Keith Richards is the archetypal rockstar, he has written the book on rock ‘n’ roll cliches but, underneath all of the exteriors that the Rolling Stones legend, hides behind is one of the most distinctive and intuitive guitarists to have ever lived. So, when Richards dishes out advice to anyone who wants to emulate what he has done with a six-string, you sit up and take notice.
Not only did The Rolling Stones breathe new and dangerous energy into the pop music scene when they arrived in the sixties, but they did so by paying homepage to the past. It means that while Richards was the face of a new sound he was still indebted to those before him, and he knew it.
Richards paid his way by perfecting his craft, one reason why he has had a career of such great longevity and, although he may come across as nonchalant, the guitar is something he eternally cherishes. Although Richards isn’t widely considered as one of the best guitarists of all time, being in one of the biggest bands of in history for close to 60 years gives him more pedigree to talk about the instrument.
“When I started, all I wanted to do was play like Chuck [Berry],” Richards told Guitar about his musical awakening. “I thought if I could do that, I’d be the happiest man in the world. Then, when I found out I could do it, I thought, well maybe there is another aim in life. But when I started I’d dream of playing with Muddy Waters, but the only way I’d imagine it happening would be ‘if I make it to heaven—and he makes it there—then we can play together’,” he added.
A few years ago, Richards discussed all things guitar with Noisey and gave out some invaluable advice which provides any aspiring guitarist with words of wisdom that they should get tattoed on their chest. “I would say that the acoustic guitar is the most important thing for a guitar player to start with,” Richards noted.
“Learn the feel and the touch of that string, and what it does against a fret,” the Stones man adds in his transatlantic twang. “Learn that and then you can add the effects later on y’ know. If you want to be a guitar player, you have to have your grounding it’s like anywhere else. Being an astronaut doesn’t start in space, somebodies got to build a rocket.”
Richards then went on to speak about his own musical upbringing and how his grandfather was a professional musician—albeit on a much smaller scale than his grandson would go on to conquer. His grandfather let him play around with his guitar which Richards had been infatuated with from a tiny age, a moment which would be the first step in his epic musical journey that has taken him beyond his wildest dreams.
The Stones guitarist has also previously spoken about the importance of being in a band to further your own development as a guitarist. “If you don’t play with other people, you can get trapped in your own cage,” he said in 2013. “And then, if you’re sitting still on the perch, you might get blown away.”
The most poignant thing to take away from Richards words of advice is to stay grounded and keep working at it then eventually you will become the guitarist you want to be but it’s not going to happen overnight. Check out his episode of Guitar Moves, below.