The late American comedian Bill Hicks once quipped, “I picture nuclear war and two things surviving: Keith and cockroaches!” Truer words about Keith Richards have never been spoken. The man is a living enigma and his ability to live the so-called “rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle” and not only survive, but thrive, is testament to his endurance and incredible constitution.
Many music fans are very familiar with Keith’s work in one of the world’s longest running and most successful bands, the Rolling Stones. Some of those fans would no doubt be aware of his solo material as well. For everyone else, I hope to shed some light on his solo recordings in this post.
There had allegedly been a tacit agreement between Mick Jagger and Keith about neither of them releasing solo material as they were the principal songwriters for the Stones and should concentrate their efforts to that end. Mick apparently surprised Keith with the release of his first solo album, She’s The Boss, in 1985. When Jagger then refused to tour to promote the Stones’ 1986 album, Dirty Work, choosing to do a solo tour instead, Keith finally bit the bullet and began recording solo material.
Keith teamed up with a backing band consisting of Steve Jordan on drums, Charlie Drayton on bass, Ivan Neville on piano and keyboards and Waddy Wachtel on guitar. When you’re Keith Richards you are also able to pull in some notable guest musicians as well with the first solo album, Talk Is Cheap, also featuring Bootsy Collins, Johnnie Johnson (Chuck Berry’s piano man), former Stone Mick Taylor and the Memphis Horns.
For me there were several standout tracks on the album including “I Could Have Stood You Up” featuring the unique piano stylings of Johnnie Johnson, “Take It So Hard”, “Rockawhile” and the sublime duet with Sarah Dash, “Make No Mistake”.
The core lineup of the band, with the inclusion of Sarah Dash, were dubbed the X-pensive Winos. Keith toured with the band in support of the album and later released a live album from these shows, Live at the Hollywood Palladium, December 15,1988.
After recording and touring the album Steel Wheels with the Stones, Keith reconnected with the X-Pensive Winos for his second studio album, Main Offender. Not as successful as its predecessor it still featured some great tracks in “Bodytalks”, “Eileen” and the excellent first single, “Wicked As It Seems”. When reconvening with Jagger to record the next Stones album, Voodoo Lounge, Mick complimented Keith on the album and used “Wicked As It Seems” as inspiration for the next Rolling Stones single, “Love Is Strong”.
Jump ahead 23 years and Keith has finally released his third solo studio album. Crosseyed Heart, released in September 2015, features many of the same X-Pensive Winos as on his previous solo albums and is a fine album, if not his finest solo effort. Also making an appearance is none other than Norah Jones, on the outstanding duet, “Illusion”. Primarily featuring tracks penned by Keith and Steve Jordan, it also includes two faithful covers in “Love Overdue”, originally recorded by Gregory Isaacs, and Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene”, a return to Keith’s roots in the blues. Given the man will see his 72nd birthday later this year, one can’t help but wonder if this will be his final solo release.