“If you don’t know the blues… there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.” — Keith Richards
Keith Richards may well be the iconic lasting legend of rock ‘n’ roll — unstoppable and unfathomable in equal measure he has always played the role of rock star expertly well. The ultimate gun-slinging guitarist, spilling his Jack Daniels as he swaggers up to the amp, plugs in and lets a riff rip through the entire crowd. It was this image that helped propel Richards and The Rolling Stones into the pantheon of rock and roll and the same image that kept them there,
However, as the guitarist would attest to himself, The Rolling Stones may have become rock heroes, but they were certainly standing on the shoulders of giants. More so than any other band, the Stones were happy to give credit to the band which had shaped them, the bands which guided them and the artists who inspired them to become giants in their own right. In 2015, Keith Richards laid out 15 songs that shaped his life, and it works as a perfect playlist.
Shared as part of MOJO’s exclusive feature with the guitarist, when he was releasing his solo album Crosseyed Heart and was not quite being as rightly revered as he should, Richards picked out 15 songs which have inspired his meteoric rise to prominence. If there’s one guitarist who is the most prominent member of the rock and roll set, then it’s certainly ol’ Keef.
Below you can find the full list of Richards’ selections and a perfect playlist which acts as an incredible education in R&B guitar for any newbie. A devoted blues lover it’s not surprising to see Richards select some of the who’s who of blues greatest players, many of which he has shared his love of before. It’s a list that any budding guitarist should pay particularly close attention to.
Unsurprisingly, one of the first names on the list, though we can’t be sure it was the first one he wrote down, had to be Chuck Berry. The duck-walking genius, Berry, was largely cited as inspiring countless acts from The Beatles to The Kinks and, of course, The Rolling Stones. Richards picked ‘Little Queenie’, a track that the Stones themselves would go on to cover.
Speaking about Berry’s performance on Jazz on a Summer’s Day, Richards said: “Chuck took them all by storm and played against their animosity. To me, that’s blues. That’s the attitude and the guts it takes. That’s what I wanted to be, except I was white.”
“I listened to every lick he played and picked it up,” he added. “Chuck got it from T-Bone Walker, and I got it from Chuck, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and B.B. King. We’re all part of this family that goes back thousands of years. Really, we’re all passing it on.” Berry was even influential in The Rolling Stones forming after a chance meeting between old school friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would be given extra gravitas thanks to the Chuck Berry records the future Stones singer had in his arms.
Another artist Richards wouldn’t be able to leave out was, of course, Muddy Waters. Not only did the singer’s track (the one selected here ‘Rollin’ Stone’) provide the band with their name, but his unique style influenced Richards’ incredible playing.
In 1981, The Rolling Stones shared the stage in with the icon, a time Richards’ remembers with glee: “You want to be a blues player, the next minute you fucking well are and you’re stuck right amongst them, and there’s Muddy Waters standing next to you. It happens so fast you really can’t register all of the impressions that are coming at you… It’s one thing to play a Muddy Waters song. It’s another thing to play with him.”
There is, of course, room for the enigmatic Little Richard on the selection, too, with ‘Lucille’ being picked up. With it, Richards provides a team of guitar music’s greatest players to make sure you’re well educated on the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll. There are also nods to Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy (another artist Richards has played with), The Coasters and Fats Domino. It’s the kind of list that confirms Richards’ position as the ultimate modern bluesman.
It makes for an incredible playlist and offers up a plethora of artists to delve deeper into. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, is that these musicians helped inspire Keith Richards to become a member of The Rolling Stones and push the band into the upper echelons of music’s history.
15 songs that inspired The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards:
- Scotty Moore Trio – ‘Have Guitar Will Travel’
- Chuck Berry – ‘Little Queenie’
- Little Richard – ‘Lucille’
- Bo Diddley – ‘Diddley Daddy’
- Buddy Guy – ‘First Time I Met The Blues’
- Pat Hare – ‘I’m Gonna Murder My Baby’
- Muddy Waters – ‘Rollin’ Stone’
- Jimmy Reed – ‘Bright Lights Big City’
- The Coasters – ‘Poison Ivy’
- Fats Domino – ‘Blue Monday’
- Jay McShann – ‘Confessin’ The Blues’
- The Everly Brothers – ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’
- Buddy Holly – ‘Learning The Game’
- Sanford Clark – ‘Son-Of-A-Gun’
- Hoagy Carmichael – ‘The Nearness Of You