Keith Richards on his inspiration: “Watching Bo Diddley was university for me”

When Keith Richards was growing up in Dartford, getting his hands on all of the American blues records he desired was a hard task. However, he still managed to successfully obtain many, with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Muddy Waters among his favourite musical figures from his youth.

Compared with his suburban life, these superstars seemed to come from an alien planet to him, and Richards held them in the highest regard. His love of the blues was the catalyst for his friendship reigniting with Mick Jagger after they drifted apart after attending different schools, and without these artists being in his life, he’d almost certainly have never helped create The Rolling Stones.

Soon after they formed, The Rolling Stones established a reputation for themselves on the London music scene. It quickly went from being a frivolous hobby to a full-time job, and in 1963, they were signed to a lucrative contract by Decca Records.

However, despite being touted as Britain’s next big band following the success of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones didn’t have the same level of experience in the live arena as their Liverpudlian peers. Therefore, they needed to start touring, and their first run of dates was a perfect musical education.

The line-up saw the Stones share the stage on a nightly basis with Bo Diddley, Little Richard and The Everly Brothers. For Richards, this was an experience he couldn’t buy and invaluable to his craftsmanship, with the guitarist likening watching Bo Diddley every night to attending university.

Richards recalled in 2008: “Watching Bo Diddley was university for me. Every set was twenty minutes long in those days. When he came off, if he had two strings left on the guitar, it was a fucking miracle. The Duchess was there, and Jerome Green, with the maracas in each hand. It was my job to be Jerome’s minder. I used to fetch him from the pub. You’re on, mate.”

Meanwhile, during a television interview in 1984, Richards reminisced on the formative tour, explaining: “We went straight from our regular little club gigs to The Victoria in London. The thing I’ll never forget about that, and I don’t think any of The Stones will, is when those curtains open up and you’re used to playing a place as big as this stool, and suddenly you feel like you’re in the middle of the Sahara dessert.”

“That’s when you realise this is showbiz, we were six weeks on that tour and by the time we came off, we’d learned so much. Especially working with guys like that. The Everly Brothers, Little Richard was outrageous, Bo Diddley was like a real helpful, friendly uncle. It was great, they’d all give you tips, and we used to watch them every night for six weeks. It’s probably the only show I’ve seen many times, except our own,” Richards fondly recalled.

During the run of dates, Bo Diddley and other artists on the tour could have kept themselves to themselves, but instead, they went out of their way to make The Rolling Stones feel comfortable. This act of generosity didn’t go unnoticed by Richards, whose love for Diddley only enhanced after meeting his hero.

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