He may well be one of the most famous guitarists the world has ever known but that has never helped The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards be seen favourably by purist guitarists. Richards is more often heralded for his uncanny ability to live life on the perpetual edge than his guitar playing ability.
Yet Richards is one of the best guitar players you’ll ever hear and if you don’t believe us we’ll direct your attention to this isolated track for The Rolling Stones funky song ‘Honky Tonk Woman’.
If we asked you to think about everything that makes Keith Richards Keith Richards, then chances are you will list out a series of narcotics and nicotine-stained smiles. But the man once deemed ‘The Human Riff’ has an absolutely uncanny ability to not only hear a tune but to nail it to the wall.
The image of the guitarist, with a cigarette in his mouth lamenting a no drugs policy, will always be Richards’ lasting one. Followed closely by his knack for pulling out a show-stopping and chunky stadium-sized riff to wow a mass of thousands—but you’d be missing the point.
The reason Keith Richards is so great, so revered and adored by so many people is that not only can he do all of the above, but he is also a supreme guitar and rock geek. A fanboy, even. That why he is able to transcend tone and genre with the Stones, how he is able to create riffs and lead lines that should be nowhere near his Dartford upbringing. But such is the enigma of Keef.
He may well be overlooked for his playing ability but we’re betting that’s because a lot of people, caught up in the swashbuckling performance, seem to miss the small tricks and nuances that Richards adds to his playing and the band’s output. On the band’s 1969 song ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, Richards lays down a funky line that simply nobody else could have pulled off.
Released as a single only, though a country version of the song ‘Country Honk’ was later included on Let It Bleed, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ was conceived when Richards and Jagger set up shop in Brazil for a while. They were inspired by the inhabitants of the rural and remote areas of the country known as ‘caipiras’ and let Richards guitar do the rest.
Not exactly blessed with poignant lyrics, “I met a gin soaked bar-room queen in Memphis” is about as down the line as it gets, the track is seen as one of the finest rock numbers ever thanks to one man and one man only, Keith Richards. Though the song may start with a cowbell it all lands on his shoulders and the talent that travels down from them into his guitar.
Below, via the isolated guitar track of the song, we can get an up-close and personal look at the affectations and nuances Richards is able to apply into a classic rock riff. While Richards may not be the most technically gifted player of all time he makes up for it with buckets of style.
Listen to Keith Richards isolated guitar track for The Rolling Stones’ ‘Honky Tonk Woman’.