The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has an infamously razor sharped tongue, one that has often landed him into trouble on plenty of occasions in the past and, in reflection, a lot of his comments have aged terribly. Stepping back into the archives of rock and roll, we find Richards speaking in the 1980s about Prince, words which certainly fall into that questionable category as the guitarist made sure to leave no uncertainty surrounding his opinion on The Purple One.
Prince’s influence on music since his 1980 debut is undeniable brilliance, one which ultimately ended up with the singer opening for The Rolling Stones during a major string of tour dates and it may have been that incident which saw the pop music enigma go into Keef’s little black book.
That incident came when Mick Jagger personally invited Prince to open up for The Rolling Stones for a pair of shows at The L.A. Coliseum in October 1981, high-profile concerts which managed to amass over 90,000 people in the crowd for each show. For the first gig on October 9th, Prince was joined by his band who were soon to be named ‘The Revolution’ and they took the stage before fellow openers George Thorogood and The Destroyers as well as the J. Geils Band.
Portions of the crowd were already on Prince’s back before he had even started playing, his gender-defying outfit made up of a see-through jacket, thigh-high boots and black bikini briefs didn’t go down well with the audience, it would seem. It was safe to say that The Purple One already unfairly angered a chunk of regressive thinkers in the crowd.
Prince was rightly upset about how the crowd treated him and, after leaving the stage, was allegedly in tears in his dressing room, vowing to not return to the scene of the crime in two days for round two. The musician then took the decision to fly home to Minnesota and left his band in Los Angeles. However, Jagger worked his magic and Prince would eventually return for the second show.
Heading back out, Prince was yet again was booed during his second set. However, having been hardened by the previous incident, he had come to terms with the idea that people were not willing to give his music a chance because of his choice of outfit. In a snipe at the crowd, he closed on ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ and allegedly later described the crowd as “tasteless in music and mentally retarded”.
Those comments about The Stones crowd upset Richards despite the said audience racially abusing Prince, a factor which gave him every right to make the disparaging comments towards the audience who deserved everything they got after their animalistic behaviour.
“An overrated midget, Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince. That’s the trouble with conferring a title on yourself before you’ve proved it,” Richards cruelly said shortly after the event. “His attitude when he opened for us was insulting to our audience. You don’t try to knock off the headline like that when you’re playing a Stones crowd. He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already. Good luck to him,” he then added.
Then eight years later Richards went one step further when he spoke to the Los Angeles Times. “To me, Prince is like The Monkees,” the guitarist said. “I think he’s very clever at manipulating the music business and the entertainment business.”
“I think he’s more into that than making music,” he said regarding what he perceived as Prince playing the game. “I don’t see much substance in anything he does.” He then labelled him a “Pee-wee Herman trip”.
Following Prince’s death in 2016, however, Richards put their past differences behind him and wrote a heartfelt tribute to the late artist: “A unique talent. A true original. So sad, so sudden and, I will add, a great guitar player. We are all going to miss him,” the Stones guitarist wrote on social media.
The whole incident is one which paints Richards in a poor light but judging by his tribute, the guitarist obviously had a tremendous amount of respect for Prince and a lot of these barbs may have just been him doing what he accused the Purple One of — playing the game.