To mark the release of Crosseyed Heart, Keith Richards’ first solo album in 23 years, the guitarist seems to be everywhere: doing interviews to promote the album; appearing at the Apollo Theater to honor singer Merry Clayton as part of A Great Night in Harlem, a concert put on by the Jazz Foundation of America; and gracing the cover of a recent issue of Rolling Stone. Richards also stars in Under the Influence, a documentary by Academy Award–winning director Morgan Neville that examines the musicians and performers that shaped Richards’ playing and chronicles the sessions that produced the album.
The film shines a light on Chicago blues, with CBE Artist Board Member Richards discussing the impact his first visit to the city with the Rolling Stones on their 1964 U.S. tour had on him and the band. The Stones booked time at Chess Studios and recorded 14 songs in two days, including a cover of Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.” It was also during the band’s time at Chess that Richards met Muddy Waters. According to Richards as recounted in Rocks Off: 50 tracks that tell the story of the Rolling Stones:
“We walked into Chess Studios and there’s this guy in black overalls painting the ceiling. And it’s Muddy Waters and he’s got whitewash streaming down his face and he’s on top of a ladder. Marshall Chess says ‘Oh, we never had him painting.’ But Marshall was a boy then, he was working in the basement. And also Bill Wyman tells me he actually remembers Muddy Waters taking our amplifiers from the car into the studio. Whether he was being a nice guy or he wasn’t selling records then, I know what the Chess brothers were bloody well like—if you want to stay on the payroll get to work.”
Under the Influence also follows Richards to Buddy Guy’s Legends, a prime destination for modern Chicago blues, where he drinks a little moonshine and catches up with Buddy Guy over a game of pool. Later, on a visit to Muddy Waters’ home on the South Side, Richards recounts a party he attended there that raged all night. While standing in front of the home, Richards laments the fact that Chicago isn’t doing more to honor its rich heritage of the blues—an oversight that CBE is finally set to remedy.
Keith Richards and the Stones have always been quick to shine a light on their musical heroes, including featuring them as opening acts on tours. For example, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells were the opener on the Stones’ 1970 European tour, no doubt bringing Chicago blues to a wider global audience. Their reverence for their blues heroes might be best illustrated by the story behind their first appearance on Shindig in 1965. Although the Stones were booked as the featured artist, they insisted that Howlin’ Wolf not only appear but open the show as Richards and his bandmates sat on the stage at the foot of the master. Take a look at this clip from the show for a stunning demonstration of worlds colliding and unsuspecting teen music fans getting a serious, firsthand dose of Chicago blues:
(Look close to catch a young Billy Preston on piano as part of the Shindig house band.)
It’s fitting, then, that Richards kicks off Crosseyed Heart with the title track, a slow blues that demonstrates how much the guitarist has absorbed from his musical heroes. In this excerpt, Richards talks about his deep connection to the blues, a tribute to its continued relevance: