Keith Richards – Quotes on learning, writing and performing

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[Photo credit: Kelsey Tracey, Feb 2006, First Mariner Arena, Baltimore]

This week I have been assembling a list of excellent quotes from popular musicians and guitarists; as who can say it better than those who have walked the walk? However, I noticed a striking theme – one guy, legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, has an incredibly succinct and simple way of articulating what others struggle to capture in paragraphs.

Keith Richards, born in 1943 in Dartford, England, inspired by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, devoted time to the guitar after being expelled from school. He met up with old primary school chum Mick Jagger to eventually form the Rolling Stones, signed in 1963.

Here’s what Keith Richards has to say:

On Learning Guitar:

“Guitar is easy, all it takes is 5 fingers, 6 strings and 1 a**hole”

“I firmly believe if you want to be a guitar player, you better start on acoustic and then graduate to electric. Don’t think you’re going to be Townshend or Hendrix just because you can go wee wee wah wah, and all the electronic tricks of the trade. First you’ve got to know that f****r. And you go to bed with it. If there’s no babe around, you sleep with it. She’s just the right shape.”

“you’re always learning about this thing everytime you pick it up”

On being in a band:

“There’s something beautifully friendly and elevating about a bunch of guys playing music together. This wonderful little world that is unassailable. It’s really teamwork, one guy supporting the others, and it’s all for one purpose, and there’s no flies in the ointment, for a while. And nobody conducting, it’s all up to you. It’s really jazz     that’s the big secret. Rock and roll ain’t nothing but jazz with a hard backbeat.”

“Good music comes out of people playing together, knowing what they want to do and going for it. You have to sweat over it and bug it to death. You can’t do it by pushing buttons and watching a TV screen”

On writing music:

“What is it that makes you want to write songs? In a way you want to stretch yourself into other people’s hearts. You want to plant yourself there, or at least get a resonance, where other people become a bigger instrument than the one you’re playing. It becomes almost an obsession to touch other people. To write a song that is remembered and taken to heart is a connection, a touching of bases. A thread that runs through all of us. A stab to the heart. Sometimes I think songwriting is about tightening the heartstrings as much as possible without bringing on a heart attack”

“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.”

“You don’t find a style, … a style finds you.”

In conclusion:

To heavily paraphrase:

  • To get good you need to spend time with and on the guitar.
  • Playing  and performing music with a group is tremendously rewarding and creates opportunities to be creative, that might not occur sat alone in front of a computer or 4track recorder.
  • And finally, music evokes emotions in the listener, it should be written and performed with passion and energy.

If you have time [between practice over the summer holidays!] read Keith Richards biography ‘Life’ and learn more about the living legend.

Have a great week!


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