THE ROLLING STONES MACH I:
Keith Richards - Brian Jones 1962-1969
The great thing was (Keith and Brian) living in the (Edith Grove) flat together (in 1962-63) with no money and nothing to do but play. They really got off on this two-guitar player thing. And they pulled it off really well. All those old records usually featured two guitar players. So they absorbed a lot. They were young enough to be influenced in the heart rather than in the head.
Keith and Brian used to sit and all day long practice. When they weren't in bed, they would sit and practice note for note. Every Jimmy Reed song they could hear, every Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, note for note. And they would do these amazing intricate patterns between the two guitars, one going down the scale and one going up and they would work on it for hours and hours. I mean, they really perfected that.
By (1963), having lived together and done nothing else but listen to their records and tapes and play together, Brian and Keith had this guitar thing like you wouldn't believe. There was never any suggestion of a lead and a rhythm guitar player. They were two guitar players that were like somebody's right and left hand.
Open tuning was something that had intrigued me for quite a while before I took it up, but I'd never had the opportunity or time to get to it... Brian Jones used to use certain forms of open tuning - tuning the third string down, or sometimes an open-D.
THE ROLLING STONES MACH II:
Keith Richards - Mick Taylor 1969-1974
Right now, I'm sticking pretty much to playing rhythm onstage. It depends on the number actually, but since Brian died, I've had to pay more attention to rhythm guitar anyway.
Taylor's scope was wider than the Stones. (He) was stifled by the band, as they wanted him to fill that necessary part of the Stones. He added a dimension that Keith wasn't comfortable with. Perhaps Mick (Taylor) was changing the sound, getting away from how Keith heard things. I think Keith had a different vision than Taylor and wanted to protect his songs.
It was much harder to get a Rolling Stones sound with Mick (Taylor). It was much more lead and rhythm, one way or the other. As fabulous as he is as a lead guitarist, he wasn't as great as a rhythm player, so we ended up taking roles... (C)hemically we didn't have that flexibility in the band. It was, You do this, and I'll do that, and never the twain shall meet.
We never really consciously worked (parts) out (between Keith and I); they just kind of happened. He played most of the riffs on the songs, and I played most of the solos.
My playing relationship with Mick Taylor was always very good. There is no way I can compare it to playing with Brian, because it had been so long since Brian had been interested in the guitar at all, I had almost gotten used to doing it all myself - which I never really liked. I couldn't bear being the only guitarist in a band, because the real kick for me is getting those rhythms going, and playing off of another guitar. But I learned a lot from Mick Taylor, because he is such a beautiful musician. I mean, when he was with us, it was a time when there was probably more distinction, let's say, between rhythm guitar and lead guitar than at any other time in the Stones. More than now and more than when Brian was with us, because Mick Taylor is that kind of a player; you know he can do that...
THE ROLLING STONES MACH III:
Keith Richards - Ron Wood 1975-present
You know with Ronnie we seem to be able to get back to the original idea of the Stones, when Brian was with us in 1962, '63. Two guitars has always been my particular love because I think there's more that can be done with that combination thean almost any other instrument. But what screws most of that up, and this is the bag I fell into with Mick Taylor - whom I love deeply and I think is one of the most incredible guitar players in that kind of music you'll ever get a chance to hear - is that there's this phony division between lead and rhythm guitar. It does not exist. Either you're a guitar player or you're not. And if you are a guitar player with another guitar player, there's no point in designing one thing to one... there's no freedom there. This way with Ronnie is more like what it was with Brian, because we had basically the same ideas about guitar when Brian was still very interested in guitar. It's two guitar players and one sound.
Now, especially with Ron Wood, the band's playing a lot more the way it did when Brian and I used to play at the beginning... What's interesting about rock and roll for me, and particularly for guitarists, is that if there are two guitarists, and they're playing really well together and really jell, there seem to be an infinite number of possibilities open. It comes to the point where you're not conscious anymore of who's doing what...
(Ronnie) has an instinctive feel for what Brian and I originally worked out as far as guitars and the music go. Siamese twins - they both play. Look at it like this: there's one guy, he's just got four arms.
If Ronnie drops a cigarette I'll play his bit, and we'll realize later that I've covered for him or he's covered for me... We pick it up and cover each other so that sometimes you can't really tell who's playing.
Keith and I call it an ancient form of weaving and I think without too much preparation Keith and I have luckily a gift between us two, one of us knowing when to play and the other one knowing when to stop and vice versa. And just keep it trucking along, it's a bit like an old locomotive going along.
The fact is Ronnie can play like me, but I can't play like Ronnie. He's uncanny in that if I was going to make a record by myself, most of what I would try to overdub is exactly what Ronnie would play in that situation.
It's just about playing with somebody, and every time you get down to playing you're testing each other more. Ronnie Wood is an amazingly sympathetic player; he'll get to the root of what you're on almost straight away.
Keith and I are weaving together better than normal. I know it sounds corny, but there's something magic that's kicked in on this present tour, that seems here to stay. We've raised the bar musically. You'll notice a big difference.
(P)laying with Ronnie is sort of halfway between Brian and Mick Taylor. He does a lot of the weaving, too, but he also does the solo stuff and has a lovely touch on the slide, you know. Onstage, we switch parts and decide when we're actually doing it. It's a matter of looks onstage, like, OK, you go now.
Keith and I have this unwritten law where he'll lay back and I'll let go, or I'll lay back and he'll go for it. We rarely conflict. Once in a while he'll growl at me. Hey, this is ME. Back off. Then a few licks later, I do the same - Fuck you, this is ME - and he'll move back.
(Working with Keith) has kind of put the reins on me and made me think twice about just tearing in there like a bull in a China shop. I've learned what NOT to play, and to play pieces that mean something. Often we just talk through our guitars. A lot of playing with Keith is about having a conversation with the guitars.
Saturday, October 12, 1985, about 2:30 AM - Ron Wood has just gotten an early-60s National electric from Stones' guitar honcho Alan Rogan. Rogan runs the chord into Ronnie's 4X10 Bassman, then plugs Keith's '59 Tele into his Fender Twin, which is off the floor on a folding chair. Woody riffs for a while, playing with the row of six volume and tone controls that line up above the National's pickups. Keith wanders in, and after a few ironic comments (What are all those bloody knobs for?), scoops up the Tele, puts it into gear - and off they go. For the next 90 minutes or so, the only sounds you'll hear will be the dual-ventricaled guitar heart of the Rolling Stones pumping out lifeblood rock and roll. Snatching up a handful of basic changes and licks at the starting line, this dynamic duo blasts through their mutations of primordial rock while they move balletically on their feet and axes: the way their heads bob, one a split second after the other; the way each will lift a leg slightly at some musical peak, just a downbeat apart; the way one intuitively drops down to the neck's lower reaches when the other begins to climb; the way chords and riffs swirl into a single sound dense with musicianship. Rests appear and float at odd places, licks spin past bar lines, rhythms surge to fill the entire room. For these two it's just another jam.