The Rolling Stones are no doubt an iconic fixture in contemporary music, with guitarist Keith Richards thought of almost universally as the epitome of rock’n’roll.
‘The Human Riff’, ‘Mr. Unhealth’, ‘Keef Riffhard’ and ‘The Cat With Five Strings’ are just some of the many monikers by which Richards has become known. Omnibus Press has recently published a stellar collection of rare photographs that chronicle Richard’s legendary rise to fame, aptly titled Keith Richards: A Life In Pictures. The BRAG catches up with contributing author and celebrated music journalist Andy Neill.
“I came on board towards the end of the project,” Neill explains. “I was brought in to write the introduction and because of my extensive Stones knowledge, accurately caption the images and provide relevant quotes where necessary.”
Neill is no stranger to writing about rock stars, having been in the journalism business since the ’90s. Regarded as an industry expert, he has been called upon in the past for his knowledge on other influential acts such as The Who and The Beatles. A Life In Pictures presents an incredibly in-depth exploration of Richards’ career and personal life. However, this wasn’t something Neill struggled with when it came to his research.
“Keith has lived his life out in public to such a great extent,” says Neill. “Much of what is in the book is out there and in his own words. Richards’ life has been pretty much an open book.”
Richards has experienced as many highs as he has absolute lows, and the images by photographers like Terry O’Neill, Michael Cooper, Ken Regan and Gered Mankowitz investigate all of the above. A Life In Pictures spans from as early as the Stones’ formation in 1962, right through to the Zip Code Tour of 2015. In Neill’s introduction, he writes: “No matter how low the gutter, Keith was always slightly above it.” This is followed by a quote from Richards, who has said: “I’d rather be a legend than a dead legend.”
[Keith Richards © Terry O’Neil]
A particularly confronting spread of images shows Richards during one of his battles with substance abuse. The section, entitled ‘Pretty Beat Up’, showcases a series of portraits from 1977, when in addition to heroin possession, Richards was also looking down the barrel of a potential seven-year sentence for trafficking. The photographs depict a broken man, accompanied by a quote from Richards talking about this dark chapter: “I was asleep when I got busted … I had been at rehearsal, got back to the hotel and passed out. My next memory is being dragged around by these two very big people who were slapping me awake … The shit hit the fan big time.”
It is amazing to consider that Richards managed to scrape himself together, going on to continue playing with the Stones for another 40 years and counting.
For Neill, it is another time from Richards’ life that holds particular significance. “I like the pictures from 1968-69 time. Brian Jones, who rivalled Jagger as the most photogenic Stone, was fast fading, and Keith was starting to get the demonic ‘Keef’ look together. Or as I put it in the book, Keith was becoming Keef. Previously he had been quite shy and in the background, even though he was very much the drive behind the Stones’ music.”
Richards’ life has been as varied as it has been fascinating, with the book touching on his appearances in the film franchise Pirates Of The Caribbean, and even a brief stint as the face of high-end fashion label Louis Vuitton, which created a signature guitar case in his honour. A Life In Pictures presents an unrivalled collection, exploring the inner workings of a man who has conquered the pitfalls of a lifestyle few people will ever experience. As Richards himself is quoted: “Somebody has got to find out how far you can take this thing, and I guess it might just as well be me.”
[Above: Keith Richards © Ken Regan; Main image: Keith Richards © Terry O’Neill]
Keith Richards: A Life In Pictures is out now, published by Omnibus Press, and is available in all good bookshops.