Bobby Keys, a saxophonist who played one of the all-time blowout solos on the Rolling Stones’ hit Brown Sugar, has died in the US.
The 70-year-old died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, following a career in which he also featured on recordings by Buddy Holly and John Lennon.
Michael Webb, who played keyboard with Keys, said he died today after a lengthy illness. He had been on tour with the Stones earlier this year before his health prevented him from performing.
“The Rolling Stones are devastated by the loss of their very dear friend and legendary saxophone player, Bobby Keys,” the band said. “Bobby made a unique musical contribution to the band since the 1960s. He will be greatly missed.”
Known for his heavy jowls and forceful style, the Lubbock, Texas native was born on the same day as Keith Richards – December 18 1943 – and the Stones’ guitarist would often cite Keys as a soulmate and favourite musician.
Besides Brown Sugar, he also played memorable solos on such Stones favourites as the seven-minute jam Can’t You Hear Me Knocking and the country-styled Sweet Virginia.
Other career highlights included John Lennon’s chart-topping Whatever Gets You Through The Night and albums by Richards, George Harrison, Barbra Streisand and Eric Clapton.
“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,” Richards said.
Keys’ career dated back to the 1950s, when as a teenager he played with fellow Lubbock native Holly And The Crickets.
He met the Stones in the mid-’60s while they were on the same bill in San Antonio, Texas, and was distraught that the British rockers had recorded a cover of Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away.
“I said, ’Hey, that was Buddy’s song’,” Keys recalled in Richards’ memoir Life, published in 2010.
“Who are these pasty-faced, funny-talking, skinny-legged guys to come over here and cash in on Buddy’s song?”
But once Keys listened more closely, he decided the Stones were playing “actual rock and roll”, an opinion the Stones more than shared about Keys.
He first recorded with the Stones in the late 1960s, and toured and recorded with them off and on over the following decades.
In some ways, he was too close to Richards, developing a heroin addiction that led to his temporary banishment from the group.