Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Every Night’s a Saturday Night – Bobby Keys with Bill Ditenhafer

I’ve been a fan of Keys ever since “Brown Sugar” came blasting out of the pap-ridden AM radio in 1971 with Bobby wailing out the solo – this song is probably what gave me a fascination with the saxophone, as well, though that’s something that I’ve never learned myself. This autobiography tells Bobby’s story of how he escaped Lubbock, Texas (though not before seeing Buddy Holly play and becoming friend with the Crickets!) and managed to play with “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world”.

As he admits, a lot of his story is simply happenstance, luck and being in the right place at the right time. He wanted to play guitar – he grew up just as r’n’r was hitting big - but couldn’t afford it and through school band, he was able to pick up the sax since that was the only instrument left. He worked hard, played as much as he could, did some session work and even got to play on Elvis’ “Return to Sender”, as well as Dion’s “The Wanderer” but apparently his track was wiped out and re-done by someone else because he was out of tune!

Every time I read one of these autobiographies from r'n'r cats who grew up playing in the 50's & 60's, I get more than a little jealous. Besides being an amazing time for great, great music, there was also a real gigging/touring scene where you could learn your chops by playing multiple times a day, every day. I never got that experience, although I always played as much as I could. By the time I hit adolescence, it was the 70's and the time of highly technical heavy metal - or terrible top 40 - and not really a breeding ground for youngsters learning. And, of course, I was in a small town, so there were even fewer opportunities. Anyway, back to Keys - he did as much as he could and got some good breaks - playing in the backup band on Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars and the like, meeting lots of people and ending up in Los Angeles in the 60's - a perfect place to be for music.

After gigging around LA in a blues band, Keys ended up with Delaney & Bonnie along with Jim Price, a trumpet player who would become his foil for years to come. D&B were friends with the likes of Eric Clapton & George Harrison, both of whom came on tour with the band at various points. After things came to an end with D&B, he immediately moved on to Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen and from there started working on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album!

While taking a break from recording with George, Keys went to a pub and bumped into Mick Jagger, which caused him to end up on Sticky Fingers and recording one of the most iconic r'n'r sax solos of all time on "Brown Sugar" (apparently, taking the solo from Mick Taylor, who had already recorded one!). This started a life-long association with the band and Keith Richards, although Keith’s bad habits rubbed off on Bobby and he had to leave for a while.

He became part of the "Hollywood Vampires", the conglomeration of like-minded musicians who contributed to John Lennon's "lost weekend" (about a year, actually) and was partying hard until Lennon moved back to NYC, asked Keys to come out, and played on his Walls and Bridges album and on his biggest solo hit "Whatever Gets You Through The Night".

More trials and tribulations ensued after this and, after hitting some lows, he worked his way back up to touring with the Stones again – his dream gig – understandably, to say the least!

 He has lots of tales of rock stars, touring, groupies, drugs as well as just fun times, and all told in an engaging and conversational tone. This is a great read and will make ya want to pull out some of your old albums and listen to the horns!