POP MUSIC : 10 QUESTIONS : Keith Richards

If there’s anything as certain as a live album after a Rolling Stones tour, it’s another round of interviews by Mick and Keith to promote the album.

In contrast to the increasingly reclusive nature of such American superstar-class pop and rock stars as Michael (Billion Dollar) Jackson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Prince, the Stones continue to hit the publicity trail.

It’s a holdover from ‘60s when all the British bands--including the Beatles and the Who--spent as much time talking to journalists and posing for photos as they spent in the recording studio or on stage. Media exposure was considered essential.

So, as soon as the advance tape of the new Stones album hits reporters’ desks, they can begin expecting a phone call from Mick and Keith.



Yes, it’s Mick Jagger, calling to talk about the Stones’ new live album, “Flashpoint.” The collection, featuring two new studio tracks (including the first single “Highwire”), is due in stores Tuesday. Jagger was calling from Atlanta, where he is starring with Emilio Estevez in “Freejack,” a futuristic adventure movie.


Three hours later, it’s Keith Richards, from his home in Connecticut, ready to talk about the Stones album and, if asked, his second solo album, which he hopes to begin recording this summer and have in the stores this fall.


The reason that writers--including me--are so quick to pick up the phone is that Jagger and Richards compose one of the two most important writing and performing duos in rock history--and for most of the last 25 years, they’ve come up with something lively to say.

Question: A lot of people assume it was more fun for you personally to play small halls in 1987 with your solo band, than to play the stadiums in 1989 and 1990 with the Stones. Money aside, would you rather tour with the Stones or with your solo band?

Answer: Ooh, that’s a difficult one to answer. . . . Ideally, I suppose, I’d like to tour with both. There’s certainly more freedom doing stuff on your own. With the Stones, you’re kinda locked into the Stones thing . . . the elaborate production and lights and the huge crowds. So, there’s a certain feeling of relief to do something smaller and more intimate, where you can turn around before any song and go, “Hey, let’s try something else next.”

But in no way is it not fun to play with the Stones. It’s not like I’m trapped in the band. I get tremendous enjoyment out of playing with the Stones on stage.

Q: Another assumption is that it’s more fun playing the new songs--and the only reason you play the old ones is that the audience wants to hear them. Is that right?

A: The answer, quite honestly, is no. The fun is finding new twists on old songs. Like, you’d probably be surprised which song was a real gas to play on the last tour: “Ruby Tuesday,” because we hadn’t played it live for millions of years. Same thing with “Factory Girl,” which is also on the new album.

Q: How about the roar of the stadium crowd? Is it still a thrill?

A: Oh, of course. I defy anybody to be stone cold in the face of that, not to be thrilled. If that didn’t excite you, I don’t think you’d have ever wanted to be out there doing it in the first place. It’s overwhelming and it’s hard to do it night after night for 18 months and then stop.


Q: How long does it take to unwind after a tour like that?

A: It takes three or four months. You go into a kind of semi-hibernation and don’t do anything, then you say, “I can’t just lie around all the time” and you start frantically looking for things to do. I go down to the islands, Jamaica, hang around there for a while, then to New York, then back to the island. It’s a weird thing, almost indescribable. The problem is you get into that groove of playing to 50,000 or 60,000 people every night and the body stays in the groove. The body wakes up at 8 or 9 in the evening, no matter what you’re doing after the tour ends, and asks, “Where’s the show?”

Q: There have been rumors about Bill Wyman no longer being in the Stones . . . that you were all upset over his book and that he isn’t even on the two new studio tracks on the album. Is that true?

A: No, no. Bill is on both tracks. The rumor may have been started because he didn’t make it for the video, but that was him. To be honest, I think Bill . . . well, he has had some problems--the divorce and so forth. He might have said some things about not wanting to be in the band anymore, but none of that came from us. As far as the rest of us are concerned, he’s still in the band. We’ll know in a year when we start getting back together again. As for the book, I didn’t even read it--except for the end of a few chapters to see how much money was in his bank account.

Q: What do you think about the question of rock losing its creative and commercial edge? Is it something you worry about?

A: I hear all that, but I must say that off and on over the years, I have heard it several times. The thing that always strikes me is just how much larger the business has gotten. At one time, there was room for three or four hot acts, and most of them came and went within two years. The business is so big today. There are hundreds of bands, and new ones coming every day. It’s hard to keep abreast of it all or know where it is leading; hard to figure out just which ones might really be important.

Q: What kind of a band would you want to start if you were 15 or 16 today?

A: I’d look for the right guys to play with, guys who liked the same kind of music I do and see what comes up. That’s always the most important thing to my mind: the right team. You can be a virtuoso, but it won’t do you much good unless you have the right players with you. The hardest thing to find is a good rhythm section. I think back sometimes and think how lucky were were (in the Stones) to find each other. I’ll touch wood on that.


Q: What kind of records do you listen to mostly these days?

A: I’ve been catching up on CD with stuff that I’ve been trying to find for years and couldn’t find on cassette or vinyl. . . . Stuff like a lot of Chicago blues. One favorite at the moment is an album of Jimmy Reed and Eddie Taylor.

Q: What about your own solo album? Is it in the planning stage?

A: Ah, good word planning . Yes, it’s in the planning stage. I’m trying to round up the reprobates--pretty much the same guys who were with me last time. Once you get a good team together, there’s not much point in changing it about. Ivan Neville is coming in a day or two to write some stuff because we need to get the thing going.

Q: Will you go on tour when the album comes out in the fall?

A: I hope so. To me, if you make a record and then don’t go the road behind it, I always feel you haven’t completed the whole task. I don’t know if that’s just habit or whatever, but it’s something for me. I just wouldn’t feel complete without going out an playing live. That’s why it was so hard to sit around for eight years or whatever between Stones tours (in the ‘80s). I don’t want that to ever happen again. There’s not really any reason to make records if you don’t play the music for people.”