Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bobby Keys...RIP This Joint

One of my fondest memories from my time with the Headlights boys was our mini sojourn at Willie Nelson's Pedernales recording studio, just outside of Austin, Texas. After winning a national battle of the bands contest that he'd co-sponsored, we received a kindly invite from the country outlaw himself to spend a week there recording some demos.

During the course of the stay we'd managed to score a pick-up gig at Austin's legendary dive bar, The Hole In The Wall, and sometime during the evening, Bobby Keys sauntered in. He ended up sharing a few stories and hanging out with us for a while. Of course, when I say "hanging out", I actually mean he downed a few beers and smiled affably while I gushed like a teenage girl and bowed and scraped at his feet, but bear with me. When he learned we were recording up at Willie's place he offered to come by and maybe add a little sax to a song.

Now, for a card-carrying Rolling Stones disciple who spent much of his formative years holed up in his tiny bedroom with his guitar, trying to find his musical way with Get Yer Ya Ya's Out, Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers as his guidebook, this was almost too much to take in.  I mean, forget for a moment that Keys' brilliant and blustery style had graced John Lennon, George Harrison and Eric Clapton recordings, or that he played alongside Joe Ely, B.B. King and even Buddy Holly, for God's sake. This was the man whose barnstorming solos had elevated already sublime Rolling Stones tracks like Brown Sugar, Can't You Hear Me Knocking? and Rip This Joint to stratospheric status. Calling them classics doesn't really cut it for me; I just view them as monumental musical moments, and to this day they make the hairs on my neck stand to attention at every listen.

So, there we were, already feeling pretty good about things after a really fun set in front of an appreciative crowd, and Bobby Keys from Lubbock, Texas wants to know if this lummox from Scunthorpe would like him to drop by the studio with his sax. Mental. So, as I waited for my trousers to dry, we made plans for him to show up at the studio the next day.

As it is for many of us, I expect, some memories from the 80s are a little hazy. I've forgotten many of the venues we played; I have a little trouble recalling some of the songs from our setlists; and selective amnesiac that I am, I absolutely can't remember who drugged and then dragged me to that bloody Flock Of Seagulls concert. But one thing this girly fanboy remembers quite clearly is watching Bobby Keys opening up his sax case in Willie's studio that day and me asking him excitedly, "So, is that the one? You know, the one you played on Brown Sugar and Can't You Hear me Knocking?". He gave a quick wry smile and nodded, "That's her".

Other than the thrill of hearing him play, what I remember most about him was that he smiled. A lot. He just had this infectious, cheeky energy about him and despite us being a bunch of scallywags from Florida rather than the Rolling Stones, it still seemed like he just couldn't wait to play. I remember watching him from the control room and as the track played through his phones, he'd be intensely swaying with the music as if he was laying in wait for an opening to pounce on.

I never saw him again, but I still treasure the memory of that day, watching and listening to him ply his groovy trade on one of our songs. It's a day I'll not forget. It's amazing to think that he was a Stones sideman for some 40 years. Talk about sticking by your mates! A big-hearted man and a huge talent who'll surely be missed by music lovers worldwide and who leaves a big Texas-sized hole to fill on the Rolling Stones concert stage.

By the way, if you listen to "Can't You Hear Me Knockin?" (linked above) and it doesn't move you, then we're no longer friends. If we're not friends anyway, that might well be the reason. Just saying.

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