He was one of Rock’s most famous sax players and a longtime member of The Rolling Stones studio and live band
Remembering the Rolling Stones Sax player Bobby Keys
Bobby Keys was born Robert Henry Keys on December 18th, 1943 in Slaton, Texas. Keys started touring at age fifteen with Bobby Vee and fellow Texan Buddy Holly. He met the Rolling Stones at the San Antonio Teen Fair while sharing a bill with the group as a member of Bobby Vee’s band in 1964. Keys has an impressive resume as a musician that included playing on albums by the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Harry Nilsson, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, George Harrison, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker among many others. His distinctive sound can be heard best on the saxophone solo on the 1971 Rolling Stones hit “Brown Sugar”. On a famous episode of Rock history, Keys and Keith Richards threw a television set from the 10th floor of the Continental Hyatt House in West Hollywood, California during the group’s 1972 American tour, as seen in the Stones’ unreleased 1972 concert movie “Cocksucker Blues”. Keys made his debut with The Rolling Stones on the “Let It Bleed” track “Live with Me” in 1969. In addition to “Brown Sugar,” he was prominently featured on such early 1970’s Stones songs as “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Happy”. A close friend of Keith Richards, he also became close with Mick Jagger in the early 1970’s, with Keys serving as best man at Jagger’s wedding.Keys toured with the Stones from 1970 to 1972 and continued as a touring member for the first half of the 1973 European tour before leaving in Frankfurt, Germany. Reportedly Keys was abruptly dismissed by an incensed Jagger after filling a bathtub with Dom Perignon champagne (resulting in a debt to the band that encompassed his entire salary for the tour) and drinking most of it. Although Keys did not dispute the veracity of the incident, he subsequently maintained in his memoir that he left the tour of his own volition to curtail his heroin addiction for the sake of his family. As a result of his strained relationship with Jagger, Keys only guested on some shows of the 1975 and 1978 American tours, missing the 1976 European tour completely. He performed only four tracks on the 1981 tour, on which Ernie Watts was the saxophonist. Keys was reinstated as the band’s main touring saxophonist on the 1982 European Tour, together with Gene Barge. Keys played with the Stones on all subsequent tours until 2014. Prior to touring with the Stones, Keys played with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, Eric Clapton and George Harrison in 1969. After work on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and more “Sticky Fingers” tracks, he joined the Rolling Stones for their fall 1970 European tour.From 1973 to 1975, Keys participated in Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” in Los Angeles along with Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon; while in Los Angeles, he played on Lennon’s albums Walls and Bridges (including a notable solo on the #1 American hit “Whatever Gets You thru the Night”) and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Although it is believed that he took part in the last known recording session between Paul McCartney and Lennon (widely bootlegged as A Toot and a Snore in ’74), he could not recall contributing to the session. He also played the solo on Leo Sayer’s 1977 international soft rock hit “When I Need You” In 2013 he played with the Rolling Stones at their Glastonbury Festival debut, headlining on Saturday, June 29. Keys played on their 14 On Fire tour with Roskilde Festival in Denmark being his last ever gig for the Stones. Bobby Keys died from liver cancer in hospice care at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, on December 2, 2014, sixteen days before his 71st birthday.
Watch Bobby Keys performing his famous “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” sax solo live in 2013
Watch a clip featuring five of the greatest Rolling Stones sax solos by Bobby Keys
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