

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  One Response to “In the Spotlight: Keith Richards”

Comments (1)
  1. I bumped into Keith a couple of times. Instinctively I expressed my admiration for his music.
    On each occasion he would happily mumble back
    “I’m just a guitar player”
    I think he was trying to be funny, right?

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