Blazing a gold and platinum trail through the pop jungles of the world for 32 years and counting the Rolling Stones long ago carved their claim to the title of “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” And, through more than 35 albums and a seemingly endless list of hit singles, one thing has remained a constant: their multi-styled, guitar driven sound. This time out, let’s focus on the style of its chief engineer and designated driver, Keith Richards.
This is how Bill Wyman once described Keith’s role: “Our band does not follow the drummer; our drummer follows the rhythm guitarist.” (Guitar Player, Dec. ‘78.) Charlie Watts put it this way: “I play the drums for Keith and Mick. I don’t play them for me.”
The best way to understand Keith’s role is to listen to the music. Notice how the riffs, chords, and solos draw on a wide variety of intluences (blues, R&B, R&R, C&W, reggae) and are blended with great feel, interplay, and texture.
Here’s what Keith himself said about the bands sound: “What’s interesting about rock and roll for me, and particularly for guitarists, is that if there are two guitarists, and they’re playing well together and really jell, there seem to be infinite possibilities open. It comes to the point where you’re not conscious anymore of who’s doing what. It’s not at all a split thing. It’s like two instruments becoming one sound.”
More often than not, the Stones’ soundstays on course by avoiding the standard back-to-front rhythm and lead guitar approach typical of so much pop music. With that in mind, this guitar lesson looks at some of the techniques Keith Richards uses to create such memorable electric guitar parts. (Part 2 of this guitar lesson will look at Richards’ acoustic work.)