I’ve always loved Keith Richards. Oh sure, when I was a young teenager just getting into rock n roll and I bought my first LP, the Stones’ Some Girls, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As a kid you always wanted to be the lead singer, they get the “chicks.” As I got older and saw more vintage footage of the Stones – and actually saw them live at Kemper Arena on the Tattoo You tour – my attention started to shift to Keef. Before I met the Rock Chick I had a great old pic of Keith that I tore out of a magazine and haphazardly taped to my bathroom mirror… I think there was drink involved with hanging that thing. Keith’s role in the band was so integral – he was out front leading the band with Mick but he mostly played rhythm guitar which tied him to Charlie Watts (RIP) in the back. His riffage was what propelled the band. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to diminish Jagger’s contribution to the band. They’re always stronger together.
Speaking of “stronger together,” and sitting here thinking about the Mick vs Keith feud of the late 80s really takes me back. It looked like we were going to be living in a world without the Stones and what a grim world that would have been! Keith never really wanted a solo career, he was content in the Stones and occasionally sitting in with friends like Tom Waits. When Jagger refused to tour for Dirty Work (a wrongly maligned album) and went to record his second solo LP, Primitive Cool, I think Keith was backed into a corner regarding a solo career. He was downright pissed. He knew he likely couldn’t replace Watts but he knew he needed a strong “engine” to fuel whatever solo music he was going to come up with. He got Steve Jordan to play drums and co write with (who is now replacing Charlie on drums for the Stones as they embark on their 60th anniversary tour) and Charlie Drayton who played bass. That was a damn strong rhythm section. Keith knew he wanted a band and he knew to build it from the bottom up. He then pulled in Ivan Neville to play keyboards and in a real coup he pulled in Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, the Every Brothers) to play lead guitar. He added Sarah Dash for harmony and backing vocals and the X-Pensive Winos were complete.
Keith’s first solo LP, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap is nothing short of a masterpiece. Fueled by his anger with Mick and excited by the power of the band he’d discovered in the X-Pensive Winos he let loose. Shortly after that he reunited with Mick – who’s Primitive Cool had been a commercial and critical flop, especially when compared to Talk Is Cheap – and they recorded the amazing Steel Wheels which I consider a late-period Stones masterpiece. It also happens to be the Rock Chick’s favorite Stones’ album. She’s into the Ronnie Wood period and has impeccable taste but I digress. After being comforted that the Stones could still function together and seemingly O.K. with the concept of he and Mick doing solo stuff and then returning to the band, Keith decided to do a second album with the X-Pensive Winos.
The second album Main Offender came out in 1992. Like I said, a lot had happened in between it and Talk Is Cheap. The Stones had reunited, recorded an album and toured – very successfully I might add. Keith was no longer supremely pissed at Mick. While I really dug Main Offender it did lose some of the intensity without Keith’s anger that made Talk Is Cheap crackle. Main Offender is more of a groove album in my mind, a little like the Stones’ Black And Blue where the band just finds a riff and rides it out. That method can yield some great results – the opening track “999” is one of my all time favorite Keith songs. There’s a moment in the song where he sings, “Don’t panic…” In the early 90s I was going up to Chicago to see my friends a lot and my buddy who I’ll call R.K. used to randomly tilt his head back while sitting at the bar and yell, “Don’t panic…” in much the same way as Keith. Ah, the good ol’ days. But there are degrees to how far the groove approach can take you. Songs like “Yap Yap” and “Body Talks” are merely riffs that they ride for almost too long.
There is some wonderful reggae on Main Offender. “Wicked As It Seems” is a great, muscular reggae song. So is “Words of Wonder” which is all groovy reggae. “Eileen” was a great single and great song. It verges on pop rock. The album’s last track is one of the prettiest ballads Keith has ever written, “Demon.” That one was my theme song for quite a while… “Demon in me… I can’t live without it.” Yeah, those were some dark times. “Hate It When You Leave” is a great song that verges on soul. There is a lot to love on this album and if you’ve never heard it or owned it, this new 30th-Anniversary version is a must have.
For those of us who already own Main Offender, the question is as it always seems to be, is the bonus material worth it? Much like the Talk Is Cheap – Deluxe Edition, this deluxe set includes a concert from London in 1992. The X-Pensive Winos are such a great band. The first sound you hear on the show’s opener, “Take It So Hard” is Keith’s rhythm guitar which reached out and grabbed me. They do tracks from both of Keith’s solo records and dip ever so slightly into the Stones’ catalog with a gloriously sloppy “Gimme Shelter,” “Happy,” and “Before They Make Me Run” from the beloved Some Girls album. For me, I think any opportunity to hear the X-Pensive Winos play is worth the price of admission. I will admit though, this live stuff is likely for true Keef/Stones fans only. It’s a great concert document with great, crunching guitars and wonderful drums, but I don’t know how often I’ll return to it… well, who am I kidding, I’ll return to it, it’s live Keith, but normal people might not return to it that often.
If you’ve never experienced Main Offender or you’re a huge live Keith fan, this Deluxe set is for you. I heard Keith got the Winos together for a @LoveRocksNYC charity concert. Well he had Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Jordan all there… I think Will Lee from Letterman’s old band played bass. It’s always great to see those cats back together and jamming. I highly urge everyone to give this Main Offender 30th Annviersary a spin at maximum volume. Just hearing this live stuff makes me want to tie a head scarf on and unbutton my shirt a few buttons… maybe put on some dark eye make up…