Bobby Keys “Mr Brown Sugar” – Never learnt to read music a true Blowout Style and a True Rocking Sax Madman part 2
Robert Henry Keys was born on December 18 1943 at Slaton, Texas, and took up playing the saxophone after being injured while playing baseball. His affinity with the instrument was immediate, and by the age of 15 he had convinced his grandfather, who looked after him, to sign over his guardianship to Jerry Allison, a local drummer who was working with Buddy Holly in Lubbock, Texas, the regional music hub 15 miles south-east of Slaton. Keys joined Allison’s band, the Crickets, and was soon playing behind Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox and other local rockers.
Keys never learnt to read music, but even at this early stage he exhibited a feel for rock and roll along with a powerful sound which would keep him busy as a session man for the rest of his life. He claimed to have played on such hits as Elvis Presley’s Return To Sender and Dion’s The Wanderer. He toured widely as a core member of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, then joined Delaney & Bonnie, an American band which counted George Harrison and Eric Clapton among its admirers.
When Delaney & Bonnie began recording in London, the Rolling Stones’ producer Jimmy Miller hired Keys to play on the band’s 1969 sessions for Let It Bleed. The Stones subsequently invited him to join them on the road, and Keys soon became rock’s foremost saxophonist.
He had first met the Stones during their US tour of 1964, when they played a concert in San Antonio, Texas, where he was appearing with Bobby Vee’s band. Initially, he was suspicious of the British “interlopers”, but after seeing them play Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away with what he considered more verve than the original he embraced the band. Keys went on to play on many of their albums, including Exile On Main Street and Goat’s Head Soup, and accompanied them on tours around the world.
Initially, Keys was close to Mick Jagger, acting as an usher at his wedding in 1971, but his appetite for excess soon found him bonding with Keith Richards – together they wrecked hotel rooms, fired pistols and consumed industrial quantities of drugs and alcohol. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2013, Keys proudly declared: “I’ve been smoking pot for over 50 years… I am a devout pothead.”
He also described what it was like living in London in the 1970s: “It was like everybody had shiny brand new records out that they were selling and everybody was bopping up and down King’s Road and going to pubs and clubs and there was a lot of music going on, man. Everybody was wearing shiny pants and alligator shoes. It was really cool.” In 1972, when the Stones were playing Madison Square Garden, Keys smacked a lemon meringue pie into the face of a New York policeman. Eventually his behaviour became so erratic that, by the mid-1970s, he found himself temporarily banished from the band.
The reason for his sudden exit, Keys claimed, was his determination to impress a French model he had met on tour by filling the bath in his hotel room with Dom Perignon.
When the call came that it was time to leave the hotel for the concert, Keys ignored it; the next morning he discovered that the tour had moved on without him. Later Keys suggested that his addiction to heroin was what had led to his exile.
He found this a difficult period in his life: “When you’re not on the payroll and you want to continue the Beverly Wilshire lifestyle, but you’re only geared for a Holiday Inn existence, things are gonna catch up to you. ”
He continued to record, however, with a variety of artists, among them Barbra Streisand, George Harrison, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, B B King, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker. He performed club dates as “Mr Brown Sugar” and was occasionally brought back to play on Stones recordings. He toured with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood in their 1979 band the New Barbarians; he also briefly managed Wood’s nightclub in Miami.
For much of the 1980s his addictions confined him to the sidelines, but in 1989, during rehearsals for the Stones’ forthcoming world tour, Richards managed to infiltrate him back into the band.
Keys’s friendship with Keith Richards caused him to be interviewed at length for the guitarist’s bestselling autobiography Life (written with James Fox, 2010); and in 2013 Keys published a memoir of his own, Every Night’s a Saturday Night.
In recent years he had played regularly with Sheryl Crow and led his own band, the Suffering Bastards . In 1972 he released an eponymous solo album .
On the advice of his doctors, Keys did not join the Stones in November for their rescheduled tour of Australia and New Zealand. He died in Nashville from cirrhosis of the liver.
Bobby Keys, born December 18 1943, died December 2 2014
Bobby Keys, a saxophonist and lifelong rock ‘n’ roller who played on recordings by Buddy Holly and John Lennon and performed one of the all-time blowout solos on the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” has died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 70 years old.
Michael Webb, who played keyboard with Keys, said Keys died Tuesday after a lengthy illness.
Keys had been on tour with the Stones earlier this year before his health prevented him from performing.
“The Rolling Stones are devastated by the loss of their very dear friend and legendary saxophone player, Bobby Keys,” the band said in a statement. “Bobby made a unique musical contribution to the band since the 1960s. He will be greatly missed.”
Known for his heavy jowls and raw, raucous style, the Lubbock, Texas, native was born on the same day as Keith Richards — Dec. 18, 1943 — and the Stones guitarist would often cite Keys as a soul mate and favorite musician. Besides “Brown Sugar,” Keys also played memorable solos on such Stones favourites as the 7-minute jam the awesome solo on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and the country-styled “Sweet Virginia.”
Other career highlights included John Lennon’s chart-topping “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and albums by Richards, George Harrison, Barbra Streisand and Eric Clapton.
“I have lost the largest pal in the world, and I can’t express the sense of sadness I feel, although Bobby would tell me to cheer up,” Richards said in a statement.
Keys’ career dated back to the 1950s, when as a teenager he played with fellow Lubbock native Holly and The Crickets. He met the Stones in the mid-’60s while they were on the same bill at a state fair in San Antonio, Texas, and was distraught that the British rockers had recorded a cover of Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”
“I said, ‘Hey, that was Buddy’s song,'” Keys recalled in Richards’ memoir “Life,” published in 2010. “Who are these pasty-faced, funny-talking, skinny-legged guys to come over here and cash in on Buddy’s song?”
But once Keys listened more closely, he decided the Stones were playing “actual rock and roll,” an opinion the Stones more than shared about Keys. He first recorded with them in the late 1960s and toured and recorded with them off and on over the following decades, his work featured on three of the group’s most acclaimed albums: “Let It Bleed,” ”Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street.”
In some ways, he was too close to Richards, developing a heroin addiction that led to his temporary estrangement from the group. But he was with them on every major tour over the past quarter century, dependably stepping up for his solo on “Brown Sugar.”
Keys’ memoir “Every Night’s a Saturday Night” was published in 2012, with a foreword by Richards. Keys recalled that he was first exposed to rock ‘n’ roll through Holly’s music — not on the radio, but at the grand opening of a Texas gas station near the home of Keys’ grandparents. It was the first time he had heard an electric guitar played live.
“And right then and there I knew I wanted to have something to do with that music,” Keys explained. Holly “just kinda lit a fuse that started burning then, and it’s still burning now.”
Readers recommend: best saxophone songs – results
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