Saturday, May 18, 2013

Every Night's A Saturday Night: The Rock 'N' Roll Life Of Legendary Sax Man Bobby Keys

Some real, lifelong-lasting friendships came out of that period,
too, though, primarily Jim Keltner and me. He came in and replaced
Jimmy Karstein. I didn’t like him for doing that for a while because,
hell, I’d known Karstein a lot longer than I’d known Keltner. In fact,
I didn’t really know Keltner at all. Leon Russell wanted to bring
Keltner into the scene for recording because Keltner had done a lot
of work in the studio, and Karstein hadn’t done that much. That
may have been the thought process behind that. ’Course, Keltner
was from Tulsa, too. They were all Okies out there—I swear to
God, I couldn’t throw a stick without hittin’ an Okie, or a couple
of ’em. There was sort of a modern-day exodus from Tulsa out to
the promised land: California.

JIM KELTNER: My first remembrance of Bobby is playing
with Delaney & Bonnie at Snoopy’s in L.A. I had just been
called by them. I think they just wanted to see how it felt to
play with me. I took Jimmy Karstein’s place with Delaney
& Bonnie. He was the drummer right before that and they
let him go and took me. The irony there was, with Gary
Lewis and the Playboys in 1965, approximately four years
prior to that, Jimmy Karstein had taken my place. They let
me go and they took Jimmy. Anyway, I remember playing
that night and I remember feeling real good about it. It was
real fun. It was a great band and the music was fantastic.
And I also remember that Bobby, at some point, had lit a
cigarette—I think he was onstage when this happened—
he lit a cigarette and somehow put the match back in his
pocket while it was still burning. Something like that. And
so there was a big commotion, and he’d burned a hole in
his shirt.
That was the first night that I met Bobby. The thing
that’s funny about that story to me is you would’ve thought
that this would’ve introduced a klutz into your life, but it
was far removed from that. Very quickly, I found him to be
a very erudite guy. Cunning, you’d almost say. He always
had a plan. He always knew what he was gonna do, and
you pretty much would have to get involved with it if you
were his friend. I can say, with a smile on my face, that I
got in some trouble being with Bobby at different times, but
for the most part he was always just great.
As a player, I realized right away he was different. You
see, I was coming from the jazz world, so I’d been playing
with tenor sax players who were John Coltrane disciples,
and it was a far cry from that, playing with Bobby. Bobby
played with so much soul, so much conviction, and no
apologies—he was a rock ’n’ roll sax player, and that’s
it. And you had to love that. And so, musically, I went
from the ridiculous to the sublime with Bobby in my life.
I’ve always treasured Bobby for what he is, which is a real
original. And then when he got teamed up with Jim Price,
they were a formidable team there for a while. They were
like San Fernando Valley’s answer to the Memphis Horns.

One thing I do remember is Jim saying to me, “Bobby, I love
you, you’re my friend, you’re my brother, but I can’t afford to have
you as a friend anymore if you’re gonna do this shit.” Jim had
already had a really good friend who’d overdosed and died, and he
just said, “Look, I don’t want to have to go through that again.” He
told me he could never be my friend as long as I was involved with
heroin. And that really impressed me. Here’s one of my best buds
in life—outside of Keith, he’s who I’d consider my best friend—
telling me this.
After that, I never really wanted to take any more heroin. I
didn’t want to be around people who did, either. Jim really put it
in stark, black-and-white reality for me by saying he couldn’t be
my friend if I kept doing it. So the two people who got me off her-
oin were Keith Richards, initially, and then Jim for the final push.

JIM KELTNER: I could explain what Bobby does with the
saxophone technically, but I think a better way to describe
it is this, which I always found interesting and a very
lovely story. Now, I can’t speak for the Stones, exactly, or
what they might’ve been seeking to do at any particular
point in time, but I know that probably the temptation
was, since they were such a huge, such an iconic band,
and had already gained the nickname “World’s Greatest
Rock Band,” I think at some point the temptation to get an
amazing tenor sax player was too strong.
And so they tried a bunch of different people. They had
Sonny Rollins. They had Ernie Watts. They had different
jazz guys who were really accomplished players. And I
believe that what happened each time those guys would
play with the Stones is that eventually they would realize
that the Stones sounded like the Stones were supposed to
sound when Bobby Keys played with them, and not when
these great virtuoso players played with them. It was kind
of a mismatch, in a way. Bobby plays with the spirit of rock
’n’ roll to the bone. That’s what he knows, that’s what he
came up with in Lubbock, Texas. And so when he plays,
that’s what you hear—you hear Lubbock, Texas, you hear
all those experiences he’d gone through playing with
people like Buddy Knox, all of that.

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