Bobby Keys, a saxophonist and life-long rock 'n roller who played on recordings by Buddy Holly and John Lennon and performed one of the all-time blowout solos on Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," has died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 70 years old.
Michael Webb, who played keyboard with Keys, said Keys died on Tuesday after a lengthy illness. Keys had been out on tour with the Stones earlier this year before his health prevented him from performing.
"The Rolling Stones are devastated by the loss of their very dear friend and legendary saxophone player, Bobby Keys," the band said in a statement. "Bobby made a unique musical contribution to the band since the 1960s. He will be greatly missed."
Known for his heavy jowls and forceful style, the Lubbock, Texas native was born on the same day as Keith Richards - Dec. 18, 1943 - and the Stones' guitarist would often cite Keys as a soul mate and favorite musician. Besides "Brown Sugar," Keys also played memorable solos on such Stones favorites as the 7-minute jam "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and the country-styled "Sweet Virginia." Other career highlights included John Lennon's chart-topping "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" and albums by Richards, George Harrison, Barbra Streisand and Eric Clapton.
After Keys' death, Richards posted this message on Twitter:
Keys' career dated back to the 1950s, when as a teenager he played with fellow Lubbock native Holly and The Crickets. He met the Stones in the mid-'60s while they were on the same bill in San Antonio, Texas, and was distraught that the British rockers had recorded a cover of Holly's "Not Fade Away."
"I said, 'Hey, that was Buddy's song,'" Keys recalled in Richards' memoir "Life," published in 2010. "Who are these pasty-faced, funny-talking, skinny-legged guys to come over here and cash in on Buddy's song?"
But once Keys listened more closely, he decided the Stones were playing "actual rock and roll," an opinion the Stones more than shared about Keys. He first recorded with the Stones in the late 1960s, and was toured and recorded with them off and on over the following decades. In some ways, he was too close to Richards, developing a heroin addiction that led to his temporary banishment from the group.
Keys was born on the same day as Keith Richards, and, according to Rolling Stone magazine, they quickly became friends. They would engage in late night antics together, once throwing a television out of a hotel balcony in 1972 and getting arrested together in Boston.