Keith Richards has continuously aired his feelings about the things in life that he loves and hates. The Rolling Stones’ human riff-machine has never shied away from verbal sparring matches, even attacking his own bandmates on the odd occasion.
Richards is an unashamed son of the blues with a fondness for reggae and, in truth, most other genres he couldn’t care for, so it should come as little surprise that he struggled to associate himself with the emergence of heavy metal. Artists like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters are figures he grew up idolising, with the world of metal being a foreign entity to the guitarist from the offset. In fact, the genre didn’t even exist when The Rolling Stones burst onto the scene, it wasn’t until Black Sabbath’s birth in 1970 that it began to take music into new and darker territories.
Richards’ disdain for the genre is something that he’s never hidden, and even back before it became a bustling sub-culture, Richards was never sold on it from the outset. “The guy’s voice started to get on my nerves. I don’t know why; maybe he’s a little too acrobatic,” he told Rolling Stone about Led Zeppelin back in 1969, and his opinion has not changed since.
In 2015, he reiterated his harsh stance, stating: “I love Jimmy Page, but as a band, no, with John Bonham thundering down the highway in an uncontrolled 18-wheeler. He had cornered the market there. Jimmy is a brilliant player. But I always felt there was something a little hollow about it, you know?”.
While Led Zeppelin are admittedly more hard rock than heavy metal, Richards’ perspective on the genre as a whole is even more biting. “It sounds like a dull thud to me,” he told the New York Daily News in 2015. “For most bands, getting the syncopation is beyond them. It’s endless thudding away, with no bounce, no lift, no syncopation.”
He then lined up his most ferocious blow when he singled out the two biggest titans of the scene and said, “Millions are in love with Metallica and Black Sabbath. I just thought they were great jokes.”
In 2010, Richards was gracious enough to share his definition of heavy metal, telling people, “If you want heavy metal, listen to John Lee Hooker, listen to that motherfucker play. That’s heavy metal. That’s armour.” That aforementioned statement epitomises Richards’ outlook on music. He’s obsessed with the rhythm and blues to such an intoxicating degree where he simply cannot fathom why people would rather listen to Black Sabbath when you can put John Lee Hooker on the stereo instead.
In his eyes, music is objective rather than subjective, and metal is just something that has never interested him. For Richards, it’s about a feeling that songs can nourish him within his soul, which happens to be a contrasting energy to the one he picks up from bands like Metallica, who are the antithesis of everything he looks from in music.