Rolling Stones’ sax player Bobby Keys died Tuesday at his home in Franklin, Tenn. He was 70.
Keys, who toured and recorded with the Stones for more than 45 years and played on classic songs such as “Brown Sugar” and “Live With Me,” ha reportedly been battling cirrhosis, according to Rolling Stone. He played with the band on their latest tour, but missed the most recent Australian leg.
“If you believe in the magic of rock & roll, which I devoutly do, it isn’t in the individual,” Keys told Rolling Stone in 2012. “I’ve played in bands with A-team players around, but unless they can play together, it doesn’t do any good.”
The band said in a statement they are devastated by the loss of a “very dear friend,” adding, “Bobby made a unique musical contribution to the band since the 1960s. He will be greatly missed.”
Stones guitarist Keith Richards added in a statement: “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. “My condolences to all that knew him and his love of music.”
Keys was born in Slaton, Texas, where he discovered bandleader King Curtis. Keys befriended Buddy Holly as a teenager in Lubbock, and even played with him briefly. By the early ’60s, he was backing pop star Bobby Vee on Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars tour. He first crossed path with the Stones in 1964 at the San Antonio Teen Fair. He ended up backing the band later that decade, playing on some of their greatest records, including “Let It Bleed,” “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street.”
Born on the same day as Richards, the two became close friends, both on and off stage. But Keys proved to be even too much for Richards when it came to partying. On tour in Europe in 1973, Keys missed a band commitment. Richards later found him at the hotel, in a bathtub full of Dom Perignon. “He’s got a cigar, bathtub full of champagne and this French chick with him,” Richards wrote in his biography “Life.” “And he said, ‘(expletive) off.’”
The band essentially fired Keys after that, and he spent ensuing years playing with people such as John Lennon. Keys occasionally played with the Stones, but didn’t rejoin the band on a regular basis until they were rehearsing for their “Steel Wheels” tour in 1989.
“He’d been out for 10 years or so, apart from some one-night gigs,” Richards said, according to Rolling Stone. “It took me that long to get him back in. And when I did, I didn’t tell anyone first. We’re going to play ‘Brown Sugar.’ I just told Bobby, when we play ‘Brown Sugar,’ come in on the solo. So it was solo time, and Mick just looked around at me and said, ‘What the (expletive)?’ And I just said, ‘See what I mean?’ When it was over, Mick looked at me like, ‘Well, you can’t argue with that.’”
Tony Hicks writes celebrity commentary for the Bay Area News Group. Contact him at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks or Twitter.com/tonyhicks67