×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rolling Stones Saxophonist Bobby Keys Dies at 70

Bobby Keys, whose swampy saxophone was as key a component of the peak-period Rolling Stones as Clarence Clemons’ sax was for the E Street Band, has died at age 70, in Middle Tennessee. Multiple news reports cited cirrhosis as the cause of death.

The Slaton, Texas, native, who made his Stones recording debut with “Live With Me” on the epochal 1969 album “Let It Bleed,” with his tasty reeds providing that track’s primary solo, also played with Eric Clapton, John Lennon, George Harrison, Joe Cocker, B.B. King and Lynard Skynyrd, among many others during a career that lasted more than five decades.

But it was his work with the Stones, particularly on the albums “Sticky Fingers” — on which his down-and-dirty solos for “Brown Sugar” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” provided a muscular counterpoint to the twin guitars of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor — and the double LP “Exile on Main Street,” with Keys’ fingerprints prevalent throughout, that established the Texas native as a key session musician during the ’70s and beyond.

He would act as an unofficial member of the group, one of the players Richards referred to as “supersidemen” — not unlike the keyboardists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart — during the Stones’ halcyon days of 1969-74, and again beginning in 1980, continuing to record and travel with the band right up until their appearance at Glastonbury in 2013, and this past year during the Stones’ 14 On Fire tour, until health issues sidelined him.

“The Rolling Stones are devastated by the loss of their very dear friend and legendary saxophone player, Bobby Keys…” the band said on Twitter. “Bobby made a unique musical contribution to the band since the 1960’s. He will be greatly missed.”

Keith Richards also paid tribute to Keys on the Rolling Stones’ Facebook page. “I have lost the largest pal in the world and I can’t express the sense of sadness I feel although Bobby would tell me to cheer up,” the post reads. “My condolences to all that knew him and his love of music.”

While Keys was introduced to the Stones by producer Jimmy Miller, it was Richards, with whom he shared the exact same birthday (Dec. 18, 1943), who became a kind of soulmate. Richards recalled in his autobiography “Life” that the group hooked up with Keys in 1969 at Elektra studios when Keys was recording with Delaney & Bonnie. “Jimmy Miller was working there on ‘Let It Bleed’ and called Bobby in to play a solo on ‘Live With Me.’ The track was just raw, straight-ahead, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, tailor made for Bobby. A long collaboration was born.”

With trumpeter Jim Price, Keys would form a prominent horn section with the group.

A notorious party animal, Keys would act as an enabler to Richards, with whom he kept pace, and was part of Lennon’s extended “lost weekend” in the mid-’70s. He would end up on the Lennon albums “Walls and Bridges,” “Some Time in New York City” and “Rock ’n Roll.”

He told Rolling Stone magazine in 2012: “I’ve been smoking pot for over 50 years, and I never let a day go by unless I’m in jail. I am a devout pothead. I have been, will be, don’t see a damn thing wrong with it except the cost. Legalize it.”

A prodigy as a teenager, Keys started touring with Bobby Vee at age 15, and played briefly with Buddy Holly, but never learned to read music. “I listen subliminally,” he told Rolling Stone. “I play more rhythmically than I do a lot of notes. I pull a lot of the stuff that I play off the rhythm tracks – and Keith Richards has been one of the main contributors to my inspirational playing.”

Other key recordings on which the saxophonist took part were Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” Ringo Starr’s “Ringo” and “Goodnight Vienna,” Clapton’s “Eric Clapton,” Carly Simon’s “No Secrets” and “Hotcakes,” and Harry Nilsson’s “Nilsson Schmilsson.”

More Music

  • Ludwig Goransson Black Panther Composer

    Complete Guide to This Year's Oscar-Nominated Scores

    Unlike the song category, it’s impossible to predict the winner from this year’s quintet of original-score nominees. It’s almost anyone’s game. Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson spent a month in Africa recording unusual drums, flutes and vocals, then adding them to a massive London orchestra and choir to create a unique soundscape for the fictional land [...]

  • Oscars Best Song Nominees

    Complete Guide to This Year's Oscar-Nominated Songs

    This year’s crop of Oscar-nominated songs may be the most diverse in years: a ballad and a pop-rap from two of the year’s biggest films, plus a delicate lullaby from a Disney musical, a political themed anthem, and a novelty tune for singing cowboys. “Shallow,” the top-10 hit from “A Star Is Born,” is widely [...]

  • Bebe Rexha

    Bebe Rexha Drops New Single, 'Last Hurrah' (Listen)

    Bebe Rexha is back with her first single of 2019 — “Last Hurrah.” The Andrew Wells-produced track is Rexha’s first solo single since 2018’s “I’m a Mess,” which appeared on her debut album “Expectations” alongside the Grammy nominated “Meant to Be.” Inspired by some chocolate cake and a story about her friend, Rexha says the single [...]

  • Jussie SmollettFOX 'Empire' TV show panel,

    Jussie Smollett Case: Chicago Police Arrest Two Suspects

    Chicago police confirmed on Friday that they have arrested two suspects in the case of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett. The police did not state what charges the men are being held on. Local media have identified the men as two brothers from Nigeria, though law enforcement has not confirmed their identities. Smollett’s representatives have declined [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content