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Review: 'Keith Richards: Under the Influence'

Courtesy of Netflix

Keith Richards may be known for partying and surviving a hard life of drugs, but Morgan Neville's Netflix documentary, Keith Richards: Under the Influence, reveals a much more complex picture of the 71-year-old Rolling Stones cofounder and guitarist, author and solo artist.

This rambling, scrapbook of a film follows Richards on a musical trip through Nashville, Chicago and his own home, with a focus on the thoughts and actions around his first solo album in more than 20 years, Crosseyed Heart, released at pretty much the same time as the film. 

“I know who I am, but I realize people think Keith Richards is smoking a joint, bottle in his hand, cursing the fact that the liquor store is closed," the story's subject offers.

Keith Richards may be wiser, less angry and a bit more mellow at times, but he still loves to rock.

But fellow artist Tom Waits says that’s just his public persona. The real Keith Richards emerges as much more - a fan of music driven by songwriting, singing and the uplifting joy of playing great tunes with excellent musicians. If he was just in it for the substances, he probably wouldn’t have lasted.

The documentary could almost be a companion to Richard’s entertaining 2010 autobiography, Life. The film covers some of the same ground, but Richards breathes life into his story with witty observations and a surprisingly resilient singing voice.

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Known for 20 Feet From Stardom and Johnny Cash’s America, Neville sheds light on Richards' solo career. The genesis took place when Richards met drummer Steve Jordan at the 60th birthday celebration for Chuck Berry - an all-star concert which was the subject of the 1987 documentary, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. Richards subsequently hired Jordan to play on his first two solo albums, Talk is Cheap (1988) and Main Offender (1992). It took another 23 years for him to release his third.

Richards takes viewers to Nashville, where discusses the late Graham Parsons, the ex-Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother who helped the Stones write "Wild Horses" and other songs on Exile on Main Street;  plays pool with blues great Buddy Guy; and visits Chess Records and Muddy Waters' homestead in Chicago.

Neville mostly provides fresh documentary footage, but also delivers some never-before-seen home movies from the '60s, clips of Richards in Jamaica in the '70s and scenes of him working on Tom Waits' 1985 album, Rain Dogs

We get plenty of Richards, his crooked fingers dancing over the guitar and coaxing out new sounds, rhythms and riffs. He often punctuates the scripted observations with ragged laughs. You see how charming he is and how driven he remains, even after all the years and his success. Keith Richards may be wiser, less angry and a bit more mellow at times, but he still loves to rock.

 

Matt Chelsea

Matt Chelsea

Loves a nice morning buzz with his coffee as a bicycle commuter, counterculture scribe and dad.