Keith Richards reflects on his first memories of guitar and his playing now: "It's a work in progress – every time you pick the thing up there's a potential of finding something totally new"

Keith Richards
(Image credit: The Howard Stern Show / YouTube)

Keith Richards recently sat down for his debut appearance on The Howard Stern Show and he was in fine form, looking back with the host on his first memories of the guitar, and how it still holds so much fascination for him. Like Stern's interview with Paul Simon, it reiterates that guitar playing is a lifelong journey.

We have Keef's Grandad Gus to thank for the Rolling Stones in many ways. In the clip below it's clear to see the affection that the legend remembers the man who got him playing as a 12-year-old boy.

I thought, 'I really like this'

"My grandfather introduced me – because he had one, which helped," laughed Keef. "It was just something that fascinated me… Grandpa lent it to me and said, 'Put your fingers here, try this out', and it went from there. I thought, 'I really like this' but I had absolutely no preconceived notions about playing music or anything. Grandad, Gus was his name, he turned me on to it – but without pushing.

"He used to keep it on a shelf in his living room, and one say I was visiting – I used to visit every now and again – and he said, 'You keep looking at that thing, you want [a go]?'"

Gus was a violinist but had other instruments around the house. His advice on how the young guitar hero in the making should start on his musical path proved vital.

"He pulled it off the shelf and put it in my hands and said, 'If you can learn this little Spanish thing – this flamenco thing called Malagueña – it's quite simple to start with then you can elaborate, but if you can learn that you'll be able to play guitar.' So I went to work."

A few months later Keef knew he was hooked. "But the thing is, there was no way I was going to be a musician musician," he reflected. "Going to the college to the college of music. But it just started to come to me. Then I realised what I really wanted to do was play with another cat."

Via Mick Jagger and the guitarists he knew, the future Rolling Stone would find what he was looking for.  "It wasn't seriously until Mick and I [hooked up] that I really though about this thing being [a future]. It was just a hobby."

This is why music is so beautiful

There was no plan B for him. And he still plays guitar "just about every day".

"It's a work in progress, Howard," he told Stern. Every time you pick the thing up there's the potential of finding something totally new. It's the one note against the other, and the rhythm at the same time. This is why music is so beautiful and why it's kind of weird to talk about music. Because if you could put music into words there would be no need for it." 

Find out more at The Howard Stern Show

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.