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Music

Keith Richards' favourite book of all time

The Rolling Stones are revered for their unstoppable take on rock ‘n’ roll. Exploding on to the swinging rhythm and blues scene in London in the early sixties, the band arrived with a secret weapon: Keith Richards. As well as being known as the ‘Human Riff’—a moniker garnered from his indomitable knack for a tune— Richards also brought danger to the stage and studio. He quickly established himself as the ultimate rock and roll hedonist. 

With this, the band differentiated itself from the surge of British pop groups that were taking over the world. The Beatles were a square pop outfit, The Animals a more relaxed gang, and The Kinks were London’s soul masters, whereas The Rolling Stones represented the flash of a knife, a glint in the eye and the energy of youth in revolt. They symbolised the darker side of rock, and this became their USP, with Richards informing the majority of this stylistic standpoint.

As anyone who has met Keith Richards will attest to, there’s one thing he always was and always will be—genuine. It means that while today you would almost expect a group to be “mad, bad and dangerous to know” on the pages of magazines but cherubs behind closed doors, Richards was the real deal and lived out the rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. There was no off-switch; hellraising was natural to him. 

The guitarist has had a wild life. Richards is a vital cog in one of the biggest bands of all time, cementing his name amongst the very best, and is rightly seen as the archetypal ‘rock star’. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are his forte, and while he has slowed down of late, his stories are far crazier than anybody else’s. It wasn’t all about hellraising, though. In his rare moments of quiet, Richards is also a fan of the old novel or two, as the pictures of his vast library confirm. When time allows him to, he’s an avid reader, a fan of fiction, history and everything in between. 

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However, in many interviews, Richards has made it clear that he particularly loves books about the high seas. Although he’s showered much praise on Patrick O’Brian’s classic adventure, Master and Commander, there’s another book that he listed as his all-time favourite.

It may come as little surprise to find out that Richards loves everything to do with pirates when it comes to books on the high seas. Whether it be his day to day garb, or appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Richards is totally enamoured with the swashbuckling tales of pirates and buccaneers. 

In 2015, when appearing on BBC Radio 4’s flagship programme, Desert Island Discs, and faced with only taking one book to read until his dying day, he selected James Norman Hall’s 1940 novel Dr. Dogbody’s Leg, and what a fitting choice it was. Richards told host Kirsty Young: “Every time [Dogbody] turns up at the table, he gives you a different story about how he lost it, and they’re all totally plausible”. 

Dr. Dogbody’s Leg is a later work by the revered author of Mutiny on the Bounty. It follows Dr. Dogbody, a peg-legged old salt who loves to spin overblown tales. His stories vividly recreate the Napoleonic Wars, imbuing them with comedy, adventure and unforgettable characters; there’s no wonder Richards loves it. Rock and roll is his own high seas, and he’s the daring sailor, exploring new climes with adventure galore.

Listen to ‘Gimme Shelter’ below.