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Great balls of Welsh fire! When Keef had beef with Jerry Lee Lewis

18 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Keith Richards performing with Jerry Lee Lewis in the ’80s (Credit: YouTube)

Leon Barton

Keith ‘the human riff’ Richards is 80. Yep, 80!

‘Who, What, Why: How is Keith Richards still alive?’ asked the BBC in 2010. Addiction expert Dr Robert Lefever answered by musing that the Rolling Stones guitarist ‘must have the constitution of an ox.’

‘No one throughout history has taken more drugs with more pleasurable consequences than Keith Richards’ wrote music journalist Nick Kent in his memoir Apathy for the Devil. Attempting to keep up is not advised, with Kent warning that ‘the graveyards of the world are littered with the corpses of those who tried and failed’.

As befits a man who’s lived the ‘sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle to the max, Richards has a few tales to tell, many of them chronicled in his 2010 autobiography Life (Richards has an exceptional memory all things considered). One of the most bizarre stories involved the red mist coming down after a jam session with one of the Stones’ heroes, piano bashing rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, with Richards feeling the need to bring up his and The Killer’s shared Welsh heritage in order to calm matters down.

(Richards’ paternal great-grandparents moved from Wales to the south east of England. According to ethnicelebs.com Jerry Lee’s patrilineal ancestry can be traced to his twelth great-grandfather, Ifan Iorwerth ap Einion, who was born, c. 1512, in Bryngwallon)

Anyway, in 1994, the Stones decamped to guitarist Ronnie Wood’s house in County Kildare, to start work on what was to become their twentieth (UK) studio album, ‘Voodoo Lounge’.

The antagonism between frontman Mick Jagger and Richards, which so soured their relationship in the Eighties, had thawed to a certain extent, although they were hardly getting on like a house on fire. Producer Don Was described their daily interaction as ‘exchanging pleasantries about a football match for maybe thirty seconds before going to opposite corners of the room’.

Clearly there was still plenty of tension between the two men but an opportunity to defuse it arose when they found out that Lewis was also in Ireland at the time, ‘hiding from the IRS or something’.

Richards takes up the story:

“So we asked him, do you want to come up and play? But apparently from Jerry’s point of view at the time, or the way it got to him, he was going to make a Jerry Lee Lewis record with the Stones backing him. But we were saying come up and play, it was just like a jam: we were pretty loose, we’ve got the studio set up, let’s rock and roll.

“So we did a lot of stuff, a lot of great stuff too, and it’s all there on tape somewhere. Then we were listening to playbacks later on, and Jerry’s going, hey, the drummer’s getting a bit slow there. He’s starting to pick the band apart. Hey, that guitar is…And I looked at him and I said, Jerry, we just did a playback, you know what I mean, we ain’t cutting.

“We were just playing. A red mist was falling, and I said if you want to tear my band apart, you’re name’s Lewis, right? You’re from Wales. I said, my name’s Richards; we’re both Welsh. So I’ll look into your little baby blue eyes and you look into these two black motherfuckers, and if you want to take it outside, let’s deal with it. Don’t fucking chop my band up. And I left, I just stormed off and actually wrote ‘Sparks will fly’ out of it, watching the bonfire outside. Our longtime crew chief Chuck Magee said Jerry just turned around and said, “Well, it usually works.”

Keith Richards (Credit: WikiCommons)

‘Sparks will fly’ contains lyrics such as ‘you’d better grease up, I’m coming back’ and ‘ooh, I wanna f*ck your sweet ass’, strongly suggesting that Richards is a man who gets off on conflict. His fruitful sixty-plus year creative relationship with Jagger – a man he readily describes as ‘unbearable’ – seems to confirms it.

Despite the harsh words, Richards has good memories of the session: ‘The stuff we did with him that night was amazing. And it was a real honour for me to play in that sort of situation, where we’d say, Jerry, what you got? OK, let’s do ‘House of Blue Lights.’ Brilliant. That’s where Jerry and I met on the level that guys like us have to meet, and since then he’s been a brother.’

Which reminds me of something film director Sam Mendes once said about the actor Michael Sheen: ‘He’s Welsh in the tradition of Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton: fiery, mercurial, unpredictable’.

Perhaps adjectives which could equally apply to Richards and Lewis…

Penblwydd hapus Keef. Keep on rolling.


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Arthur Owen
Arthur Owen
5 months ago

Apparently Ronnie Wood is also of Welsh,i.e. Welsh Romany,descent.Or soTeleri Gray claims sonewhere.

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