Without Keith's rhythm guitar, there wouldn't BE a Rolling Stones. Keith IS the Stones. He's got all those riffs and that sound which IS the Rolling Stones. What Keith does is play guitar without trying to be flash. It's all taste. And playing for real. Keith doesn't make a lot of faces. Ever notice Neil Young? He makes faces like he's doing something spectacular. I hate guitarists who make faces without doing anything.
After a playback you had to get an OK from the Stones before mixing. And an OK from the Stones was Mick and Keith. Not even Andrew (Oldham)... The determination and what was said musically was always Keith. If a feel wasn't right, Keith got it every time. You knew if it was a good take by Keith's smile. I always remember looking at Keith and if he was smiling we had a good take. Keith never said anything. He just smiled. And it would never be questioned, never a discussion.
Keith started singing these cowboy songs and his voice was INCREDIBLE. So I said, Goddamn, Keith, when are you gonna make an album of YOUR songs, 'cause it's so good. And Keith sort of went, No, man. But I kept on and on at him and I usually get my own way. For a month I kept on without pressuring him too much, and in the end he said, Listen, if I made a fuckin' album of my own I'd only get all the boys to play on it anyway. So it would be a fuckin' Rolling Stones album wouldn't it? Why don't we get on with the Rolling Stones album we're doing now? That sort of stunned me.
It's an integrated setup. The important thing is not who played what or how they played it. The most important thing was and still is how it all sounds when you're playing together. THAT is the turn-on. The turn-on isn't having your name on it afterward, emphasizing that you did all the guitar parts or whatever.
If I think something is wrong or I don't like it, I can't let it go on the album if I know it's wrong. So I'll keep on about it, goddamnit. The one thing I can contribute with absolute confidence is the sound 'cause I KNOW how this band should sound. It doesn't take me long to realize what's good for a certain song. And I don't have to be influenced by other people.
With the Stones, I'm the accepted leader in the studio; if I stop, everything stops. If Keith stops, there's no point in carrying on until he figures out what's happening next.
Richards' role in the group has been analyzed countless times. The consensus: Without Keith Richards there wouldn't BE a Rolling Stones. Ron Wood explains, In other bands they follow the drummer; the Stones follow Keith, and they always have. While some have asserted that Keith Richards IS the Rolling Stones, the guitarist himself is the first to stress that any band member's indispensability is a two-way street: The musicians are there to serve the band. All that matters is whether something furthers the overall sound. This cardinal principle saturates over two dozen albums as well as the band's kinetic perfomance onstage. It spawned not only the musicians' unqualified commitment to the group sound, but also the band's distinctive mixing technique, in which the vocals - often loosely doubled rather than neatly harmonized - are nearly drowned in the storm of guitars, bass and drums. Keith's vision is rooted in a keen awareness of the power of the guitar - acoustic or electric - not only as a rhythm or solo instrument, but as a musical paint brush capable of immense sonic canvases...
Any outside projects by the band (Keith) totally ignores. Woody's fairly interested, Charlie is reasonably interested. Mick is very interested. I hadn't seem him for a while. He said, Love that new record of yours, really like it. It should do quite well. NOW you've got to do THIS. And he starts to give me the business angle. Which was good. He was interested and he liked the record. While with Keith... you don't TALK about it. He's solely interested in the Rolling Stones. Anything else is not so much a threat as... an INTERFERENCE.
I don't think Keith wants the world to acknowledge him as the leader of the band. He wants to be the leader with Mick as the figurehead. Mick can have all the glory he wants. Keith just wants the band to sound the way he thinks it should sound.
Keith is a very confident and stubborn player, so he usually thinks someone else has made a mistake. Maybe you'll play halfway through a song and find that Keith had turned the time around. He'll drop a half- or quarter-bar somewhere, and suddenly Charlie's playing on the beat, instead of on the backbeat - and Keith will not change back. He will doggedly continue until the band changes to adapt to him. It doesn't piss us off in any way, because we all expect it to happen. He knows in general that we're following him, so he doesn't care if he changes the beat around or isn't really aware of it. He's quite amusing like that.
Up until the mid-80s, I wasn't at all happy
with the idea of the Stones splitting up
(temporarily). I thought one of the most important things about the Stones was that they stuck together and did their thing, and that's it. But we reached a point where you realized you can't stay inside that all the time. I wasn't going to be the first one, though. For me, I think the horror was the idea of putting myself in a conflict of interest, that if I wrote a song, should I keep it for myself or give it to the Stones? My attitude at the time was, This is what I worked for, so why should I put myself in that position? But at the same time, Mick and I couldn't just be in the Rolling Stones and do good work all the time. After 2 years off, we always had to wind up the giant machine... No matter how good you are, you just don't get together after 2 years off and get a great rock and roll band. What you get is a load of crap. The way things are now (with the band giving each other time to do other projects), I can look forward to going back there. I know everyone's been playing. It gives the Stones a chance to forge ahead instead of catching up to our past. We do need to work outside the band; it's something you have to accept.