Thursday, 1 May 2008

Keith Richards stole my last joint: guest post from Charles Shaar Murray


It's 1975. The Stones have just released a fairly disappointing album, Black And Blue, and in my capacity as frontline hatchetman for the New Musical Express, I pen a feature-length review making this case at great length. Bearing in mind Mick Jagger's dictum that he doesn't care what they say about him on Page 25 as long as his picture is on the front of the magazine, we decide to make the drummer our cover boy with a headline reading 'The new album by CHARLIE WATTS and his fabulous Rolling Stones.' Ahhh, fun'n games ...

The following week, the Stones, touring for the first time with new guy Ron Wood, are playing in Frankfurt (note to US readers: this is a city in Germany famous for its sausages and its right-wing economists) and it is decided that I should attend on behalf of the NME. It is not a great performance: the highlights are Keef tripping over his own legs and falling over, being helped to his feet and regaining Homo Erectus status whilst still playing, and Mick J returning to the stage after Keef's outrageously sloppy rendition of his vocal feature on Happy to announce, in his broadest Mockney, 'Fank you Keef, that WOS GRATE!'

After the show, the company assemble in Mr Wood's hotel room for an impromptu reception. I am seated on a sofa swapping badinage with Mr Wood when I hear someone saying (in broad Mockney) 'I fought your review was BLAAAAAAAAHDY STOOPID.' I ignore him. He says it again. I continue to ignore him. Mr Jagger is not well pleased. I commence rolling a joint. This attracts a certain amount of attention. I am informed that, whilst various White Powders are in plentiful supply, there is a total weed famine, and that I am the only person in the room with any incendiary intoxicants.

Five of us journo types are summoned to join Mr Richards at a table. Stone-faced (no overt pun intended), he is chopping out a dozen lines of some unidentified White Powder on a small marble slab. Producing a high-denomination banknote and rolling it into a tight cylinder, he then proceeds – glaring at each of us in turn – to snort all twelve lines himself. I continue rolling the joint, a process which is taking me far longer than it should: partly because the German papers seem entirely devoid of adhesive, and partly because I am already fairly refreshed.

An ashen-faced PR guy appears at my elbow. 'Mick says that if you don't leave now,' he informs me, 'he'll have you thrown out.' Noting that Mr Wood doesn't appear to have much of a say in who can and cannot remain in what is, after all, HIS room, I gather up my almost-completed spliff and rise to my feet.

'OI.' sez Keef. 'He stays. He's the only fucka who's got a joint.'

I sit down again and finally complete the spliff. I'm just about to ignite it when the PR returns, and by now he's a whiter shade of chartreuse. His job may depend on getting me out of there before Mick turns round. I shrug and head for the door. Keef gets up and follows me. At the door I light the joint. Keef mutters, 'Look, never mind what 'E sez. What's your room number? There's a party later on in Billy Preston's room [late keyboard player, former Ray Charles sideman and shares with the equally late Nicky Hopkins the distinction of being one of the only keyb guys to have played and performed with both Beatles and Stones] and I'll give you a call later on.'

I scribble out my room number and hand him the spliff. The door slams in my face. I realise that Keith Richards, grandmaster of cool and idol of millions, has just ripped me off for my last joint.

Back in my room, I think 'fark dis,' and -- to quote an old Stones B-side -- back in the bed I started reading my book, and I take my phone right offa the hook.

Next morning, there's a note under my door, scribbled on a page from the tour program. 'Tried to call you. What happened?'

1979: Keef and Ron are touring the US as the New Barbarians, with Stanley Clarke on bass, Joseph 'Zigaboo' Modeliste from The Meters on drums, Bobby Keyes on tenor sax and Ian MacLagan on keys. I join them in Dallas. We conduct an amusing interview during which Keef boasts of having a better reggae collection than any of the punkrockaaas (not surprising since he has a house in Jamaica), and all the old stagers seem a trifle nervous about an up-and-coming new band called The Police. At a post-gig party in Keef's room, attended by several members of the Dallas Cowboys football team and their cheerleaders, Keef announces that he has a bag of primo weed in one of his suitcases, but passes out before he can find it. I then watch him snooze on the floor while a whole bunch of people he doesn't know ransack his luggage looking for weed, and reflect that being an iconic rock star occasionally has its downsides.

1984: release of another disappointing Stones album, Dirty Work. For some reason I have been hanging out with Jeff Beck, who's been invited to the launch party,so I tag along. Bump into Keef. He gives me a big hug.

'I'm flattered,' I tell him, 'but we've never been close. Why are you so glad to see me?'

'I'm glad to see anyone,' he tells me, 'who's still around.'

POSTSCRIPT, 2003: The Stones are on the Forty Licks tour, and I am dispatched to Amsterdam to interview Uncle Keef (by now mellowed into the Lovable Old Pirate we know today) for the London Evening Standard. Having both purchased and consumed rather too enthusiastically at one of the city's cannabis cafe, I have only just regained the power to speak a known human language when it is time for the interview.

Keef arrives in high spirits (no pun intended) waving a fresh bottle of Stolichnaya, accompanied by a minder with a tall glass, an ice bucket and several cans of orange Fanta. We conduct a lively interview, during which Keef makes a major theatrical show out of pouring his drinks. I tell him that I'm not crazy about carrying all my remaining weed back through customs, and offer it to him as a goodwill gift.

'Aha!' he chuckles, 'EMG!'

I say, 'Huh?'

"EMG,' he repeats. 'Everything must go!'

At the end of the interview (a brief interlude of Geek Chat is later spun off into a separate piece for Guitarist), he leaves, and I note that he has not only left behind the bag of weed, but the bottle of Stoly, most of which remains. Despite all the theatrics, he has doused his vodkas in so much orange fizz that his drinks barely qualified as alcopops.

I am reduced to the ancient trick of wrapping the bag of weed in a rolled-up pair of dirty socks when returning home. It works, mainly because I now look so old and respectable that Customs don't bother with me. Back home in London, I consider putting Keef's bottle of Stoly up on eBay as a Stones collectable ...

... and then I think 'fark dis,' and drink it.

by Charles Shaar Murray

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