Keith Richards on the guitarist who had “everything”

Keith Richards

Keith Richards may not be the most flashy figure in rock history, but he is unquestionably one of the genre’s most revered guitarists. Nobody else has the same smoldering passion for strumming a simple G-chord as The Rolling Stones’ high seas skipper. He understands that a masterpiece just requires a couple of chords, and when you work within such constraints, it all comes down to nuance.

“If that one [the right hand] doesn’t connect with that one [the left hand], you’re getting what?” he said to Guitar Moves. “A story and a half?” This exemplifies how thoughtful he is as a musician. Richards, whose roots are in the blues, has long dismissed showmanship as egoist rubbish. He believes it doesn’t come close to matching the energy of rock ‘n’ roll done well. This is also why he held such high regard for his bandmates Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. They were a simple rhythm section, but the strength was all in the “mix” for Richards.

However, no bandmate ever stood out as proudly to Richards as Mick Taylor. At the youthful age of 20, the upcoming prodigy joined the Stones, but his superb style soon had Richards agog. “I was in awe sometimes listening to Mick Taylor,” Richards recounted in his 2010 biography, Life. “Everything was there in his playing — the melodic touch, a beautiful sustain, and a way of reading a song.” This was everything Richards was looking for in a guitarist, he explains.

Keith Richards discovered Taylor’s strength because of his ability on the acoustic during these jam sessions, where Taylor assisted with compositional chores following the departure of Brian Jones. This, according to the strummer, is critical. “I would say that the acoustic guitar is the most important thing for a guitar player to start with, learn the feel and sensation of that chord and what it does against the pitch; learn that, and then you can add the effects later on,” he said.

Taylor attributes his sense of touch to the intuitive manner in which he learned the instrument. “I suppose I could pick out harmonies and learn by ear because I have a good ear.” I still believe that you need an ear for music to truly feel and understand what you’re playing. “You can learn by observing and listening to others,” Taylor explains. That’s a lot easier when you’re sitting a few yards away from Richards for hours on end.

And, among the “everythingTaylor possessed, teamwork was also one of them. As a result of Jones‘ absence, he became a critical element. “Brian demanded, you have to understand,” Richards told Rolling Stone of his late friend’s departure in 2010. “You also have to be supportive and giving in a band like this.” When you’re working 300-odd days a year, dealing with his envy, with Mick and me creating the tunes, it becomes insufferable, and you can get pretty nasty about it.”

Taylor and Richards sound great together on the Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter,’ which you can hear below.

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