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(Credit: Jim Marshall)

When Keith Richards performed for the blind to avoid jail

In 1978, The Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards was given a choice: perform a benefit concert for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind or go to jail. The story, which involves heroin, two years of legal threats, and the recording of Some Girls, is just another legendary tale in a life full of close calls for Keef.

Richards predilection for illicit substances was, and is, legendary. The LSD drug bust on his Redlands home in 1967 landed him in jail for a brief spell, while the making of Exile on Main St. occurred while he was in the throes of heroin addiction. After various detoxes and resumptions of his habits, Richards was finally busted in a Toronto hotel room in 1977 and faced far more serious incarceration than ever before.

After being released on bail and given a medical visa to enter the United States to treat his heroin addiction, Richards travelled to Paris to join the rest of his Rolling Stones bandmates to record what would end up being the band’s highest-selling album, Some Girls.

Although he was able to make it to recording sessions, Richards legal problems prevented him from attending many of the rehearsals or writing sessions that birthed the material on Some Girls. Mick Jagger took a central role in the albums sound, blending contemporary genres like the disco thump of ‘Miss You’ and the punk provocations of ‘Respectable’ with classic Stones sounds like the country shuffle of ‘Far Away Eyes’ and the rock and roll romp of ‘When the Whip Comes Down’. For his part, Richards channelled all of his stress and trials into another classic Keith lead, ‘Before They Make Me Run’.

The album’s success led to a 25 date U.S. tour, but Richards’ precarious legal situation meant that the band didn’t book shows in any other country. Eventually, Richards pleaded guilty to simple possession of heroin; a sentence reduced at least partially due to a blind fan’s testimony (Richards later called her an “angel” and “absolutely fearless”) and Richards’ dedication to achieve and maintain sobriety. The judge then saw fit to tailor Richards’ punishment to his situation, hence the benefit for the CNIB.

The shows featured a performance by The Stones plus Richards’ side project The New Barbarians, which featured newly employed Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood. Quality recordings of the benefit concert are hard to come by, but rough fan footage has found its way to YouTube featuring a few New Barbarians numbers and The Stones performing ‘Prodigal Son’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Let It Rock’. Check out that footage down below.

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