Keith Richards has been putting his signature riffs onto Rolling Stones albums for close to half a century. Now at last he's putting his personal recollections between the covers of a book. Anthony Mason has a Sunday Profile:
It's sometimes said there are two Keith Richards:
"Do you ever feel there's this other guy, the mythological Keith Richards, who's kind of trailing around alongside of you?" Mason asked.
"He's, you know, he's on the ball and chain," Richards laughed. "There's an image - it carries a long shadow. Yeah, I love the guy dearly. But I'm still trying to figure out who the hell he is."
He is "Keef" to his fans . . . once dubbed the "world's most elegantly wasted human," survivor of countless drug busts. Lead guitarist of the biggest rock band on the planet. And one-half of Jagger & Richards, one of the most successful songwriting teams of the past half century.
"How would you describe your professional partnership?" Mason asked.
"I've never considered myself or him professional, quite honestly," he laughed.
And then there's, well, the other Keith - a very traditional guy. "Yes! That is what I keep trying to tell everybody."
That's the one we met in Connecticut, at the house he built 20 years ago to raise his two daughters with his wife, Patti Hansen.
At home, he's the 66-year-old guitarist with the green thumb, growing lemons like "hand grenades." "Yeah, it's amazing really, isn't it? This is in my spare time, I do this."
But then you realize the two Keiths . . . are really one:
"I always planted things. I used to grow weed, but I was never there for the harvest, ya' know?"
If Keith Richards didn't exist, one critic wrote, rock and roll would have to invent him. And in a way it has.
In his new memoir, "Life," he dispels some of the myths, like the legendary tale he once had a total blood transfusion in Switzerland:
"Yes, I created that myth, Because people wanted to believe that, ya know? No, I wouldn't swap this blood for nobody's!" he laughed
And he confirms others, like the snorting of his father's ashes:
"True! I ingested my ancestor, yes."
It was an accident, he says. He planned to bury his father's ashes beneath an oak tree he was planting:
"But as I took the lid off the box, fine bits of my Dad flew onto the table, you know, like powder. And honestly I could not resist. I just scooped him up there, took out a straw and, 'See ya, Dad!' (sniffs) And I did a little line of him. Yeah. I did that.
"And the rest of him is around this oak tree, which is growing incredibly well."
Bert and Doris Richards' only child grew up in Dartford, a working class suburb of London. His grandfather, a weekend musician, loved to take "Ricky," as he was called, to music stores:
We took Keith to the Carmine Street Guitar Shop in New York, where owner Rick Kelly still makes guitars by hand in the back room.
Keith used to spend hours in shops like this in London's theater district.
"And I would just sit there like the sorcerer's apprentice or something, ya know?" Watching instruments being made, repaired, the smell of the glue.
"So they'd be like repairing stuff for the pit orchestras, and you'd see those little Italian guys with, you know their dickies or their collars, all of that, rushing 'My violin! My violin!'"
Richards would meet another kid with a passion for rhythm and blues at the Dartford train station: Mick Jagger.
He wrote about the encounter in an April 1962 letter to his aunt: "Mick is the greatest R&B singer this side of the Atlantic. And I don't mean maybe. I'm playing guitar Chuck style."
Chuck Berry? "Yeah, that'll be Chuck Berry," Richards said.
A few months later the Rolling Stones were born. Their debut album would knock the Beatles off the top of the British charts.
Jagger and Richards emerged as the songwriters. Mick came up with the lyrics; Keith delivered the riffs.
"Does this stuff just sort of pop into your head at some point?" Mason asked.
"You know, they pop off the fingers actually, more than the head,' Richards said.
The Stones swaggered through the Sixties as rock's irreverent bad boys, and the shy Keith became an unlikely icon, with a buccaneering attitude that said he was ready to try anything and apologize for nothing:
"I see you're still smoking," Mason said. "How many vices do you have left? You've sort of whittled them away over the years."
"Yeah, I'm down to a precious few now."