Quick! When you hear the name “Bobby Keys,” what’s the first thing that pops in your head? Legendary bad boy Keith Richard’s running buddy? The guy behind the instantly recognizable saxophone solos in The Rolling Stones “Bitch,” or “Brown Sugar?” Maybe the long outro jam in “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’?”
Bobby Keys is indeed the man behind all of the above. But you might not know he also played on, amongst other things, “The Wanderer,” by Dion, Elvis’ “Return To Sender” and backed rock and roll legends John Lennon (and Yoko) , George Harrison and Eric Clapton. It might also surprise you that he was “best man” at Jagger’s wedding to Bianca.
Every Night Is A Saturday Night begins in Lubbock, Texas, with the young Keys trying to find a way in to the thing that excites him most: rock ‘n’ roll . Upon learning the saxophone, he hooked up with the Buddy Holly-less Crickets (also Lubbock natives) and toured with the Dick Clark Revue, backing Bobby Vee. It’s a short jump to the legendary Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, a period Keys obviously recalls with great affection and the equally infamous Mad Dogs and Englishmen album and subsequent tour with Joe Cocker. Cocker’s reminiscences, in particular, are riotous:
“Mad Dogs was next. I stayed at Leon (Russell’s) house. People were very naked. I got the clap there. God!”
Or, the time on a later tour with Keys and Nicky Hopkins. The three were so inebriated the plane, from L.A. to New Zealand, made an unscheduled stop…In Pago Pago, Samoa.
“As I remember it, the stewardess…came up and said something like ‘We’ve got a bit of a layover, would you like to get some fresh air? There’s a nice lounge outside that you might enjoy. So of course we said ‘Oh, yeah, sure, why not?’ And the next thing we know, we’re on the tarmac and the plane’s takin’ off on us.”
But it is, and always will be the Stones association that Keys is most remembered for and he tells some incredible stories of that time. A lot of touring, a lot of recording and…yes, a whole lot of partying. Travelling back to England with Keith on the QE2, dining at the Captain’s Table by invitation, “ a very drunk and very stoned Richards “nose-dived into his roast beef and mashed potatoes.’ I laughed and said something like ‘Mr. Richards seems to have retired early.’ I thought it was hysterical but no one else thought it was funny…” His idea to invite his mother on tour is equally hilarious, as is the well-documented stay at The Playboy Mansion, where Keith and he set fire to a bathroom.
But it is his love for music that got Keys into the sessions, and subsequent situations, and there’ s plenty of insight into many of those famous, and infamous, sessions as well. The all-night and days-on-end recording in the dank basement of Keith’s mansion Nellcote for Exile On Main Street. John Lennon coaching him on his horn lines for the “Walls and Bridges” album in the stairwell of the Dakota. And gaining Yoko’s blessing by giving her “one bullfrog, sitting on a lily pad” a voice, however inadvertently.
A recurring component of Keys life and career is being in the right place, at the right time. I might also add, judging from the book, that being the “right guy” in the right place at the right time played a huge part in Keys resume. Always ready to go, ready to blow, or to do whatever it takes made Mr. Keys a guy other musicians gravitated towards and fun to have along for the ride. And it is that devil-may-care, good-natured, Texas-sized personality that comes across loud and clear and makes this book such an enjoyable read. Bobby Keys may not have been the greatest horn player in the world, but boy, when he got his chances, he sure made ‘em count!
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