Happy 71st Birthday, Keith Richards!

"The devil tried fucking with Keith Richards once.  Just once."

I saw the above scribbled on the wall in some dank concrete dressing room here in Chicago.  It was the only writing on the wall that hadn't been covered with more graffiti.  That's how much respect the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist commands in musical circles.  Not only had nobody dared deface it, but, for all I know, whatever graffiti may have been there before had since gotten the fuck out of the way in stone-cold reverence to rock & roll's greatest living bad ass.

Growing up, I took possession of my dad's Stones albums and quickly came to view Keith Richard, as he was then known, as someone who needed to make music.  Where Ringo, when asked where he saw himself in a few years because, back in the '60s, rock bands weren't known for lasting very long had said that he might open a hair salon, I never felt such options appealed much to the man most of us now lovingly know as Keef.

Maybe you can imagine the man doing something else with his life, but I can't and that, I think, is why we love him so.  That and the fact that, by all accounts, he should be dead ten times over for all the drugs and reckless shenanigans he's taken part in over the years.  Just imagine the shit we don't know about, and yet the music somehow still got made.

As I listen back to the band's early '70s brilliance - Sticky Fingers, Goat's Head Soup, Exile On Main street - all I can do is shake my head at the fact that any of this got made at all for all the extra-curricular activities going on,  Are tunes like "Brown Sugar" and "Tumbling Dice" so great because Keef was hooked on smack, or in spite of it?

More than any other band on the planet, it seems, the Stones have thrived on conflict.  Good thing, because there's been a lot of it.  The death, departures and drug busts the Stones have dealt with in stride would have killed a lesser band and one cannot help but attribute that survival instinct to Richards.

And while Keith has watched Mick turn from enviable blues front man to carnival barker in pink football pants, he has kept the blues-based heart and soul of the band intact by sheer force of will.

While he has been candid in detailing his grievances with Jagger over the years, deep down, I can't help consider Keef to be the ultimate team player - the man who kept the band together through Altamont and the acrimonious Undercover sessions.  Even when you see him enjoying the interplay in side ventures such as the New Barbarians or X-Pensive Winos, you just know that in the back of his mind, he's thinking about the next time he gets to play with the Stones.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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