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Why Keith Richards called Prince an "overrated midget"

Keith Richards, the uncompromising guitarist and co-founder of rock and roll giants The Rolling Stones, has never been one to hold back his opinion. The singer-songwriter has traversed multiple decades since announcing himself on the world stage back in 1960 and, in a long and winding journey to the top, he’s ruffled more than a few feathers along the way.

While many leading names within the music industry have felt the full force of Richards’ razor-sharp tongue, it would be a recurring quarrel with the flamboyant and androgynous personality of Prince that would last the test of time. 

“To me, Prince is like The Monkees,” the guitarist said once said about Prince in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I think he’s very clever at manipulating the music business and the entertainment business.” It was clear, from this moment, that Richards had a bee in his bonnet about the authenticity of The Purple One.

During that very same interview, he added: “I think he’s more into that than making music,” he said, doubling down on his belief that Prince was a businessman, rather than and out and out musician. “I don’t see much substance in anything he does,” he concluded while signing off by describing Prince as “Pee-wee Herman trip”.

Of course, this discontent must have a source. Many have discussed the notion that a band with the ability to stay at the top of the rock and roll pile for more than 50 years have not necessarily played by the rules – and The Stones could certainly attest to that. That said, a public barrage of criticism at a fellow musician surely can’t be built on Keith Richards’ competitive nature, can it?

Prince’s influence, from the moment he broke through with his 1978 debut, is undeniable. With his extravagant approach to music creation, one that blurred the lines of gender and melded genre in equal measure, Prince was not only gently stepping on the toes of his contemporaries — he was violently stamping on them with his high-heeled boots, dragging things to a whole new level without allowing a hair to slip out of place.

However, the origins of Richards’ disgruntled viewpoint has sparked many a debate. While a dog-eat-dog mentality is a required trait for those who seek longevity, The Rolling Stones didn’t always have Prince’s name vigorously etched into their black book. In 1981, Mick Jagger personally invited Prince to support The Rolling Stones for two shows at The L.A. Coliseum in what is, on reflection, a somewhat mindboggling collaboration. However, the high-profile concerts, which managed to amass over 90,000 people in the crowd for each show, would end with a sour taste in the mouths of all involved.

For the first show on October 9th, Prince was joined by his band, who were soon to be named ‘The Revolution’. Armed with more confidence than Pete Doherty strolling en route to the all you can eat English breakfast buffet, Prince took the stage donning his see-through jacket, thigh-high boots, and black bikini briefs in a bid to announce himself on the big stage. Of course, the barechested, beer-induced neanderthals expecting to see a Keith Richards solo took offence to Prince and his mind-bending breed of music. What ensued was boos, jeers, alleged racial insults directed toward the stage before Prince allegedly strolled away and described the crowd as “tasteless in music and mentally retarded”.

Richards, meanwhile, sat backstage watching on as Prince riled up the crowd, took offence at the notion that support act had the temerity to turn things up to eleven. At the moment, he said, damningly: “An overrated midget… Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince. That’s the trouble with conferring a title on yourself before you’ve proved it.

“His attitude when he opened for us…was insulting to our audience,” Richards remembered layer. “You don’t try to knock off the headline like that when you’re playing a Stones crowd. He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already.” 

In truth, the entire saga is one that doesn’t paint Richards in a good light. Swept up by the fame, the challenge, the ego and many other contributing factors, it would appear that the Rolling Stones man had thawed in his old age, allowing his resentment to subside upon the tragic news that Prince had passed away in 2016: “A unique talent,” he tweeted. “A true original. So sad, so sudden and, I will add, a great guitar player. We are all going to miss him.”

All well that ends well? I’m not sure.