Keef talks gardening, loosest tight band ever, & new live album

By Patrick Prince

It can now be seen as a blessing that in 1986 Mick Jagger made the decision not to go on tour to promote the latest Rolling Stones album,Dirty Work. Instead, Jagger chose to go into the studio to record a follow up to his debut solo effort,She’s the Boss.

Jagger’s creative departure influenced guitaristKeith Richardsto make the decision to record his own material, too, and release what is quite possibly the best Stones solo record to date, the fantasticTalk Is Cheap. Richards rounded up an extremely talented band to back him up in the studio and on tour, namelyThe X-Pensive Winos.

The Winos consisted of cream-of-the-crop session musicians and tour veterans: Waddy Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Charley Drayton, the late great saxophonist Bobby Keys and drummer Steve Jordan, who co-wrote and co-produced the album with Richards. Included in the mix was Sarah Dash, who learned her craft singing with Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles. In fact, Patti and the Bluebelles toured with The Rolling Stones in the 1960s.

The Winos were quite a lineup to experience in concert, and by the time the 1988 tour got into full gear, the band as a whole were a powerhouse. Proof of the kind of performance this band could deliver was released on CD in 1991 asLive at the Hollywood Palladium, December 15, 1988. It has now been reissued through BMG in a wider variety of formats. In fact, the album makes its debut on vinyl.

TheLimited Edition Super Deluxebox set of theLive at the Hollywood Palladiumincludes a 10-inch vinyl record of missing live tracks: “Little T&A,” “You Don’t Move Me” and the Lennon-McCartney penned hit “I Wanna Be Your Man.” These songs have appeared on bootlegs over the years, but never with this kind of sound quality.

Keith Richards made himself available forGoldmine, enough time for a quick chat on the subject of the musical phenomenon known as The X-Pensive Winos and the unique energy displayed on the albumLive at the Hollywood Palladium.

GOLDMINE:It feels like the perfect time to rerelease this kind of live album. Most of us can’t experience live shows because of the pandemic. People are missing the sound of the live experience.

KEITH RICHARDS:Yeah, it’s strange. It’s very difficult to talk about the pandemic, because, obviously, it’s set everybody into a spin, right? I expected to be working through the summer, as you know, and I did gardening instead.

GM:The extras are great in the Super Deluxe box set of this live album. They help the listener feel like they’re almost at the show itself. I mean, the set is wrapped in a tour T-shirt, with replicas of a handwritten set list and ticket stubs … even the wine label and bag that you gave away at the show that night.

KR:I know. I’m very impressed with the record company guys who put my box sets together. And theTalk Is Cheapone was fantastic. I was listening back to the records and also working with Steve Jordan — I mean, we don’t stop, (laughs) pandemic or not — and it was such a joy for us. And speaking to Waddy Wachtel at the time that we made these records, we were saying, “Right now they’re going to be appreciated. But I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot more shelf life on these things.” Weirdly enough, as a joke mostly then. And now to see them … and what beautiful packaging, man.

GM:And a 10-inch record comes with the set.

KR:Get that, vinyl freaks, all right!

GM:It has three previously unreleased songs on it, which is cool, especially “I Wanna Be Your Man.” That song is almost better live than it was in the studio. Live it’s like a rave-up, you know, with a lead break that is razor sharp. That’s a great song to put on the 10-inch.

KR:Yeah, I couldn’t resist playing it when we decided to play live. And I wanted to play that Beatles song, man! (laughs)

GM:Do you remember the last time you played that prior to this performance (and tour)? I think it was the mid-1960s.

KR:(laughs) I was hoping you could tellme,actually.

GM:I had to look it up — April 1965 in Albany, New York.

KR:We didn’t do it a lot as the Stones, except when it came out in ’64. I don’t know why not, because it’s great fun to play onstage. That’s one of the reasons why I resurrected it for these shows. And it was such great fun for me. You know, it’s enough you would think to be in one great band in your lifetime. And then suddenly realizing that growing up around you is another incredible unit. I learned so much from doing (the Winos). I needed it. I needed to do the Winos stuff in order to plow forward and go on with what Mick and I had to do. We needed that break and a fresh look at things, you know.

GM:Yeah, you even said after this Winos tour was done that you had a greater appreciation for Mick as a frontman. You know, to lead a band … it’s a lot of work.

KR:Absolutely. Absolutely, yes, because then I realized that I doubled the job up, right? By being the singerandthe guitar player. Now I really get it!

GM:The song “Before They Make Me Run” was left off the original release ofLive at the Hollywood Palladium.Was there a reason why you left a song like that off the record?

KR:I think it was a matter of running out of room. Because I love the song. I mean, I was probably forced at gunpoint to leave it off. (laughs)

GM:Out of all the shows that you played on this Winos tour, was there a reason why you picked the Palladium to record? Were other shows recorded?

KR:I had a feeling that it was probably because it was towards the end of the tour, I believe. And we figured that if we were going to record live you want to catch it while everyone’s well into it. You don’t want to record the first show, you know. Also, I desperately wanted to have a live recording of this band, because at that time I didn’t know if we’d get together again or what would happen. And I think a bit of luck was maybe involved. The Palladium’s got a great sound.

I desperately wanted to have a live recording of this band, because at that time I didn’t know if we’d get together again or what would happen.— Keith Richards

GM:Yes, this album captures that intimacy of playing in a club. And that’s got to be a high playing the clubs. I mean, I enjoy seeing a band like the Stones in an arena, but I prefer the clubs.

KR:Me too. It’s that sort of re-magnified and reverberated energy in a small place that could really feed and stack things up.

GM:Let’s go back to the band again. Waddy Wachtel nailed it when he said that this is the loosest tight band he’s ever heard. That’s a pretty accurate description of the Winos here.

KR:I think he nailed it, you’re right. I can’t think of a better one.

GM:It’s tight, but it’s organic sounding. And in popular music today, that organic sound is missed. Everything sounds so manufactured now.

KR:Should we use the real word?Synthesized.Are we allowed to say that still? (laughs) I mean, of course it is. And it blands everything out. And now on for a few years, I mean, your violins are a synthesizer, your drums are a synthesizer. How horrible, the idea of playing drums on a keyboard.

GM:And getting back to Waddy, that fuzz break that he does in “Take It So Hard” — he really added grit to that song.

KR:I think with Waddy, he just says give me a good song and I’ll kill it. (laughs) He’s played with everybody and everything.

GM: And now he has a new band calledThe Immediate Family.

KR:I know, with Danny Kortchmar (guitar, vocals) and (Russ) Kunkel (drums). Yeah, nice stuff. I’ve heard three things since the pandemic they’ve put out. Three things that I know of, and the last one Waddy is doing vocals and he’s damn good.

THE WINOS LINEUP (L-R): Ivan Neville, Waddy Wachtel, Steve Jordan, Keith Richards, Charley Drayton and Bobby Keys in Chicago, 1988. Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage

GM: Do you think this (Winos lineup) was the best band that you’ve played with on a solo tour?

KR:As far as solo-wise, absolutely. Oh yeah, absolutely. As I said before, it has always astounded me, ever since working with the Winos who I’ve had a chance to work with. With the Stones you would think, that’s enough already, you know. (laughs) Charlie Watts said something to me before I did anything solo. He said, if you think the occasion arises where you got to work outside of the Stones… he told me that Steve Jordan is my man. And I took Charlie at his word. And Steve and I (have) developed a relationship far beyond just his drumming or music or anything. And we got into the writing end of it and are still firm, firm friends. So I got so much out of working with the Winos, man. Like Ivan Neville (keyboards). Man, that guy has so much talent it’s unbelievable. And Charley Drayton. I gotta mention Charley Drayton, an incredible bass player and drummer. And another thing I must say about the Winos, is that all of them are incredibly versatile. I could switch or they would switch themselves — only Waddy and I stayed with guitars, everybody else was going “All right, I’ll play the bass, you play the drums…” and sort it out. I was amazed by the versatility of these men.

GM: And Sarah Dash! Geez, she can sing! And she said that she had a cold the night of the recording!

KR:Yes, unbelievable.

GM:You stated yourself that you didn’t want to “Stones” up any of these songs, and you succeeded with her on “Time Is on My Side,” because she brought it into different territory.

KR:It was always a lady’s song to start with, with (singer) Irma Thomas. I have Sarah Dash and I have “Time Is on My Side… Hey, I mean, I can take a hint. I’m going to put “Time Is on My Side” together with Sarah and let’s go, you know … what an opportunity.

GM:How did you reconnect with her? The Stones toured with Patti LaBelle’s group — which she was in — back in the 1960s.

KR:Yes, and that was about ’65. And that was when Sarah was sort of allowed out of school to work with LaBelle’s (group) over the summer holiday. So that’s when we met. She was called “Inch” then. And I never forgot her. And then her name cropped up — I think via Steve Jordan. While we started putting together the Winos, he said, “We’re going to need a female, you know, boys,” and Sarah Dash came up, and what an incredible lady and what a voice.

GM:She was definitely a blessing on this live album and, like I said, the band was so tight, and then you had her… it was like the perfect element.

KR:Yeah, exactly. The golden opportunity. It was like you’ve been handed this stuff on a plate, you know. (laughs) Hey, the next life’s gonna be awful!

Sarah Dash and Keith Richards of the X-pensive Winos perform onstage. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images.

GM: So this Palladium album is released for the first time on vinyl. And you’re a record collector. Are you surprised on this resurgence of vinyl records as a format?

KR:No, I’m not surprised. At the same time, I’m very encouraged, because I always thought, “Hey, people that know their sound, that reallyknowit, they’re not going to be fobbed off with these digital synthesizers forever. They’ll listen to it and then there’s going to be a resurgence of vinyl.” And I thought this 20 years ago. I’m so happy to see the resurgence of vinyl, because I knew there’s millions of people out there that do have really good ears and know what true sound is.

GM: Right. And, you know, if I downloaded or streamed the new live album, I might not know things like it’s Sarah Dash singing on a song like “Time Is on My Side.” With liner notes on an album, you get all that information.

KR:I know. Let’s face it. Everybody’s been sold second-hand goods – I mean, in order to sell things more and blah, blah, blah. The usual reasons, like greed. But there will be discerning people that know what’s what, and apparently there’s more and more. So it’s very encouraging.

GM:And since mostGoldminereaders are record collectors, they know you’re a big supporter of the format, and recorded history, especially the blues. But some might not know that you are even on the Board of Advisors for ARC, which is theArchive of Contemporary Music, and you’ve curated their entire blues record collection. How did you get involved with that?

KR:Because you talk to me and it’s about the blues and vinyl and I’m in. It’s like you don’t even have to question me. I’m so glad that vinyl is alive and kicking, because I can’t listen to this trash no more, listening to people trying to play drums on a keyboard.

GM:Is there a record you’re still looking for? An old record, a blues record?

KR:No, because you wouldn’t know it until you heard it.

GM:It’s great that you are trying to preserve something that was almost lost — a lot of these things were almost lost to history. A lot of these old records.

KR:It’s amazing. I mean a lot of the things that are sort of taken for granted … it’s the way we are. We’re called the human race and (laughs) I don’t know what the rush is.

GM:Record Store Dayhas really helped record stores and it’s helped bring the vinyl format back to the mainstream. You’ve been involved with some great Record Store Day releases — you had “Run Rudolph Run,” and (in 2020) you’ve released a red vinyl 7-inch single of “Hate It When You Leave,” with the B-side “Key to the Highway” (which only saw release on the Japanese version of the albumMain Offender). You’ve been busy.

KR:“Key to the Highway,” yes, that was another buried classic with (pianist) Johnnie Johnson that came out on Saturday the 24th(of October 2020, the third Record Store Day “Record Drop”). I’m doing a blitz, you see. (laughs)

GM:: Do you still get a chance to go to record stores?

KR:Very rarely, especially this year. Over the course of time … yeah, I do like to peek in. It’s the browsing, right? Have a look. See who’s got what and, of course, most record stores if they still exist these days are sort of a specialty in one kind of music or another, so … I’m just hoping everybody can survive through this crap.

GM: Hope to see this Winos crew get together again. I mean, if it were normal times, maybe you tour behind this Winos record, this rerelease, you know?

KR:I’ll drink to that!

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