I’m lucky enough in these troubled times to be gainfully employed. I appreciate how fortunate I am every day. I am also fortunate enough to be in a position to actually take a few extra days off during this Thanksgiving holiday here in the States. I realize a lot of folks are struggling out there and my heart goes out to all of them. What to do with this extra time off during a global pandemic? For me the answer is always, “listen to rock and roll.”
However, even in the best of times I can get bored and restless and this week has been no exception. I actually left my home and the Boo Radley (‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ if you don’t know the reference) existence I’d been living and made the bold decision to go up to the local coffee joint. I’m strictly local folks, just say “no” to corporate coffee. This particular coffee joint is near a college campus. As I was standing there waiting for my fancy coffee drink amongst the unwashed Bohemian hipsters I couldn’t help but notice, between the man-buns and piercings, my barista’s sweatshirt which read, “My Spirit Animal Is Coffee.”
I’m not sure what a “spirit animal” is? According to urbandictionary.com a spirit animal is “A person or character that represents your inner personality.” If I had to guess the Rock Chick’s spirit animal, I’d put my money on a regal but fierce lion or tiger. I could probably pick a really cool bird of prey… an eagle or a hawk as her spirit animal. Don’t cross the Rock Chick. If I had to pick my own spirit animal, well that’d be easy… it’s Keith Richards. Well, maybe without the heroin.
When I first got into the Stones, I was probably like most new fans and I fell under the charismatic spell of Mick Jagger. I’d dance around my bedroom listening to Some Girls pretending to be the lead singer. I still love Mick Jagger but the more I learned about the Stones and their history I must say, my loyalty shifted a bit to his partner in crime, Keef. I’ve described Richards as the “gypsy pirate outlaw,” Review: Keith Richards, Crosseyed Heart – The Triumphant Return of Rock’s Gypsy Pirate Outlaw. Back in my old bachelor pad, I had a picture I’d clipped out of ‘Rolling Stone Magazine’ of Keith that I taped to my bedroom mirror. I wasn’t trying to look like Keith, but it was nice knowing he was looking over me. I still have that pic in a box somewhere…
The second to last thing in the world that Keith Richards wanted was to have a solo career outside of his beloved Stones. The only thing he wanted less than his own solo career was for Mick Jagger to have a solo career. Richards was dismayed when in 1985 Mick stepped out of his role as front man for the Stones and put out his first solo record, She’s The Boss. The album was, uh, a disaster. I did like the first, reggae-tinged track “Just Another Night.” The critics savaged it and the public ignored it. Richards was not shy about his disdain. He felt Jagger was trying to compete with the then leading pop acts of the day like Madonna, Michael Jackson or Prince. Keith felt the Stones transcended those acts. The Stones were, in a word, above all that. It cheapened the Stones to make such a bad solo record that was so obviously craving pop success.
Keith was eager to put Mick’s solo wanderings behind them and move forward with the Stones. They hadn’t toured after their last album, the underrated Undercover and Keith was itching to get the Stones back on stage. But during the recording of 1986’s Dirty Work, Mick was less than “present.” Purportedly at one session Mick showed up to lay down his vocals and didn’t even take his coat off. “Take your coat off and stay awhile, Mick.” That lack of involvement showed in the writing credits for the album. Ronnie Wood was credited with more co-writer credits than at any time in his career. The Stones were at a low point… even Charlie Watts who had survived all the carnage of the sixties and seventies had finally succumbed to a heroin habit in the 80s. One-time member, pianist and sometimes road manager Ian Stewart passed away and that hit them all hard as well. When Mick declined to tour in order to finish his second solo album, 1987’s Primitive Cool Keith was… not amused.
Primitive Cool was even worse than She’s the Boss. I still cringe when I hear “Let’s Work.” Although Jeff Beck put down some nice guitar work on “Throwaway.” At that point, still livid, seemingly against his own will, Keith decided to do a solo record. Mick had mostly used session musicians for his records and Keith felt he needed an actual “band” if he was going to do anything solo. He’s always said Charlie Watts’ drumming was the engine to the Stones and he felt if the solo thing was going to work he needed a new, kick ass engine. He chose to work with drummer Steve Jordan who also helped cowrite the record and co-produce. Jordan brought in bassist/percussionist Charlie Drayton. Ivan Neville was brought in on keyboards and Sarah Dash on backing vocals. Keith brought in an old Stones sideman Bobby Keys to play sax… All he needed was a lead guitarist.
Richards approached L.A. session legend Waddy Wachtel to play lead. I remember Keith saying at the time, “Waddy has been playing with too many chicks, he needed to come play with the lads” or something along those lines. With Keith all men are dudes and all women are chicks…it’s why he’s my spirit animal. Waddy has played with the Everly Brothers, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne and Stevie Nicks to name a few. He was a superb choice. Waddy and Keith’s guitars gel together the same way as Keith and Ronnie.
Armed with such a great backing band Keith recorded and released 1988’s Talk Is Cheap. It’s hard not to see the title and many of the lyrics and songs on this record as being pointed directly at Jagger. “Take It So Hard” and “Struggle,” with the lyrics, “it’s a struggle between love and hate” are hard to interpret any other way. Talk Is Cheap was an absolute triumph (Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks). I can still remember dancing around my friend Doug’s kitchen with his buddy from Chicago, Kurt. We all had martinis in our hands and Kurt kept yelling, “this is fucking rock n’ roll man!” I have to hand it to the guy, he didn’t spill a drop.
With a critically lauded hit on his hands, nothing else to do as the Stones had gone dormant, and a kick ass band Keith decided to take them on a short run through North America. Towards the end of the tour, Keith and the band he’d dubbed the X-Pensive Winos – after being unable to find them during a rehearsal only to find them all hidden behind the drum riser passing around a bottle of Dom Perignon – recorded a show at the Hollywood Palladium. A week or so ago Keith released a “limited edition” box set. At $150 I can’t recommend everybody go out and buy the box even though it has a bunch of cool “stuff” in it – recreations of set lists, backstage passes etc – we focus on the music here. With the three new bonus tracks included, this album certainly deserves a listen and this was an opportunity to look back at this great live album.
First and foremost, Keith certainly sounds like he’s having a great time. What a great band this is. Yes, they are sloppy like the Stones but Jordan and Drayton keep everything anchored. Richards’ and Wachtel’s guitars meld seamlessly in some major riffage. They play almost every cut from Talk Is Cheap. “Struggle,” “Take It So Hard” and “I Could Have Stood You Up” all appear in muscular versions here. This was great rock and roll and so it translated very well to the stage. They also play a handful of Stones tunes. Sarah Dash, who does a nice vocal on “Rockawhile,” also does the lead on the Stones’ “Time Is On My Side.” The band finds a nice solid groove on “Too Rude” a reggae cover that Keith insisted the Stones record for Dirty Work. It sounds more convincing here. “Happy” and “Connection,” one of Stones’ first tunes with Keith’s vocals are both here.
On the bonus material, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” a track the Beatles wrote and gave to the Stones and then later recorded with Ringo on lead vocals turns into a rollicking band sing-along, everybody joins in. “Little T&A” is a sloppy glory here. The final bonus track is “You Don’t Move Me” which is Keith’s most direct message to Mick on Talk Is Cheap. Ending the show with this track – if indeed that was the final track – at that time and place had to be an ominous portent for those of us who were hoping the Stones would get back together.
Luckily, within a year Mick and Keith would get the band back together. Both have continued to sporadically record solo albums and managed to keep the peace. This was a great live recording of a Keith and the Winos doing a glorious job of venting Keith’s frustration. True pain in this case, truly created great art.
Be safe and smart over the Thanksgiving holiday… I’m getting tired of hiding in the attic. Cheers!