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Keith Richards Reveals His Songwriting Secrets

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Keith Richards has revealed some of his key songwriting secrets during a new chat with Guitar Tricks Insider magazine. The Rolling Stones closed out 2016 with Blue & Lonesome — the band’s first studio set in over a decade, which peaked at Number Four in the U.S, and went all the way to Number One on the UK, Australian, Belgian, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Scottish, Swedish, and Swiss album charts.

Richards spoke about his songwriting process these days, explaining, “Rarely do I write a song totally by myself. Even if I do write it by myself, I always like to have someone around playing along with me going, ‘yeah, yeah.’ I’m a band man. I can’t sit there alone in a room and say, ‘It’s songwriting time — ding, ding, ding!’ I work best when the sun goes down. I’ve eaten, had a few drinks, and I’ve got some good buddies around. I love whacking out songs with friends and family. Somehow they never sound as good as they do that first night on the living room couch.”

Richards touched upon how his still legendary songwriting partnership with Mick Jagger comes together for their new material: “When Mick comes in with a song, usually he’s got it worked out pretty much. He may need a bridge to be written , or a different beat, or to turn it around a little bit. Over our whole period, maybe 50 percent of the time he writes the lyrics and I write the melody. But that’s a far, far too simplistic explanation. We write in every conceivable combination of ways. It’s really an incredibly elastic arrangement — especially when you’re writing with a partner for a band, a specific unit, rather than just writing a song to see who you could sell it to.”
He revealed that the Stones have often let songs marinate for years before deeming them worthy of inclusion on their albums: “Some songs hang out for years before we feel happy with them and resurrect them and finish them off. Others, in two takes they’ve come and gone and you’ve got to relearn it off your own record to play it later. Lots of times you think you’ve written four different songs and you take them to the studio and you realize they’re just variation of one song.”

Keith Richards told us that he views the band’s recording career as an ongoing mission as opposed to their contemporaries who recorded specific projects every year: “Albums, what you get when you say, ‘Oh, that’s that album,’ a lot of albums they, like, roll over into the next one. Some of the stuff that you do, and say Sticky Fingers, towards the end, you’ve got more stuff than you can use; ‘Well, we’ll just save it.’

So you kind of roll over material that way, and the album becomes what gets on there. But to us, the process is like, continual. ‘Let’s use these 12 songs, and what do we call it? I know — Beggars Banquet. I know — Let It Bleed. I know — Exile On Main Street.’ So, you kinda take snippets of something that’s going on all the time.”

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