In Memory Of Bobby Keys: The Night I Stood Five Feet From A Legend And Never Knew It!

Bobby Keys during sessions for the Stones' landmark album, Exile On Main Street.
Growing up a punk rock kid in the midwest, reliant upon the music press to inform me of all the great music going on outside the immediate scope of Top 40 radio, I was well aware of the Clash and all who were in their inner circle, for lack of a better term.  So I was well aware of Texan roots rocker Joe Ely by the time I finally got to see him live at FitzGerald's one evening in 1986.

On this particular night, his band included saxophonist Bobby Keys, who struck my eye only because, for a sax player, he seemed to carry himself with the confidence of someone who'd seen it all, done it all, and had the t-shirt to prove it.

It would be some time before I was able to connect the dots between Keys and the Rolling Stones' pivotal early '70s work, on which he appeared, but on this night I sat in slack-jawed admiration of the guy, which is saying something because, quite frankly, I loathe the saxophone.  Sure, it has its place in old-school rock & roll -  the stuff you'd see Richie, Potsie, and Ralph Malph dancing to at Al's diner - but that's where it's relevancy ends for me.

Even so, I walked away that night thinking that this Bobby Keys fellow knew how to blow.

What was weird, though, was how he and the rest of the band could not have looked more detached from one another.  I was used to seeing club bands where the musicians onstage had a camaraderie or, at the very least, interacted with one another throughout a performance.

On this night, however, there was literally zero interaction between the musicians gathered on that stage.  In fact, there was a palpable tension in the air that made me think a few folks in the band might have actually hated each other.  On more than one occasion the look on Keyes' face seemed to be saying, "Lord, just let me get through this show without punching that guy's lights out."

Even so, these guys sure knew how to rock the joint and from that night forward, I have remained a die-hard fan of anything with Ely's name on it.  I've also marveled at the longeity of Bobby Keys' career as he went on to appear in the Chuck Berry film "Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll!" and tour with the Stones on many a stadium tour.

In '98, though, he was tapped for Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions, which began an amazingly lengthy return to high-profile recording projects that, in recent years, has grown to include albums by Robin Thicke and Maroon 5.

As I recall that fateful night in 1986, though, the thing I remember most is Bobby Keys just hauling the mail and getting it done like the consummate pro that he was.

Rest in peace, Bobby.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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