Keith Richards Waxes Philosophical, Plays Live with His Idol, the Great Muddy Waters

Cadil­lac Records—a 2008 biopic about the rise and fall of Chicago’s Chess Records—won acclaim for bravu­ra per­for­mances, gar­nered Bey­once a White House per­for­mance and threats of vio­lence from Etta James, and took it on the chin for its deeply mud­dled his­to­ry. But nobody goes to the movies for a his­to­ry les­son, right? What stuck with me was its drama­ti­za­tion of that moment (okay, decade) when R&B and “race records” got rebrand­ed by Alan Freed as “Rock n’ Roll” and crossed over the col­or line. Hun­dreds of bands hijacked Chuck Berry’s licks (as he saw it), and then Jag­ger crashed the par­ty with his Mud­dy Waters impres­sion while his band took their name from one of his blues songs.

The Stones may not have been the first British band to make Amer­i­can elec­tric blues their own, but they were arguably the most pop­u­lar. In an excerpt (below) from a longer inter­view from 1973, Kei­th Richards namechecks both Waters and Berry, as well as usu­al sus­pects Lit­tle Richard, Bo Did­dley, Jim­my Reed, Slim Har­po, and the much ear­li­er Robert John­son and Blind Lemon Jef­fer­son. The host push­es Kei­th on his roots influ­ences and the part of black music in the Stones’ sound, ask­ing if their lack of sen­ti­men­tal­ism came from the blues. Kei­th replies,“I don’t get sen­ti­men­tal about things because… it doesn’t lead to clar­i­ty of thought.” And when I think clar­i­ty, I think Kei­th Richards. But seri­ous­ly, it’s a gem of an inter­view.

Asked about how black musi­cians react­ed to his blues appro­pri­a­tion, Richards gets philo­soph­i­cal: “Prob­a­bly as many dif­fer­ent reac­tions from them as any­body else.” We know how Chuck Berry felt—robbed—but Kei­th tells us Waters took it in stride, “grate­ful” for the intro­duc­tion to the white col­lege cir­cuit which put more bread in his pock­et. Maybe so, but Waters’ crossover before white audi­ences pre­dat­ed the Stones. Before the British invaded—two years before the Stones formed—Muddy hit England’s shores in 1958 (one year after Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe brought her elec­tric blues across the pond). While the usu­al belief that Waters’ blues shocked the Brits may be a mis­con­cep­tion, he won a new audi­ence on the folk cir­cuit, return­ing to Eng­land in ‘64. After lay­ing low for a while, Waters saw a career revival late in life, per­form­ing into his final years with The Stones, Eric Clap­ton, John­ny Win­ters, and his own band. In the video above, see a full per­for­mance of Waters with the Stones from 1981, two years before Waters’ death from heart fail­ure. He’s 66 at this gig, three years younger than Richards is now.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Chuck Berry Takes Kei­th Richards to School, Shows Him How to Rock (1987)

Revis­it The Life & Music of Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe: ‘The God­moth­er of Rock and Roll’

Mud­dy Waters and Friends on the Blues and Gospel Train, 1964

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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