Keith Richards is on the phone talking about one of his favorite subjects.
“The rhythm section … I love rhythm sections, it all starts there,” says the Rolling Stones guitarist as if describing the Book of Genesis. At his most eloquent, as in the passages from his 2010 memoir, “Life,” when he reminisced about the days when he’d press his ear to a phonograph speaker to better hear the interplay of the Jimmy Reed or Muddy Waters band, the back-line figured mightily in his understanding of how music moved the soul.
Now he was thinking about his Stones compatriot, drummer Charlie Watts, possibly for a number of reasons. There’s no doubt that the ebb-and-flow between Watts and Richards gives the best Stones music its eternal elasticity, and puts some jump in the band’s hits-dominated stadium tours. But in an interview earlier this year with the Guardian, Watts cast some doubt on his desire to keep the road show rolling. “It wouldn’t bother me if the Rolling Stones said that’s it … enough,” the 77-year-old drummer said.
The comment was made several months before the Stones announced a 2019 tour of America. Richards wanted to make it clear that one of the biggest reasons the Stones aren’t calling it a career just yet is because of their drummer’s ability to keep swinging.
During the Stones’ European tour earlier this year, “Charlie Watts’ playing was so incredible, the band couldn’t go wrong,” Richards says. “He is inspiring to everybody, and I want more of it. A great rhythm section – Charlie and (bassist) Darryl Jones – opens up everything” for Richards and his guitar-playing side-kick, Ronnie Wood.
In a cut-to-the-chase interview this week, Richards opened up about a few things that have been on his mind recently, including the ongoing work on the first Stones album of original material since 2005. Here’s an edited portion of that conversation:
Tribune: There’s always the speculation around every Stones tour that it could be the last one. When you finished the European tour this year, did you always anticipate that you’d be playing more shows in 2019?
Richards: You’re always optimistic. The band was in such good shape, and it felt like we were still peaking so that we all kind of looked around after the last show in Warsaw and were like, “That’s it?” That’s when the idea germinated to do this one. Besides, what else would I be doing?
Q: You’ve suggested in recent interviews that you feel like you have more stamina at age 74 than you did a decade before. Why is that?
A: I don’t attribute it to anything. You hope for the best (laughs). When you play in a band that’s playing well, the energy starts to increase in between tours, and you’re itching to get back out there. I did give up the booze this year, like I’ve given up a lot of other things. The experiment is over (laughs). I’m enjoying it, though. After I quit, I didn’t find things much different, which is why I stopped.
Q: Last winter, you said the Stones would have a new studio album out by the end of the year. How’s that going?
A: Mick (Jagger) and I got together the last few months with (producer) Don Was in the studio, and we’ve been knocking up some ideas. We want to do some more sessions, but not sure when. We might do something in February and March. It’s progressing. All I can say, there are a couple of nice things happening, with the promise of a lot more, and we’re having fun doing it. We get together, and it’s always, ‘Got anything new?’ ‘Did anything else occur?’ And a couple of songs always pop up.
Q: Is it still clicking quickly for you and Jagger when you get together to write songs?
A: You jump into this familiar spot, even if we’ve been away for months. It’s comfortable kicking around ideas. We’ve been doing this for a while, so it’s not difficult to start up again. Mick is a great rhythm guitar player – I always enjoyed playing guitar with him because we’re both rhythm guys really. We’re writing with two guitars, and I might throw piano or bass on here and there.
Q: Was it a surprise to you that the band was able to knock out the blues album (the 2016 release of blues covers, “Blue & Lonesome”) so quickly?
A: In a way it was a surprise, all of it. When we got back together, we just had the feeling the Stones had to make this album, bring it full circle from where we came, which was to do an entire album of the kind we would’ve recorded when we first played the clubs in London. We would’ve played these same songs back then.