THINK of all the hellraisers of all those years and you might agree that Keith Richards is rock’s “primary culprit”.
Never afraid of his colorful past, the Rolling Stones legend chose the phrase as the title of his excellent and underrated 1992 solo album with his band OTHER, the X-Pensive Winos.
Now the main offender is getting the full reissue treatment 30 years later, giving me another chance to talk to the adorable thug.
Today, Richards can call himself clean, having cut out drugs, fags and, for the most part, booze – in that order.
But the old fire still burns when it comes to music, one of his great pleasures in life since bumping into Mick Jagger on Platform 2 at Dartford station in 1961.
Let’s also not forget that he has been devoted to his wife Patti Hansen for over 40 years.
“She’s gorgeous,” he once told me. “I wish everyone you could find one like mine because Patti is a job.”
Speaking this week from his Connecticut home where the pair spend much of their time, I find the 78-year-old guitarist, songwriter and occasional vocalist is on top of his latest live music projects.
Last Thursday at the Beacon Theater in New York, he reunited with the X-Pensive Winos for a three-song set as part of the annual Love Rocks charity concert.
“That was a lot of fun, man,” Richards tells me in that wonderfully lived drawl.
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“It was extraordinary to bring the Winos together. We haven’t played for years.
They started with a smoldering 999, the lead track from Main Offender, followed by two Rolling Stones classics on which he always took lead vocals instead of Jagger – You Got The Silver and Before They Make Me Run.
Richards continued, “It was Winos’ 30th birthday and we’ve got the Stones’ 60th birthday this year, so we’re doing well for birthdays.”
Looking at these three songs (check out the YouTube footage), the Winos’ chemistry is clear to all – more laid back than the Stones but special all the same.
“It’s one of those indefinable things,” Richards muses. “I guess that’s why you’re up there and people are listening to him.”
“I have no idea where it came from. When you play with certain people, something clicks. Maybe it’s just our blood types,” he adds with a hacked chuckle.
In his band introductions, Richards described American drummer Steve Jordan as “my main man”.
Not only is Jordan his primary songwriting collaborator on Winos, but also the drummer for the Stones since the sad loss of Charlie Watts last year. Importantly, it comes with Watts’ blessing.
Other founding members also played, guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboard genius Ivan Neville, but it was missing bassist Charlie Drayton who is on tour with Bob Dylan. His place was taken by “Honorary Wino” Will Lee.
“They’re fantastic,” says Richards. “We kind of just flooded.
It’s one of those indefinable things. Guess that’s why you’re up there and people are listening. I have no idea where it comes from. When you play with certain people, something clicks. 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 home, but we’ve all really enjoyed it. We said, ‘Come on, let’s do some more!’
“But, first of all, I have the Stones.”
‘I get a fresh taste. I feel it’
I spoke to Richards on the same day the Rolling Stones Sixty tour was announced, including two dates in London’s Hyde Park, one at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium as well as other gigs across Europe.
The band’s first studio album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang is also on the cards, so all further Winos activity is on hold for the time being.
But Richards would like to do more with them in the future. “I’m just starting to taste it,” he says. ” I feel it ! (Cue another endearing laugh.)
For those who need a refresher, here’s a quick refresher on Richards’ career outside of the Stones.
In the 80s, when Jagger pursued his solo dreams by recording She’s The Boss in 1985, he responded to the forced hiatus by also doing his own thing.
“Mick wanted to spread his wings and I wanted to do the same, but I didn’t have wings,” Richards explains.
“So Charlie Watts said to me, ‘If you’re going to work outside the organization, Steve Jordan is your man’.” So the pair bonded and immediately hit it off.
Now we’ve all dispersed to our homes, but we’ve all really enjoyed it. We said, ‘Come on, let’s do some more!’ But, first of all, I have the Stones.
Keith Richards on future gigs with the Winos
They first worked with Aretha Franklin on the title track of Whoopi Goldberg’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, then on Chuck Berry’s concert film Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll.
One thing leading to another, the X-Pensive Winos were born, so called because the group swallowed a case of Château Lafite Rothschild 1936 from Richards one night out.
In 1988, Richards released his acclaimed, high-octane debut solo album, Talk Is Cheap, with a song to honor any Stones album, Take It So Hard.
He says: “Mick and I had been together for over 20 years and we both thought, ‘Let’s do whatever we want with each other and then get back together.’ This is obviously what happened.
Next up for Richards was the Stones’ comeback album, 1989’s Steel Wheels, and a massive accompanying tour, but he still had unfinished business with the Winos.
“We created Main Offender because we had so much fun making Talk Is Cheap,” he says.
“Right after Steel Wheels, I said, ‘Let’s put the Winos back together!’ I loved the pleasure of working with these guys.
Main Offender is a smooth, clean mix of rockers, reggae, deep soul and ballads. It’s packed with intriguing gems like the aforementioned 999 guitar jam opener.
Richards’ memorable riffs grace other headliners such as Wicked As It Seems and Will But You Won’t, while the painful Hate It When You Leave bears one of his finest vocal performances.
I also see in the credits that the relaxed atmosphere of the studio has produced some interesting results.
Mick and I had been together for over 20 years and we both thought, ‘Let’s do whatever we want with each other and then get back together’. Which is obviously what happened.
Keith Richards solo
For example, Richards switches to bass guitar on the nearly seven-minute Words Of Wonder, which sounds like it’s being broadcast live from a Jamaican street club.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the Main Offender reissues is the inclusion of a live performance from the Town & Country Club in London.
“I was very happy that we found this,” says Richards. “For me, it’s the treasure of the whole.
“It was one of the few, maybe even the only London show the Winos have ever done and I don’t remember us taping it.
“My thanks go out to everyone who’s scoured the archives for snuffing this one out, as it makes the re-release more meaningful and surprising.”
Listen to the broadcast live and you can hear Main Offender tracks flourish alongside Stones songs Gimme Shelter, Before They Make Me Run (“a perennial everywhere I go”) and Happy.
Richards says, “You write the song, you record it, you take it on the road and then the thing takes on a life of its own, you know.
“That’s what’s fascinating about what I do. The songs keep growing and changing and there’s still a freshness about them, which is encouraging at my age.
As for being a frontman, a role usually filled by Jagger, Richards has come to admire his Stones teammate far more than he perhaps once did.
“When I first worked with the Winos on stage, I was like, ‘Wow!’ ” he says.
You write the song, you record it, you take it on the road and then the thing takes on a life of its own, you know. That’s what’s fascinating about what I do. The songs keep growing and changing and there’s still a freshness about them, which is encouraging at my age.
Keith Richards on Songwriting
“Suddenly I got the message of being a leader and a whole new appreciation for what Mick does.
“It’s non-stop if you’re up front, whereas with the Stones I could quietly step back and stay with Charlie and then step forward whenever I wanted.
“There’s no leeway when you’re the leader and it took some learning. Well, there it is, I said it. Hats off to Mike! I get it, Mike!”
If there had been any tension surrounding Jagger and Richards’ early solo forays, it evaporated the moment she arrived at Main Offender.
“This whole period had a great atmosphere,” said the latter. “Because me and Mick had taken a break, we came back to each other with a newfound respect for what each of us does. I had a really good feeling about Steel Wheels and (1994’s) Voodoo Lounge These were real pleasures to do.
“Maybe we realized how much we needed each other. At that point, we had only been doing The Rolling Stones for over 20 years.
“It was a miracle we lasted this long and a bigger miracle that the break was all it was.”
As they spring into action once again this summer, Richards reflects on the beast otherwise 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 that. It’s just a case of, ‘We’ll do it, okay. Here we go again!'”
With all of his “day job” commitments, Richards decides it’s no surprise he hasn’t made another solo album until 2015’s Crosseyed Heart.
“The Stones keep going,” he says. “And me too.”
For sheer stamina over an epic 60-year career, rock’s greatest survivor beats the likes of Ozzy and Axl for “primary offender,” hands down.