Keith Richards was born in Dartford, Kent on the 18th of December, 1943.
Growing up an only child, Keith’s Grandfather Augustus Theodore Dupree, affectionately known as “Gus” was a jazz guitarist. When Keith would visit his Grandfather his attention would be drawn to his grandfather’s guitar that was kept on top of the upright piano.
Gus told him that when he could reach it he would give him his first guitar lessons, one day young Keith was caught making a step from a chair and stacked books in order to reach the guitar, after seeing this Gus happily relented and began teaching him to play.
Not long after this Keith received his first guitar from his Mother and began practicing along to recordings by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and learning riffs and licks from listening to Elvis Presley guitar player Scotty Moore.
Keith attended primary school with fellow Rolling Stones member Mick Jagger, the two were also neighbours for a couple of years during this time.
By his teens Keith had learnt most of Chuck Berry’s songs and iconic solos. Around this time Keith was reacquainted with Mick Jagger on a train heading to London, the two bonded over the Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records Mick was carrying with him.
At the time Mick was singing in a group called “Little Boy Blue and The Blue Boys” which Keith joined. The group disbanded when Mick and Keith where invited to join fellow blues devotees Brian Jones and Ian Stewart in their new group “The Rolling Stones”.
In 1963 The Rolling Stones signed to Decca records. It was also at this time that their manager Andrew Loog Oldham changed Keith’s last name from Richards to Richard, because he thought it looked better. This may have also payed homage to Little Richard. By the 70’s Keith publicly returned the “S” to his last name.
Though Keith is widely known for his 5 string, open G tuned Fender Telecaster, he has used a variety of different guitars throughout his playing career, boasting a collection of around 3000 guitars.
During the mid 1960’s Keith often played a Harmony Meteor and a Gibson Les Paul, Keith’s Les Paul served as his primary guitar during 1966. The guitar was later bought by Rolling Stones lead guitarist Mick Taylor.
During this time Keith also played a Gibson Firebird, both Mick Taylor and Keith would often appear live playing matching Firebirds. During The Stones 1969 tour Keith favoured a Gibson ES-355, this guitar was also used by both Keith and Mick Taylor during the recording of “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main St.”
Keith often plays a Fender Stratocaster that was given to him as a present by fellow Rolling Stones guitar player Ronnie Wood.
Two of Keith’s more interesting guitars are his Ampeg Dan Armstrong plexiglass guitar that he would often use onstage from 1969 to 1971, there is famous backstage footage of Keith showing the guitar to Jimi Hendrix and Jimi playing it upside down left handed.
And his Zemaitis 5 string guitar custom made for his by the famous British luthier Tony Zemaitis. The guitar was nicknamed “The Pirate Zemaitis” and “Macabre” and was painted with daggers, pistols and skulls, this was Keith’s main open G guitar from 1975 to 1978 until it was destroyed in a house fire.
Keith’s amplification loyalties tend to lie primarily with Fender, but he has enjoyed the same variety with amplification as he has with guitars.
Keith used Ampeg amplification for touring between 1969 to 1978 and in the recording studio in conjunction with Fender Twins. Keith also used Mesa Boogie amplifiers from 1977 well into the early 1990’s.
Keith has always relied on the natural sound of the guitar through the amplifier and has maintained a minimalist relationship with effects pedals, though during the 1970’s Keith would use a wah pedal, Leslie and phaser at different times.
Keith used a Gibson Maestro fuzzbox for the intro to “Satisfaction”, the success of the iconic Rolling Stones song boosted the sale of this particular pedal resulting in it being completely sold out by 1965.
Musical Techniques, Concepts and Approaches
Keith’s wild and outrageous party lifestyle strikes a stark contrast to his guitar playing and musical style which always appears more tasteful, minimalistic and intimately complementary of the other instruments in the composition.
Though a tasteful lead guitarist, Keith has always been more focused on rhythm guitar playing and the layers a dual guitar partnership can create, which he has always preferred over one guitar player in a band.
Keith’s distinctive rhythm style and chord progressions have been solidified in the DNA of rock music and can be heard in the songs of countless notable rock bands.
Keith has become synonymous with his customised open G tuning for five strings, the guitar is tuned GDGBD with the low E string removed.
This famous tuning has been used on such notable Rolling Stones songs as “Brown Sugar”, Honkey Tonk Woman” and “Angie”.
Influence In Rock Guitar Playing
Keith Richards is considered to be one of the most influential guitar players in rock music history.
Together with Brian Jones and Mick Jagger, Keith built a bridge from the urban blues of Chicago to the mainstream audiences of the UK and the United States.
His trademark rhythms, progressions and compositions have since become part of the language of rock music and can be heard replicated in the chord progressions of countless different rock songs by many notable rock groups and artist.
Keith’s rock guitar playing influence is undeniable and unavoidable.
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