He's acknowledged as perhaps the greatest rhythm guitarist in rock & roll, but Keith Richards is even more legendary for his near-miraculous ability to survive the most
debauched excesses of the rock & roll lifestyle. His prodigious consumption of drugs and alcohol has been well documented, and would likely have destroyed anyone with a less amazing endurance level. On-stage with the Rolling Stones, he epitomized guitar-hero cool as the quiet, stoic alter ego to Mick Jagger's extroverted frontman, a widely imitated image made all the more fascinating by his tightrope-walking hedonism. Yet that part of Richards' mystique often overshadows his considerable musical legacy. Arguably the finest blues-based rhythm guitarist to hit rock & roll since his idol Chuck Berry, Richards knocked out some of the most indelible guitar riffs in rock history, and he did it so often and with such apparent effortlessness that it was easy to take his songwriting skills for granted. His lean, punchy, muscular sound was the result of his unerring sense of groove and intuitive use of space within songs, all of which played a major part in laying the groundwork for hard rock. Never intensely interested in soloing, Richards preferred to work the groove using open-chord tunings drawn from Delta blues, and his guitars were often strung with only five strings for cleaner fingering, which made it difficult for cover bands to duplicate his distinctive sound precisely. For all his rock-star notoriety, Richards was perfectly happy in the confines of a group, and thus was the last Rolling Stone to release a side-project solo album; his 1988 solo debut appeared more than a quarter century after he co-founded the band that earned him the nickname "Mr. Rock and Roll."
Richards was born December 18, 1943, in Dartford, Kent, on the southern outskirts of London. When he was just an infant, his family had to be temporarily evacuated from their home during the Nazi bombing campaign of 1944. In 1951, while attending primary school, Richards first met and befriended Jagger, although they would be split up three years later when they moved on to different schools. By this age, Richards had already become interested in music, and was an especially big fan of Roy Rogers; in his very early adolescence, he sang in a choir that performed for the Queen herself, although he was forced to quit when his voice changed. Around that time, he became interested in American rock & roll and began playing guitar, with initial guidance from his grandfather. Behavior problems at school led to Richards' expulsion in 1959, but the headmaster thought he might find a niche as an artist, and Richards was sent to Sidcup Art School. There he met future Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor, who at the time was playing in a blues band with Jagger. Discovering their new mutual interest, Richards and Jagger struck up their friendship all over again, and Richards joined their band not long after. Over the next couple of years, that band evolved into the Rolling Stones, who officially debuted on-stage in the summer of 1962 (by which time Richards had left school).
The rest was history -- initially a blues and R&B cover band, the Stones branched out into original material penned by Jagger and Richards. The duo took some time and practice to develop into professional-quality songwriters, but by 1965 they'd hit their stride. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" made them superstars in the States as well as the U.K., boasting one of rock's all-time great guitar riffs, which Richards played into a tape recorder in the middle of the night and didn't recall writing when he heard the tape the next morning. With their menacing, aggressively sexual image, the Stones became targets for British police bent on quelling this new threat to public decency, and Richards suffered his first drug bust in 1967 when police raided his residence and found amphetamines in the coat pocket of Jagger's girlfriend, singe