In a rehearsal room in Manhattan this past week, Keith Richards had a rare reunion with his solo band, The X-Pensive Winos: Waddy Wachtel on guitar, Ivan Neville on keys, and Steve Jordan on drums. "To be able to put us all back together, let alone all be here, is, like, amazing," Richards told correspondent Anthony Mason.
"We made it!" said Jordan.
"We're still here!" Wachtel said.
Richards and the Winos reunited to perform at Love Rocks NYC, a benefit concert at New York's Beacon Theatre last Thursday night.
It's been 30 years since they last toured in support of Richards' solo album, "Main Offender." And a lot's changed. For example, Richards – notorious for his vices – has finally kicked his most persistent addiction: "The cigarettes are gone!" said Mason.
"Yes. You know, it's funny, I don't think about it much anymore."
Two years ago, he quietly quit smoking after 55 years. "You stopped cold turkey?" asked Mason.
"Yeah, I got a few patches for a few weeks," he replied. "Sometimes, you know, a bell rings and something inside says, 'Hey, pal, enough.' And so, yeah, just put the hammer on it."
"Why do you think the bell rang?"
"Hey, probably getting on a bit!" Richards laughed. "Luckily, I just don't miss it, and that makes me feel good. Until I started rehearsing for the tour last August, and then I realized that I had ten times more wind!"
Mason asked the Winos, "Have you noticed any difference in his vocals?"
"Well, he's singing more in the original keys!" Jordan laughed.
Jordan noticed when he took over the drums on the Rolling Stones' tour last summer, after Charlie Watts fell ill. Watts, who'd never missed a Stones gig,. He was 80.
"That came as a surprise to you?" asked Mason.
"It did to me, yes, absolutely," Richards replied. "I think he'd been trying to keep it under the wraps for a while last year, so that it came, yeah, as quite a shock. He had had a round with cancer a year or two before. And he beat that one. He just got hit with a double-whammy, bless his soul."
"Did you all talk about whether the tour should go on?"
"For a brief moment. I think Charlie wanted us to go on the road; he wanted the tour to happen. That's my feeling, the last time I spoke to him."
"Was it weird to look back and not see Charlie there?"
"Yeah, that is strange, yes, to turn suddenly and you know, after all these years, you expect that face there!"
With Jordan on drums, the Stones persevered. They've toured steadily for 60 years now, except for a seven-year stretch in the eighties, when Mick Jagger launched a solo career. "Mick wanted to do separate things, and I didn't!" Richards laughed.
"So, you went reluctantly?"
"Yeah, to start with. Yeah, yeah, yeah."
"Did you know who you were outside of the band?"
"No. Maybe that's why, one of the attractions of doing the Winos was to find if there was anything else. And anyway, just to look over the fence."
Richards has released three albums with the Winos, who quickly developed their own sound. "Playing with the Winos was always sheer joy," he said, "because it didn't matter. We were on the lam kind of, you know? Let's see how long we can get away with this!"
The new 30th anniversary box set of "Main Offender" includes some of Richards' songwriting notes, including a facsimile of an envelope with scribbles.
Mason asked, "Is that how you write songs?"
"Yeah, basically, back of envelopes and just phrases that strike."
Richards, now 78, says he's been writing again with the Stones. "It'll be interesting to find out the dynamics now that Steve's in the band – it's sort of metamorphosing into something else," he said. "You know, I was working with Mick last week, and Steve, and we came up with some eight or nine new pieces of material, which is overwhelming by our standards!"
"Funny how that happens. How does that happen?" asked Mason.
"Exactly. Other times, like a desert!"
"Do you know why it happens? You can't make it happen."
"No, it's the muse thing, you know? If I could find her address!" Richards laughed.
The Stones are planning to be back on tour this summer to celebrate 60 years of making music.
Mason asked, "There are a lot of artists who are selling their catalogs right now. I mean, when you see that going on, what do you think?"
"Mick and I have not spoken about it on a serious level," Richards said. "I don't know if we're ready to sell our catalog. Might drag it out a bit! Put some more stuff in it! You only think about selling your catalog when you've – that's a sign of gettin' old!" he laughed.
"Have you ever asked yourself how much longer can I do this?"
"Well, if I did that, I wouldn't be coming up with an answer, and then I'd be always thinking about it – you know, I mean, tomorrow? July the 5th, 2025?" he laughed. "No, you can't, no. I'll find out the hard way!"
To hear Keith Richards perform "Demon," from the remastered "Main Offender," click on the player below:
For more info:
- Keith Richards (Official site)
- The Rolling Stones (Official site)
- "Main Offender" by Keith Richards (30th Anniversary Box Set)
- Love Rocks NYC
Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Karen Brenner.
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