Hear 280 Blues, Country, Reggae & Rock Songs Keith Richards Namechecks in His Memoir, Life


Image by Machocar­i­o­ca, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

You don’t have to, like, stretch your brain or any­thing to rat­tle off a list of Kei­th Richards’ influ­ences. If you’ve ever heard a Rolling Stones song, you’ve heard him pull out his Mud­dy Waters and Chuck Berry riffs, and he’s nev­er been shy about sup­port­ing and nam­ing his idols. He’s played with Waters, Berry, and many more blues and ear­ly rock and roll greats, and after bor­row­ing heav­i­ly from them, the Stones gave back by pro­mot­ing and tour­ing with the artists who pro­vid­ed the raw mate­r­i­al for their sound.

Then there’s the 2002 com­pi­la­tion The Devil’s Music, culled from Richards’ per­son­al favorite col­lec­tion of blues, soul, and R&B clas­sics, and fea­tur­ing big names like Robert John­son, Lit­tle Richard, Bob Mar­ley, Albert King, and Lead Bel­ly, and more obscure artists like Amos Mil­burn, and Jack­ie Bren­ston. You may also recall last year’s Under the Influ­ence, a Net­flix doc­u­men­tary by 20 Feet From Star­dom direc­tor Mor­gan Neville, in which Richards namechecks dozens of influ­en­tial musicians—from his mum’s love of Sarah Vaugh­an, Ella Fitzger­ald, and Bil­lie Hol­i­day, to his and Jagger’s youth­ful ado­ra­tion of Waters and Berry, to his rock star hang­outs with Willie Dixon and Howl­in’ Wolf.

Point is, Kei­th Richards loves to talk about the music he loves. A big part of the Stones’ appeal—at least in their 60s/early 70s prime—was that they were such eager fans of the musi­cians they emu­lat­ed. Yes, Jagger’s pho­ny coun­try drawls and blues howls could be a lit­tle embar­rass­ing, his chick­en dance a lit­tle less than soul­ful. But the earnest­ness with which the young Eng­lish­men pur­sued their Amer­i­cana ideals is infec­tious, and Richards has spread his love of U.S. roots music through every medi­um, includ­ing his 2010 mem­oir Life, a wicked­ly iron­ic title—given Richards’ No. 1 posi­tion on the “rock stars most-like­ly-to-die list,” writes Michiko Kaku­tani, “and the one life form (besides the cock­roach) capa­ble of sur­viv­ing nuclear war.”

It’s also a very poignant title, giv­en Richards’ sin­gle-mind­ed pur­suit of a life gov­erned by music he’s loved as pas­sion­ate­ly, or more so, as the women in his life. Richards, Kaku­tani writes, ded­i­cat­ed him­self “like a monk to mas­ter­ing the blues.” Of this call­ing, he writes, “you were sup­posed to spend all your wak­ing hours study­ing Jim­my Reed, Mud­dy Waters, Lit­tle Wal­ter, Howl­in’ Wolf, Robert John­son. That was your gig. Every oth­er moment tak­en away from it was a sin.” In the course of the book, Richards men­tions over 200 artists, songs, and record­ings that direct­ly inspired him ear­ly or lat­er in life, and one enter­pris­ing read­er has com­piled them all, in order of appear­ance, in the Spo­ti­fy playlist above.

You’ll find here no sur­pris­es, but if you’re a Stones fan, it’s hard to imag­ine you wouldn’t put this one on and lis­ten to it straight through with­out skip­ping a sin­gle track. When it comes to blues, soul, reg­gae, coun­try, and rock and roll, Kei­th Richards has impec­ca­ble taste. Scat­tered amidst the Aaron Neville, Etta James, Gram Par­sons, Elvis, Wil­son Pick­ett, etc. are plen­ty of clas­sic Stones record­ings that feel right at home next to their influ­ences and peers.

With the excep­tion of reg­gae artists like Jim­my Cliff and Sly & Rob­bie, most of the tracks are from U.S. or U.S.-inspired artists (Tom Jones, Cliff Richard). Again, no sur­pris­es. Not every­one Richards appro­pri­at­ed has appre­ci­at­ed the homage (Chuck Berry long held a grudge), but were it not for his fan­dom and appren­tice­ship, it’s pos­si­ble a great many blues records would have gone unsold, and some artists may have fad­ed into obscu­ri­ty. Thanks to playlists like these, they can live on in a dig­i­tal age that doesn’t always do so well at acknowl­edg­ing or remem­ber­ing its his­to­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Hear Demos of Kei­th Richards Singing Lead Vocals on Rolling Stones Clas­sics: “Gimme Shel­ter,” “Wild Hors­es” & More

Hunter S. Thomp­son Talks with Kei­th Richards in a Very Mem­o­rable and Mum­ble-Filled Inter­view (1993)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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