December 3, 2014 – Bobby Keys was the epitome of the rock & roll sax-playing man. Robert Henry Keys was born at Lubbock army airfield in Hurlwood, Texas on December 18th 1943. In 1946 his parents moved to New Mexico for a job, while young Bobby stayed with his grandfather in Texas. He took up the saxophone in High School after being injured while playing baseball and it was the only instrument left unclaimed in the school band. His amazing talent did the rest.
Soon after he met Jerry Allison, a local drummer who was working with Buddy Holly in near by Lubbock. Bobby convinced his grandfather to sign his guardianship to the drummer and he joined Jerry’s band, the Crickets and he was then playing behind Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox and other local rockers. By the age of 15, he was touring with pop singer Bobby Vee on Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, alongside such artists as Little Eva and Major Lance. It was while he was playing with Vee when he first met the Rolling Stones at the San Antonio state fair in Texas.
In the late 60s Bobby joined Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour and appears in the subsequent concert film and toured with Delaney & Bonnie in a band that also included Eric Clapton and George Harrison.
He and Keith Richards, who shares the same birthday, hit it off immediately, even though their musical collaboration did not solidify until the Stones’ Let It Bleed album when he was summoned to play a solo on Live With Me. He and trumpeter Jim Price also featured on the hit single Honky Tonk Women. In December 1969 he recorded and provided the driving sax in his famous solo on Brown Sugar, and the extended solo on Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, both on the Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers.
He played on Clapton’s first solo album and Harrison’s solo debut, All Things Must Pass and worked steadily with the Stones until his lifestyle got the better of him during their 1973 European tour. Keith Richards remembers: “I remember on our ’73 European tour saying, “Come on Bobby, we’re getting on the plane.” He said, “Damn it Keith, I’m staying here.” He’s got the French whore, a tub full of champagne. “Well Bobs, it might be difficult getting you back in.” And it took me 10 years to get the guy back in the band.
It was a blow for Jagger since Bobby was even best man on his jet set wedding to Nicaraguan socialite Bianca Perez.
He returned to the Stones for 1982’s European shows and was fully restored with the Stones for the Steel Wheels campaign in 1989, an association which this time lasted until his death. As well as his work with the Stones, in 1972 Bobby recorded the instrumental solo album, Bobby Keys, which featured George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton.
He became part of Lennon’s entourage along with Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon during Lennon’s “lost weekend” separation from Yoko and played on Lennon’s albums ‘Some Time in New York City’, ‘Walls and Bridges’, which generated the US chart-topper “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and the album ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Additionally, he took part in the last known recording session between Paul McCartney and John Lennon, ‘A Toot and a Snore’ in ’74.
In the 60s and 70s he also recorded with the likes of Elvis Presley, Dion, Delaney & Bonnie, Joe Cocker, Humble Pie, the Faces, Carly Simon, Nilsson, Marvin Gaye, Lynyrd Skynyrd and B.B. King to mention a few. In 1979 Bobby was part of Ronnie Wood’s band The New Barbarians, which toured the US and he supported Led Zeppelin at the Knebworth festival. Bobby also appeared with Richards’s band X-Pensive Winos on their intermittent appearances in the 80s and 90s. In the late 1980s, Bobby became the musical director for Ronnie Wood’s Miami club, Woody’s On the Beach. The first week the club opened, he booked Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Crickets. More recently he had played regularly with Sheryl Crow and had been fronting his own band, the Suffering Bastards, comprising former members of bands such as the Black Crowes and the Georgia Satellites.
In 2012 he published his autobiography, Every Night’s a Saturday Night. On June 29th 2013 he played with the Rolling Stones at their Glastonbury Festival debut, but 2014 marked Bobby’s last performance with the Stones at the Roskilde festival in Denmark in July, as part of the 14 On Fire tour. Sadly Bobby had to drop out of the tour’s Australia and New Zealand dates for health reasons.
A touring, hard living musician from the mid-late 50s until his death, Bobby Keys, the saxophonist on 100s of albums for many rock’n’roll greats including the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Lennon has sadly died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, from cirrhosis of the liver on Dec. 3, 2014; He was 70 years old. Bobby is survived by his wife Holly, son Jesse and daughter Amber.