The thing you have to love about Bobby Keys is that in rock’s most excessive era he was exiled for being too irresponsible.
By Mick Jagger!
It’d be like Fred Rogers and the Dali Lama having a gentle dispute over who is more deferential.
This wasn’t parting ways with Brian Jones over creative differences. This was Jagger saying, “‘The bloke’s jus’ too much! When ‘e’s inna next room, ‘e’s so loud I can’t even enjoy me orgy!”
The ’73 split was over a champagne-filled bathtub. In the tub with Keys one day in Belgium was a naked French model and the pair had commenced to guzzling. The situation was apparently too compelling for Keys to depart for that day’s required sound check.
I love the Stones, but I see a lot of logic in Keys’s decision.
Banished, he and made only sporadic contributions to subsequent Stones recordings. You could argue the band never again returned to the heights it had hit with “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street,” classics where Keys' contributions are indelible.
Back then the Stones understood that when rock ’n’ roll swaggers into the saloon, it’s the sax man who kicks down the door.
Don’t believe me?
Think of some of their best songs: It’s Keys who delivers the signature sounds on “Brown Sugar,” “Live with Me,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “I Got the Blues,” and so many songs that make “Exile” so essential. Songs like “Casino Boogie,” “Rip This Joint,” “Sweet Virginia,” “Let It Loose” and “Ventilator Blues.”
My very favorite might be “Bitch,” a song that plays like Mick and Keith wrote specifically with him and his sax in mind.
He was born December 18, 1943, the same day as Keith Richards (and the day before my Mom’s birthday 11 years previous!).
He met the Stones in ’64 when he was playing with Bobby Vee at a San Antonio festival. It’s all there in Bill Wyman’s 1990 book, “Stone Alone.” The part about meeting Keys also includes an anecdote about The Stones sunbathing at the hotel pool when alarmed guests called police with reports that five young girls were there topless at the same time.
It turned out it was just The Stones. Their long hair had confused the prudish guests.
Born in Lubbock, the cradle of some of the greatest and influential American music, Keys played with Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison before most kids earn their driver’s licenses.
He’s said he played the baritone sax for Elvis on “Return to Sender,” but that is in dispute. Others claim it is their work.
I believe Keys. Why would he lie? To make himself more famous?
For heaven’s sake, the only saxophone player on earth who’s ever rivaled him in fame is Lisa Simpson.
He played with The Who, all the Beatles and, in fact, played the last session ever between Lennon and McCartney, a 1974 bit called “A Toot and a Snore,” which I’ve never heard of and may or may not get around to researching.
He played with Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Barbara Streisand, Joe Ely, Carly Simon, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and the great Quinn Fallon.
Quinn Fallon. Yes, I’ve written about him before, many times, but I refer to him again in this instance because it may be historically significant.
Quinn’s a great roots rocker who was so enamored of Keys and his legacy he wrote a song based on Keys’ 2012 book, “Every Night’s a Saturday Night.”
He told Keys about it when they met when Keys was performing in Columbus, where Quinn runs a bar named Little Rock.
Why Little Rock? Because every bar needs a little rock.
Keys was so flattered he agreed to play on the song on Quinn’s recently released Los Gravediggers album, “Get a New Ghost.”
So Keys’s last recorded song may be “Every Night’s a Saturday Night,” a song based on the title of the book about his own life.
I hope someone plays it for Keith. He’d think that’s perfectly cool. He’d be correct.
But I’m sorry Bobby’s dead.
He was 70 and I would love to have heard another 10 or so years from him as the legend expanded even further.
Really, it’s worse than a pity.
It’s a bitch.
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