“I’VE been very straight for the past few months,” reports rock ’n’ roll’s survivor-in-chief Keith Richards.
At 78, the Rolling Stones rascal knows he has to behave himself.
I miss Charlie’s cheeky smile – his death was a real blow, says Keith RichardsCredit: J. Bouquet
With a huge European tour coming up in celebration of the band’s astonishing 60 years together, keeping healthy is a priority for Richards.
He quit his favourite Marlboro Reds some time ago and, for now, booze is also “off the table”.
But he has no intention of stopping the other thing he loves most . . . music.
“All that’s left for me is to keep on going,” he decides in that wonderfully weathered voice. There really isn’t another option.
“When you’ve been doing it this long, it becomes natural for the body to do it. In fact, it might get dodgy if I didn’t.”
Richards is still coming to terms with the loss of his beloved bandmate Charlie Watts, who died last August aged 80.
“I’m still sort of recovering,” he admits. “Charlie keeps cropping up and all that comes to the forefront of my mind is that cheeky little smile that I loved to get out of him.
“Yeah, man, it was a real blow but at the same time, things have to move on. His replacement Steve Jordan is something else as well.”
Richards is promoting the 30th anniversary reissue of the cracking second solo album he made with drummer Jordan and the rest of his other band, the X-Pensive Winos, called Main Offender.
In this second part of our chat, he opens up about his health, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, the massive year ahead for the Stones, Paul McCartney and even the horrific situation in Ukraine.
‘We’ve had the pandemic s**t. Enough already!’
Anyone who’s followed the bandana-wearing guitarist will be familiar with images of him on stage, in the studio, doing interviews, engulfed in clouds of cigarette smoke . . . but there won’t be any more.
“At first, I didn’t notice the difference when I stopped smoking,” he reveals.
“People were saying to me, ‘Woah, you quit, you must be doing a lot better?’, but I didn’t feel it whatsoever!
“That was all true up to the point when I started to rehearse for the (rescheduled US) tour last year and realised my lungs were far more powerful than previously.
“There was much more range in the voice and more stamina all round.”
It was a lightbulb moment for rock’s endearing high roller.
“At last I had my reward for giving up . . . there it was!” (Cue one of his infectious cackles).
Richards adds: “This energy was a bit late coming but I’m enjoying it. Apart from that, it’s the same old thing, I keep ticking along.”
I ask if he has a fitness routine. “No, no, no, God forbid!” he cries. “I do a bit on the bike sometimes, a bit on the treadmill but, I mean, nothing to write home about.
“Mick’s the one who has the exercise routine. He is a fitness man, you know. His father was a PE instructor.
“Ronnie was quite ill last year but he doesn’t really do anything much. His old lady might get him out for a walk occasionally, same as me, but that’s about it. Otherwise, the stage work keeps you in shape.”
Keith Richards is happier than ever with long term partner Patti HansenCredit: Rex
Richards is referring to Wood’s third wife Sally, mother of their young twin girls, and his own “superb” partner of more than 40 years, Patti Hansen, his rock and love of his life.
He says that he and his fellow Stones can’t wait for the “Sixty” tour which includes two outings at BST Hyde Park, London, and one at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium.
“Oh man, 60 years or not, I’m looking forward to it,” he growls.
“I expect to have a lot of fun. It’s four years since we last played in England as well. Time seems to zoom by these days and we’ve had all the pandemic s**t . . . enough already!”
People said to me, ‘Woah! You quit smoking, you must be better?’ but I didn’t feel it whatsoever! Then, when I was rehearsing last year, I realised my lungs were far more powerful
Keith Richards on quitting smoking
With two years of Covid leading straight into Russia’s outrageous war on Ukraine, Richards says the world “gives the impression of falling apart”.
He exclaims: “The Ukrainian situation, I mean, it is insane. Putin’s gone potty. All that aggravation and grief, for what? For one man’s whim? Get out!”
I remind Richards that The Stones played Moscow in the late Nineties and St Petersburg in the Noughties.
“There was a lot of hope back then but it was very short-lived,” he says.
“The Russian people have to get the hang of governing themselves.
“They’ve always been lousy at it, first with all those tsars and then communism — great idea.
“They seem to like dictators but they cause the rest of the world a whole lot of grief so the people need to get it together.
“Get rid of the man. Vote him out or use any other means!”
Keith says there are no hard feelings with 60s rivals The BeatlesCredit: Getty – Contributor
On a happier note, Richards puts to rest the perceived tension between the Stones and Beatles legend Paul McCartney, who was quoted recently as saying his Sixties rivals were “a blues covers band”.
He says: “The first I heard about it was from Paul himself.
“He sent a message before it even came out, saying, ‘Listen, they’re going to say I said this in an interview but it’s all totally scrambled and f***ed up, I’m really sorry’.
“We all know what that’s like, Paul, so forget about it.”
I tell Richards that Macca is headlining Glastonbury on the same night as the first of their Hyde Park gigs. “I didn’t know that,” he confesses.
“But we were one hell of a generation, amazing.
“I mean The Beatles and the Stones . . . good bands and we’re still playing the music 60 years later.”
Although the two acts spent most of the Swinging Sixties vying for No1 in the singles and album charts, Richards is gracious in his regard for the Fab Four.
“We probably couldn’t have broken through by ourselves without The Beatles knocking on the door and opening that door first,” he says.
“They weren’t ready for us. Send the boys with the suits first. They were tremendous trailblazers.
“Without them, nothing else would have happened in the Sixties. British music was going nowhere until The Beatles came along.”
Both bands arrived on the scene with their debt to American rock ’n’ roll laid bare, particularly the guitar-toting approach of Chuck Berry.
Keith pictured in Belgium in 1976. He says he can’t wait to be back at Hyde ParkCredit: Redferns
‘Playing Hyde Park was mind-blowing’
Richards suggests they were very different beasts: “The Beatles were more driven by harmony and vocal stuff, whereas we were more instrumental, a lead vocalist and a band.
“And we were from Dartford and they were from Liverpool!”
Although the Stones produced some great self-penned hit singles in the mid-Sixties such as (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Get Off Of My Cloud and Paint It Black, they took a little longer than The Beatles to hit their stride.
Richards pinpoints their work between 1968 and 1972 as a golden age.
“The period of Beggars Banquet through to Exile On Main St. was great from my memory,” he says.
Those years also yielded the immense pair, Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971), bringing a tribute from the riff-master to Jimmy Miller, the late American producer, who, he says, was “an incredible cat to work with”.
Of course, 1969 was a pivotal year for the Stones for another reason, the departure and subsequent death of Brian Jones.
Two days after his passing, the band played their first ever gig in Hyde Park.
It turned into a tribute to their fallen ex-bandmate and a testing initiation for new guitarist Mick Taylor.
Richards recalls: “Breaking in Taylor was my main focus that day.
“It was the first time he’d ever played with the Stones and there was half a million people in front of him. It was mind-blowing!
“That afternoon seemed to go so quickly. I remember some butterflies being released, I remember Mick (Jagger) wearing a white frock.
“Other than that, I was concentrating with Taylor and Charlie on the sound because the size of Hyde Park was overwhelming. Now we’re going to be back there.”
It’s hugely poignant that the upcoming gigs on June 25 and July 3 come after the death of another Rolling Stone.
But Richards has a trusted friend and collaborator in X-Pensive Wino Jordan to fill the shoes of Charlie Watts.
“Steve came with Charlie’s recommendation, of course,” he says.
“He brings a new dynamic to the band, as we found out in America, and I’m really looking forward to getting on the road with him this year.
“He can play like a replica of Charlie but he won’t do that. It will be a mixture of himself and Charlie’s style that he knows so well and loves.”
Richards confirms that Jordan has also been involved in cutting tracks with Jagger and himself for the long-awaited next studio album, their first of original material since 2005’s A Bigger Bang.
“The Stones go on and so does the new record,” declares rock’s most invincible star.
Putting on his best pirate rasp, he adds: “But first we’ve got the tour to do. See ya there, Simon!”
- The 30th anniversary editions of Main Offender are out now in box set, vinyl and CD formats.
The 30th anniversary editions of Main Offender are on sale nowCredit: