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The “most original artist” Keith Richards had ever heard

Keith Richards 2024 Im Waiting For The Man Far Out Magazine

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The “most original artist” Keith Richards had ever heard


One of the hardest things to come by in the music industry is originality. Everyone has to get their inspiration from somewhere, but there’s a difference between taking your inspirations and turning them into something and wearing them like a costume every time you create a song. While Keith Richards took rock and roll in new directions with The Rolling Stones, he thought there was no greater original artist than Tom Waits.

Then again, are we going to pretend that The Stones were meant to be the most original band in the world? Before they had started writing their own material, half of their setlist was dominated by the blues covers that had loved coming from the US before artists like The Beatles convinced Mick Jagger and Richards to create their own masterpieces.

When looking at Waits’s music, it’s almost as if every single song seemed to be coming from a different musical universe. Compared to most singers who are used to singing a song to the best of their ability, Waits is an actor who happens to sing for a living, usually using every song as a way to take on a different character.

Although some of his early stuff was so radio-friendly that the Eagles could play a decent version of his songs, Waits was ready to move in different directions on albums like Rain Dogs.For everyone with a clear idea of what 1980s music sounds like in their head, Waits created a classic album that sounds like it’s coming out of a dirty junkyard, complete with percussion that sounds like heaving piles of trash.

Amid the strange tunes like ‘Hang Down Your Head’, Waits put in a few more rock moments on tracks like ‘Big Black Mariah’, which featured the talents of one Keith Richards. Even though The Stones were going through some of their more regrettable eras of fashionat the time, Richards fit like a glove on the album, playing up the kind of scurvy pirate persona opposite Waits’s bulldog gravel.

When talking about him later, Richards considered Waits’s material to be in a complete world of its own, saying on Instagram, “Don’t tell him because he might get a big head, but I’ve discovered he’s one of the most original, most talented, the most daring and honest artists of the last century, like me”.

Richards may have pushed The Stones into different directions throughout their history, but there’s no way that even he could have touched what Waits has done. While it’s easy to look at some Stones classics and see where Richards may have been channelling anyone from Robert Johnson and Chuck Berry, it’s impossible to gauge where Waits has gotten any of his ideas from.

Going through albums like Bone Machineand Swordfishtrombones,there are songs that sound like they have been ripped out of a swamp rather than thought about in a studio or at a piano. There might be some similarities in how Waits approaches his songs compared to rock stars, but what he’s trying to make feels like it goes beyond traditional rock altogether.

Waits has always been more concerned with the traditional era of songwriting, where music was just as much an immersive experience as a feature film would be today. That might not be what gets to the top of the charts, but he doesn’t seem to care. He’s an artist, and no amount of dollar signs will get in the way of Waits following his muse.

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