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Music

The guitarist Keith Richards called “one of the greats”

@SamWKemp

Few guitarists are more deserving of iconic status than Keith Richards. His impact on the world of music is all there in his hands. Wrinkled and twisted with arthritis, they are evidence of a lifetime’s worth of riffs and licks. As one of the most prominent guitarists of the British Invasion era, Richards helped define the sound of the 1960s, carving himself into the annuls of rock history in the process. But, as with all the great guitarists of his day, Richards’ achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the work of America’s blues players. Here, we join Richards as he expresses his admiration for one of the greatest of those players.

Back in 2015, the world recieved a serious dose of bad news. After 89 years on planet earth, the great blues guitarist B.B. King passed away in his sleep, leaving a gaping void in the world of music. King wasn’t simply a virtuoso; he was a pioneer and a symbol of the birth of American popular music. He was to the blues what Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington had been to jazz: a singular talent who pushed his genre forward with every stroke of his pick. While there is certainly cause to argue that groups such as The Rolling Stones commodified the work of Black artists like Chuck Berry, Jimmy Cliff and B.B. King, it’s important to remember that The Stones’ vocal support of such artists helped to bring the blues to a wider audience, dissolving the cultural rift between white and Black audiences.

Speaking about the group in a 2008 interview with The Guardian, King said: “The Stones were superstars. I supported them on tour in 1969 and to be able to do something with them was a godsend for me. It probably didn’t mean much to them, but it meant a lot to me. Keith [Richards] was always playing something and looking at me as if to say, ‘You can’t play this!’ I loved working with them and I’d work with them tomorrow if they’d let me. The Stones opened a lot of eyes – white and black – because many people didn’t know about the blues. I wanted them to think of it as music in the same way as I wanted them to think of us as people.”

Just after King’s death, The Rolling Stones opened up about their relationship with the great guitarist, with Mick Jagger remarking, “I was just looking at a picture of me and B.B. backstage at Madison Square Garden [in 1969]…He played with us at a lot of gigs on that tour. We last played with him at a Blues concert in the White House. It’s sad. He had such a huge, long career. It’s sad that we won’t be listening to him live anymore”.

Keith Richards, for whom King had been an informal mentor, added: “He was one of the greats. Great style. B.B. was a great guy. He was one of the true gentlemen, and I shall miss him a lot, we always had a great time with him when our paths crossed,” he said. “At least we have his records. Farewell, B.B.”

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