It was a familiar scene to anyone who has spent time on the road with the Rolling Stones.
Keith Richards--the man whose “renegade cool” persona defined the image of rock guitarist, as surely as Elvis’ hip-swinging sensuality once defined rock singers--was heading down a long hotel corridor.
Only this time Richards was heading toward a photographer, not away from him. The once media-shy Richards was also walking in a straight line, not weaving as in his notorious drug days. There was even a smile on his face.
For almost 25 years, Richards was the silent and mysterious Stone--someone who would speak only, it seemed, in response to a court subpoena.
Now 44, Richards is speaking out to draw attention to his first solo album, and he’s not being the least bit veiled.
Eager for the rare chance to talk to the certified rock legend, Musician and Rolling Stone magazines have already devoted lengthy cover stories to Richards and they were rewarded with lively quotes.
In the Stone interview alone, Richards--in keeping with his maverick, gunfighter image--fires blistering shots at some of today’s pop hotshots:
Terence Trent D’Arby--"Hey, a nice-looking boy--but hung up on himself. A great voice, but that’s not enough.”
Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine--"A Holiday Inn band . . . that made it.”
Bruce Springsteen--"That’s a tough one because I like the guy . . . . I love what he wants to do. I just think he’s gone about it the wrong way. . . . Too contrived for me. Too overblown.”
Prince--"To me, Prince is like the Monkees. . . . I think he’s very clever at manipulating the music business and the entertainment business. I think he’s more into that than making music. I don’t see much substance in anything he does . . . a Pee-wee Herman trip.”
Great copy, but also easy targets in a way.
The real test of Richards’ “candor” is how he deals with the ticklish topic of his two-year feud with Stones-mate Mick Jagger.
Even the most radical musician is known to adopt diplomatic poses when talking about cohorts. Jagger certainly danced around the topic in promoting his own solo album late last year.
In a song from his new “Talk Is Cheap” LP (due in stores Oct. 4), he ridicules Jagger for wanting to tour again with the Stones after a break to record two disappointing solo albums.
Exhorts Richards in the song “You Don’t Move Me”: “Now you want to throw the dice / You already crapped out twice.”
It’s one of the most visible pieces of rock royalty in-fighting since “How Do You Sleep,” John Lennon’s 1971 attack on Paul McCartney.
Curled on a sofa in a West Hollywood hotel room a few hours before a recent “listening party” for his new album at the Whisky, Richards didn’t back away from potential sparks when “You Don’t Move Me” was brought up.
“I remember Lennon’s (‘How Do You Sleep’) and I accepted it as a very honest statement and that’s the way I look at my song,” Richards said, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt with the playful lettering Inspector Rock.
“You have to let your real feelings out (in your songs) or you’re just some sort of calculating music business machine. I think that (honesty) was the nature of John’s relationship with Paul and it is mine with Mick.
“It’s not like I would say something on the record and then go around and tell him, ‘Don’t believe it, it was just something to get some (newspaper) attention’ or ‘Don’t believe it, the song’s not really about you.’
“I have known Mick so long and we have been through so much rubbish. In this case, the song is just a repeat of what we’ve gone over in private and it never really got through. Maybe he’ll take notice of it now that it is on record.”
Who ever thought that Keith Richards would turn out to be the free-spirited John Lennon of the Stones, while Mick Jagger would be more the cautious Paul McCartney?
The parallels aren’t exact.
There was from all indications more a shared musical vision between Jagger and Richards than Lennon and McCartney, and Richards never sought an equal place in the public spotlight the way Lennon did.
Still, it’s hard not to think of Lennon when interviewing Richards. It’s not that just the purity of their art or that they went through savage, drug-related personal problems at the peak of their fame. The connection that hits the hardest is the way they matured into such forthright and unpretentious personalities--as likely to point to their own foibles as strike out at something they see as false in others.
In contrast to Jagger who tends to be guarded and weighs most statements before answering a question, Richards seems to say exactly what is on his mind. Indeed, these days Jagger appears far more anxious about his public image than McCartney, who has opened up considerably in recent years.
“Any comparison with John is a compliment because I always admired the way he said whatever he felt,” said Richards, whose skull ring on his right hand and his drawerful of bracelets remain trademarks from his days as one of rock’s most notorious figures.
“It’s too complicated to worry about what people are going to think. You not only end up saying things you don’t really believe, but you often end up doing is looking like a manipulator. I sometimes tell Mick that if he wants to be the diplomat, he’s got to learn to be a better actor--because it’s often so transparent.”
Though the band’s scruffy, “bad-boy” image led the Rolling Stones to be dismissed initially by the media as simply sensationalist-minded opportunists, few pop observers now deny that the Stones’ body of work is one of the most distinguished in rock.
While sometimes shaky, the Jagger-Richards partnership seemed to find the inspiration and strength to pull together when it was time for the band to go into the studio or hit the concert trail. The band, whose 1981 stadium tour of America had been a critical and commercial blockbuster, were apparently set to return to the road in 1986 after the release of their “Dirty Work” album.
Interviewed in Japan in April, Jagger declined to go into the reasons that tour was postponed. He acknowledged there had been problems but suggested things were being resolved and that he didn’t want to renew any bitterness.
Richards wasn’t so cautious in the interview here.
“My feeling is that Mick thought the Stones were becoming old-fashioned and he wanted to go out on his own and show he could compete with whoever was in the Top 10 today. So, what does he end up doing? He just does four songs or whatever from his two solo albums, and spends the rest of the time doing Stones songs with this (substitute) Stones band with some chicks dancing around.
“To me, that’s a step backward. That’s old-fashioned. The thing I said to him at the time was, ‘You’re Mick Jagger. You are diminishing yourself by doing that.’ He was doing a Stones show without the Stones and I hated it.’ I felt he had let the band down and himself. It was like 25 years of integrity going down the drain.”
Does he worry about the Stones turning into a nostalgia act?
“No, there is still a lot of vitality left in the band, and I look forward to the challenge involved in helping rock ‘n’ roll grow up. Rock ‘n’ roll is still only about 32 years old and it is still getting over its (preoccupation) with teen-age themes. The Stones are in a good position to help it grow up.”
During the Stones break, Richards got involved in various projects. He produced Aretha Franklin’s recording of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and was musical director for the Chuck Berry concert film, “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
He also found in drummer Steve Jordan a musician that he enjoyed working with enough to write songs together and begin planning an album. They also recruited guitarist Waddy Wachtel, keyboardist Ivan Neville and bassist Charley Drayton for the project.
Was the album in response to Jagger’s solo projects?
“There may have been a bit of anger involved, thinking something like ‘I am not going to sit around and wait for someone to snap their fingers and say, “Oh, now you can work again.” ’ But that was only a small part of it. I am a musician and I wanted to work on my music. I felt there was a chemistry with Steve and the project just evolved.”
Before going back into the studio next year with the Stones, Richards said he’d like to do a brief, perhaps 10-city tour in November or December with Steve Jordan and the other musicians who worked with him on the solo album. Yes, he said, he may do a couple of Stones songs if the mood hits him on a given night, but the emphasis will be on the new album.
Any anxiety on going back into the studio with Jagger?
“The thing is we’ve known each other for so long that we can go through these things and survive. We never intended the (fight) to go public, but I don’t see any harm in it.
“After all, we are just human and this is the kind of thing humans do. I think people and bands get into trouble when they deny their human side, and try to pretend that every thing is always under control. That’s for machines, not people.”
This isn’t the first time Richards has opened up to the press. He did a few interviews--equally candid--during the Stones’ 1981 tour, but he dropped from sight afterwards. He didn’t become a “househusband” a la Lennon, but Richards has devoted considerable time to his family.
The idea of a domestic Richards--who lives in New York with his wife, actress Patti Hansen, and their two young daughters--is an intriguing one, but Richards, who says he has been drug-free for years, doesn’t see anything unusual about it.
“Don’t forget I had a family before,” he said, referring to the years in the ‘60s and ‘70s with common-law wife Anita Pallenberg and their two children, Marlon and Angelica. “It was much more of a family than most people imagined, even though we always seemed under siege.
“This is my clean family. It is a lot more stable because I am not being harassed every day and living in fear of going to jail for months or years on end. It’s not like having one of your children answer the door and say, ‘Daddy, there are some men in uniform who want to see you,’ which is what Marlon used to always live with.”