A Day In The Life

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, April 26, 2012

My daughter, Kate, has lent me Keith Richards' autobiography, Life, on compact disc, narrated by Johnny Depp, and the daily drive to and from work has become quite interesting.

Who would have thought this founding member of The Rolling Stones, those original bad boys of rock and roll, had been a totally dedicated Boy Scout as a teen and, quite literally, a choir boy?

Richards, one of the best guitarists ever, still cherishes his time as leader of the Beaver Patrol, growing up in England. He was so good at the knots he'd learned as a Boy Scout that he could tie broken guitar strings together, when he was poor and first starting out, to save money.

Email newsletter signup

I was also amazed to learn that a young Keith Richards had sung in a trio of boy sopranos to Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey.

Jumpin' Jack Flash, indeed.

I'm at the point in Life where Keith has just met Mick Jagger and they are beginning to practice together, the Stones a blossoming twinkle in their eyes as they shared a deep passion for music.

This portion of Life has taken me back to my days at Hampden-Sydney College where, as a freshman, I found myself rooming on the ground floor-below ground, actually-of ancient Venable Dorm with some guys who loved rock and roll as much as I did.

Neil played drums. Laird was the guitarist (later in False Dmitri and now in a Charlotte area band). Clinton was on bass. And I sang, played some guitar, and harmonica. Later, we added Orran, a second guitarist who could solo dazzle with his wah-wah pedal.

We jammed constantly-lots of Stones songs-and then somehow got permission from the College to practice on weekends in Johns Auditorium, the stage providing far more room than trying to squeeze a full drum set, two amps and five guys cramped into a freshman dorm room.

There was no PA system. My microphone was plugged into Laird's guitar amp.

It was all very primitive but very fun. We simply shared a love of music.

I can remember borrowing instruments, a couple of tape recorders and turning my dorm room into a kind of recording studio, recording some original songs from time to time, alone. Not with any pretensions, just wanting to experience the process and hear the ideas come together.

It worked like this: first I'd record myself performing the song on guitar, singing at the same time. Recording that as the basic canvas. So that would create a tape in one tape recorder of me singing and playing the basics of the song on rhythm guitar, electric or acoustic.

Next, I would play that tape next to the recording microphone on the second tape recorder, recording the first tape onto the tape in the second tape recorder, while simultaneously adding a guitar solo live.

So that produced one tape of me singing, playing rhythm guitar, and lead guitar. Then I would repeat the process, this time adding percussion and harmonies live, so in the end I had a recording that sounded like four guys playing together. The experience was deeply enjoyable and took me deeper inside music, putting pieces together, composing and creating a finished product. Feeling what it was like.

Again, there were no pretensions. Just a love of music. I did, on one occasion, force myself to perform a set of my original songs at a coffee house in Richmond down in The Fan the summer between my junior and senior years at college.

Nervous? I could hardly breathe. But I got through it and achieved the goal of performing original songs in front of an audience, just to see what it was like, to go beyond tuning in the radio or putting on a record, to drink deeper from the musical well.

A sip of solo live performance was enough for me.

Keith Richards followed his muse to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. That was his destiny. But his younger pre-fame days spent falling in love with music weren't so different than my own, or yours.

We all have a lot more in common than we know.

Sometimes, in learning about someone else's life, we learn something new about our own.