Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review: Every Night's a Saturday Night by Bobby Keys

My life has been unrehearsed as a hiccup. - Bobby Keys, in Every Night's A Saturday Night.

With the death of Bobby Keys on December 2nd of last year, I was moved to read his autobiography, Every Night's A Saturday Night. It's the first book I've read in a long time that kept me awake all night because I couldn't put it down.

In it, Keys tells the story of his amazing life and his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time  - an act he acknowledges happened often throughout his life.

From having an aunt who lived across the street from Buddy Holly while he was growing up in Lubbock, Texas in the late '50 to the contacts he made that created interludes with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Jimmy Page, B.B. King, and others in the '60s, Bobby Keys has experienced quite a journey. His collaborations with Delaney and Bonnie eventually led to the time he put in with the Rolling Stones during the '70s (and beyond) which is what he is most known for. Bobby Keys makes the statement that if you talk to one musician you will be told about two other musicians, and he made his living by connecting potential dots and creating an uncanny chain of events.

Not many musicians can say that they started out at rock and roll ground zero  - and were able to maintain a career that spotlighted them among the most iconic figures in music history. Keys himself compares his life to that of Forest Gump's, and reading the book, you begin to wonder if Keys himself is in disbelief as he recants his life story. Not that his stories are unbelievable - I have no doubt that they are true - but you get the sense that as he tells his story, he begins to wonder if he hasn't lived the life of a movie character.

Obviously his tenure with the Stones lasted the longest and it's what he is most known for. But to have had the experience of watching Buddy Holly play in his garage, and to have the chance to live and/or tour with the likes of King Curtis, Duane Eddy, Fats Domino, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, and Joe Cocker... well damn. What needs to be said? It's amazing that this book is only 266 pages long and not 2660 pages.

Photo from the book: Bobby during the recording
of Exile on Main Street, in France, 1971. 

His book is a tell-all rock and roll adventure that doesn't waste time with boring details of childhood. Keys gets right to the meat and potatoes. Shamelessly, he wastes no time telling his stories and he doesn't flinch when it comes to naming names, especially in association to the illegal drugs that were prevalent during the golden age of rock and roll.

For instance Keys mentions Dan Aykroyd only once in the book in reference to a gig he was playing with the New Barbarians: "We were introduced onstage by Dan Aykroyd," he wrote, "a guy who's always got good pot. He's a big, big pot head."

More so, he relented stories of the times he hung with Keith Richards which surprisingly weren't as scathing as one might imagine. While it's assumed that Keith Richards prefers the hard stuff, Keys doesn't bring it up very often in Saturday Night. The portrait he paints of Richards is that of a hard working, heavy drinking gentleman who enjoys smoking a lot of weed. Heroin and cocaine are brought up occasionally in the book, but mostly it's in reference to his own use, not that of the other Stones. He does however provide a rare glimpse at what life was like on the road with the world's greatest rock band, and while it got crazy at times - and there are great, hilarious stories - it was mostly run as a strict corporate enterprise.  

As I said, Keys goes into detail about his own drug use and especially heroin and the derailment it caused him. It eventually led him to quitting the Stones during the late '70s, and it was Keith who tried to persuade him to stay. Keith said point blankly, "Nobody quits the Stones!" In Saturday Night, Keys claims that he is the only person who quit the Stones and was was eventually let back onboard. But of course it came at a cost. While Keith welcomed him back with open arms, Mick never really seemed to forgive him for leaving.

Every Night's A Saturday Night is a great read for fans of the Rolling Stones, rock and roll historians, or anyone who likes a fun, candid, honest read. It also contains rare photographs that seem to have appeared exclusively for this book. Keys comes off as boastful at times, but humble and apologetic at others. Mostly he seems genuinely gracious for the life that he has been able to live and for the amazing people who helped carry him through it. 

My only regret is that I waited until his death to read it.