Bobby Keys just doesn’t like rock and roll; he lives and breathes it each day and night. If Keys could, he would bathe in it. He knows it’s just rock ‘n’ roll, but he loves it.
Keys is quite a storyteller. While some musicians, actors and other celebrities ‘freeze’ as they try to recall certain events, people and places in their own autobiographies, Keys has retained many memories that are never boring.
Keys takes readers on a wild, tumbleweed ride, from his early days in Slaton, Texas, where he teamed up with Buddy Holly and The Crickets, to session musician gigs with a variety of bands, to performing and living with “The Rolling Stones.”
But, most of all, this book is fun. His writing style is swift, catchy, sometimes quite humble, and very descriptive. Keys definitely is not shy.
It almost feels as if he is sitting comfortably in the same room as the reader, composed one minute, then up on his feet, laughing and stomping around in his favorite cowboy boots, remembering something funny that happened in the 1960s, 1970s and beyond.
In his book, Keys states that rock and roll found him in the tiny community of Slaton. He heard music, the only kind of music he loves, filtering through his bedroom window back in the 1950s. That music was made by Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
Keys jumped a fence and followed the sound of that music. He was delighted to discover that Holly’s parents were neighbors to Keys’ aunt. How fortunate could a guy like Keys be, listening to the group play in Holly’s garage, developing trust and friendship. And, just so he could stick around and be a part of the scene, Keys purchased burgers for the group.
After much convincing on Keys’ part, his grandfather agreed to sign his grandson’s guardianship over to Cricket’s drummer J.I. Allison so he could tour as a teen.
Throughout the book, Keys’ writes of his family. He cherished his mother, but had clashes with other family members. Family is family, though, and Keys recognizes just how vital and valuable are his family and friends.
Though he struggled to get out of Slaton, he later accepted the fact that if he had not been in that town, he would never have met the blues artists and been so influenced by the masters of rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.
Keys originally wanted his mother to buy him a guitar. Instead, she bought her son his first horn. Then, in high school, he joined the band. The only instrument left for him to choose from was a saxophone.
It’s a wonderful thing that the sax was available. He practiced and practiced, and, as he states, “got good at it.”
From the 1950s to the present, Keys has been an active sax player and session musician. On Dec. 18, he will celebrate his 69th birthday.
However, life for Keys has not always been smooth. He suffered an addiction to heroin, overdosed, but survived. It had been the most critical part of his life. It took him a long time, but he came clean.
Keys writes that he couldn’t have had a better life in his 20’s. At such a young age, he got to meet and work with so many people. In his autobiography, he writes of all of these people and, sometimes, it is a bit strenuous mentally to keep them all straight. There’s loads of Bob’s, Buddy’s, J.J.’s, and so on and so forth, but every person in Keys’ life is not left out.
There are fun times with The Stones and not so fun times, too. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there existed a lot of drug use and abuse. This comes as no surprise, really, but what is surprising is that through all the drugs, the pharmaceutical kits, the booze and ‘crazy’ behavior (and don’t forget all the ‘chicks’), Keys and his pal still dedicate themselves to survival.
Richards, while a close bud, has some anger issues, and Keys explains that it is never a good thing to end up on the wrong side of Stones’ guitarist. In one incident, Keys and others played golf on a golf course that tied in exclusively with the Voodoo Lounge tour-theme.
Keys smacked the ball, which happened to head in the direction of a unit Richards was staying at, then landed in Richards’ eggs Benedict that he was so enjoying to devour for breakfast. Richards took a gun and shot the ball, cursed at Keys, who, unfortunately, witnessed the whole scenario as traces of smoke still rose from the barrel. Keys got the message loud and clear.
Keys’ stories of working with The Stones’ during recording sessions and tours are both humorous and frightening. It’s interesting to note how Keys describes the closeness and tolerance of the band when performing onstage, but post-recording/concert time is completely unique.
He is charmed by Charlie Watts, drummer, stylish dresser, horse collector and Civil War buff who has his espresso and towel close at hand; Sir Mick with his fancy restaurants; Richards who is a working man’s man; and Ronnie Wood a talented artist, painter and all-around “sweet” guy.
Keys has been a touring musician since 1956. At 15, he toured with Bobby Vee and fellow Texan Holly. Keys has performed on every Stones’ album and all Stones’ tours since 1970.
His solos are instantly recognized, particularly on the 1971 hit, “Brown Sugar.” Horns became a popular, predominant feature in music in the 1970s. Another great work of Keys can be heard on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” But, unfortunately, this song is never played during a concert due to a past mess-up in performing it years ago.
It’s a great song, a strong, instrumental song, and whenever someone cheerfully asks, “Hey, why don’t we play ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,’ man?,’” Keys writes: “Mick would just immediately gag, ‘No!, No, we’re not gonna do THAT again!’”
Keys, who now resides in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife Holly, his son Jesse, and dog J.J., does not read music, but has quick intuition and a good ear. He formed relationships with Keith Moon and Pete Townshend and includes a few humorous incidents, one that involved Moon in his hovercraft chasing after his chauffeur. Keys really liked Moon and expresses sorrow over his death.
So many musicians have ‘fallen’ over the years, it is amazing Keys and others have managed to stay in the music business and maintain their sanity.
“Every Night’s a Saturday Night” is actually a line taken from a traditional Texas saying. One thing’s certain, Keys does not have to try to sound good, he simply is. He continues to be an in-demand session and touring saxophone player.
Carol Wright is a freelance writer who resides in Winfield.