Today the soul, the gut, the frisson of Rock 'n’ Roll died; Bobby Keys has passed at 70.
What does this mean? Of course, the Rolling Stones were captivating; Mick mesmerizing, Keith raw, and Charlie…if you want to know the truth about the lure of the Stones just listen to Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts live circa ’69 to ’73. Their interplay, without the lyrics and glamour of Mick ‘n’ Keef, without the open G chords and the pouts, that still-riveting belly-punch of electric-sexual-energies of bass and drums.
Recalling “Brown Sugar,” with Mick’s voice and that lyric-range of misogyny to addiction to rage, and back again, through ennui, melancholy and loss, those long-ago words don't punch as mean as that Bobby Keys’ sax solo, dropping a blistering hot-wax that peppers down “Brown Sugar” with the spice and swagger Mick barely registers.
That sexual saxophone is undeniable – you can go back to Yardbird Parker, then trace down through the Chicago R&B bands, to Muscle Shoals, New Orleans and back to Detroit. But it was Bobby Keys who would cut loose with those memorable staccato instrumental sax breaks that strip the Stones’ latent 3 minute pop lust to an essential blustering strut.
IMAGE: Bobby Keys on 1973 Stones tour; photo by Michael Putland.
“Hell, yeah, there was some pot around! There was some whiskey bottles around, there was scantily clad women. Hell, it was rock ‘n’ roll!”