THINK of all the Hellraisers of the last few years and you might agree that Keith Richards is rock’s “mastermind”.
Never flinching from his checkered past, the Rolling Stones legend chose the phrase as the title of his excellent and underrated 1992 solo album with his OTHER band, the X-Pensive Winos.
Now, after 30 years, the main villain is getting the full reissue, giving me another chance to speak to the lovable villain.
Today, Richards can call himself a clean living, having quit drugs, cigarettes and mostly alcohol – in that order.
But the old fire still burns when it comes to music, one of his great joys in life since he met Mick Jagger on platform two of Dartford station in 1961.
Let’s also not forget that he has been loyal to his wife, Patti Hansen, for more than 40 years.
“She’s great,” he once told me. “I wish y’all could find one like mine because Patti’s a piece of work.”
Speaking this week from his home in Connecticut, where the pair spends much of their time, I discover that the 78-year-old guitarist, songwriter and occasional singer has been flying high from his latest live music ventures.
Last Thursday, he reunited the X-Pensive Winos for a three-song set at New York’s Beacon Theater as part of the annual Love Rocks charity concert.
“It was great fun, man,” Richards tells me in that beautifully lived-in tones.
“It was extraordinary to bring the Winos back together. We haven’t played in years.”
They started with a smoky 999, the lead track from Main Offender, followed by two Rolling Stones classics on which he’s always done lead vocals in place of Jagger – You Got The Silver and Before They Make Me Run.
Richards continues, “It was a 30th birthday for Winos and we have the Stones’ 60th this year, so we’re doing everything right for anniversaries.”
Looking at these three songs (check out the YouTube footage) the Winos’ chemistry is clear to everyone – more chilled than the Stones, but still special.
“It’s one of those undefinable things,” Richards muses. “I think that’s why you’re doing it and why people hear it.
“I have no idea where that came from. If you’re playing with certain people, just click something. Maybe it’s just our blood types,” he adds with a pirate cackle.
In his band introductions, Richards described American drummer Steve Jordan as “my main man”.
Jordan is not only his principal songwriter for Winos, but also the musician entrusted with playing drums for the Stones since the sad loss of Charlie Watts last year. Crucially, he comes with Watt’s blessing.
Also playing were other founding members, guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboard genius Ivan Neville, but missing bassist Charlie Drayton, who tours with Bob Dylan. His place was taken by “Honorary Wino” Will Lee.
“They’re fantastic,” confirms Richards. “We just flood in.
It’s one of those undefinable things. I guess that’s why you’re doing it and why people hear it. I have no idea where it’s coming from. If you’re playing with certain people, just click something. Maybe it’s just our blood types.
Keith Richards on the chemistry of his band, the X-Pensive Winos
“I love the Beacon Theater and, yes, I’ve been on the phone with the Winos since the other night.
“Now we’ve all gone back to our homes, but we’ve all really enjoyed it. We said, ‘Come on, let’s do a little more!’
“But, first things first, man, I’ve got the Stones.”
“I get a fresh taste. I feel it
I’m speaking to Richards on the very day that the Rolling Stones Sixty tour is announced, including two dates at London’s Hyde Park, one at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium, as well as other shows across Europe.
The band’s first studio album since A Bigger Bang in 2005 is also in the starting blocks, so that all further activities of the Winos are put on hold for the time being.
But Richards would love to do more with them in the future. “I’m just getting a fresh taste for it,” he says. “I feel it!” (Cue another endearing chuckle.)
For those who need a reminder, here’s a quick refresher on Richard’s career outside of the Stones.
As Jagger pursued his solo dreams in the 1980s by recording She’s The Boss in 1985, he responded to the forced hiatus by doing his own thing as well.
“Mick wanted to spread his wings and I wanted to do the same, but I didn’t have wings,” explains Richards.
“So Charlie Watts said to me, ‘If you work outside of the organization, Steve Jordan is your man.'” So the two bonded and hit it off immediately.
Now we have all returned home, but we all enjoyed it very much. We said, ‘Come on, let’s do a little more!’ But first things first, man, I got the Stones.
Keith Richards on future performances with the Winos
They first worked with Aretha Franklin on the theme song for the Whoopi Goldberg film Jumpin’ Jack Flash and then on the Chuck Berry concert film Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll.
One thing led to another and the X-Pensive Winos were born, so named because one night while Richards was out the band dumped a crate from Richards’ 1936 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
In 1988, Richards released his acclaimed, high-octane solo debut, Talk Is Cheap, complete with a song that graces every Stones album, Take It So Hard.
He says: “Mick and I were joined at the hip for more than 20 years and we both thought, ‘Let’s do what we want between us and then get back together.’ Which obviously happened.”
Next up for Richards was the Stones comeback album, 1989’s Steel Wheels, and a major accompanying tour, but he still had scores with the Winos.
“We did Main Offender because we enjoyed Talk Is Cheap so much,” he says.
“Right after Steel Wheels I said, ‘Let’s get the Winos back together!’ I enjoyed working with these guys.”
“Main Offender” is a fluid, clear mix of rocker, reggae, deep soul and ballads. It’s packed with intriguing gems like the aforementioned guitar jam opener 999.
Catchy Richards riffs adorn other standouts like Wicked As It Seems and Will But You Won’t, while the aching Hate It When You Leave contains one of his best vocal performances of all time.
I can also see from the credits that the relaxed studio atmosphere produced some interesting results.
Mick and I were joined at the hip for more than 20 years and we both thought to ourselves, ‘Let’s do what we want among ourselves and then get back together’. Which obviously happened.
Keith Richards is going solo
For example, Richards switches to bass guitar on the laid-back, nearly seven-minute Words Of Wonder, which sounds like it was beamed straight out of a Jamaican backyard club.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the Main Offender reboots is the inclusion of a live show from London’s Town & Country Club.
“I was very glad we found this,” says Richards. “For me, it’s the treasure of it all.
“It was one of the few, maybe the only London show the Winos ever did and I didn’t remember us recording it.
“Thanks to everyone who trawled through the archives for nabbing this one because it makes the reissue more meaningful and extra surprising.”
Listen to the live show and you can hear the Main Offender tracks bloom alongside the Stones songs Gimme Shelter, Before They Make Me Run (“a sequel to Where I Go”) and Happy.
Richards says, “You write the song, you record it, you take it on tour and then the thing takes on a life of its own, you know.
“That’s the fascinating thing about what I do. Songs are still growing and changing, and there’s still a freshness to them, which is encouraging at my age.”
As frontman, a role usually filled by Jagger, Richards admires his Stones bandmate much more than he might have once done.
“When I first worked with the Winos on stage, I thought, ‘Wow!’ ” he says.
You write the song, you record it, you take it on tour and then the thing takes on a life of its own, you know. That’s what’s fascinating about what I do. Songs are still growing and changing and they still have a freshness which is encouraging at my age.
Keith Richards on songwriting
“Suddenly I got the message of being a frontman and a whole new appreciation for what Mick is doing.
“It’s non-stop when you’re up front, while at the Stones I could step back discreetly and hang out with Charlie and then step up front if I wanted to.
“There’s no wiggle room when you’re the frontman, and that took quite a bit of learning. Well there it is, I said it. Hats off to Mick! I get it, Mick!”
If there had been some tension during Jagger and Richards’ early solo forays, it dissipated by the time Main Offender came along.
“There was a great vibe all that time,” says the latter. “Because me and Mick were on hiatus, we reconnected with a certain renewed respect for what each of us is doing. I had a really good feeling about Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge (1994). It was a real pleasure making them.
“Maybe we realized how much we needed each other. At that point we had done nothing but the Rolling Stones for more than 20 years.
“It was a miracle we lasted this long and a bigger miracle that the break was all it was.”
As they return to action this summer, Richards is thinking about the beast, also known as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.
“The Stones seem like a creature with a life of their own,” he says.
“You don’t really have much control over it. It’s just a case of, ‘We’re going to do this, OK. Here we go again!'”
With all his “day job” commitments, Richards decides it’s no surprise he didn’t make another solo album until 2015’s Crosseyed Heart.
“The Stones are going on,” he says. “And me too.”
For sheer endurance over an epic 60-year career, rock’s greatest survivor beats Ozzy and Axl for the title of “Principal Offender,” hands down.
https://www.thesun.co.uk/tvandshowbiz/17987465/keith-richards-drugs-fags/ It was a miracle the Rolling Stones lasted 20 years, let alone 60, says Keith Richards