If you want to talk Rock 'n' Roll, you have to talk Bobby Keys. Bobby Keys has either toured with or recorded with all of the greats of Rock 'n' Roll history. We're talking about The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Joe Cocker, Sheryl Crow... well, you get the idea. Bobby has written his autobiography titled Every Night's A Saturday Night. (Counterpoint Press) We spoke with Bobby about his Rock 'n' Roll days.
Q - Bobby, it wasn't that long ago that you played the New York State Fair in Syracuse.
A - Yeah, it was an outdoor thing, free, presented by the city I guess or something. I do recall it very well.
Q - I didn't realize you had your own touring band. That was your own band, wasn't it?
A - Yeah. We don't play that often 'cause the band is made up of guys that are in other bands. So, it's kind of hard to get together at one time when everybody's off the road at the same time.
Q - What kind of material are you playing? "Cover" songs?
A - Primarily material that I was involved in, in the recording of. We did several George Harrison songs. I did some John Lennon stuff. I did Joe Cocker stuff. You get the idea.
Q - I do.
A - All of the songs I've had some personal input into. These are not what I would call "cover" songs 'cause these are not exactly "cover" musicians I'm playing with.
Q - Bobby, your life is pretty much the story of Rock 'n' Roll, isn't it? You were there at the very beginning. You saw it from the ground up.
A - Well, I saw an aspect of it. To me, Rock 'n' Roll began like 1950, 1951, in there, late '40s Rhythmn & Blues stuff. But yeah, I was there, particularly at the beginning of Rock-a-billy. (Laughs) That's what was primarily happening in my neck of the woods, Texas, back in the '50s. Rock-a-billy and Country.
Q - You've certainly played with the biggest names in the business.
A - Oh, yeah. I've been very, very fortunate. It wasn't part of any grand design. I just got lucky.
Q - On page 47 of your book you say, "I just seemed to have this drive to make music." That is what you need to be successful, isn't it? You need this drive.
A - I would say so. I think that probably carries over to any aspect of someone's life if there's something they really want to do. You gotta want to do it. At least I think so. My motivation was I loved the music and I wanted to do it. The other sideline factor is I got to travel, meet all the people and make more music.
Q - You certainly had the drive and you did have luck going in your favor.
A - I had lots of luck.
Q - If you hadn't picked up the sax and had picked up the guitar instead, how would life have been different for you?
A - Well, for number one, I wouldn't be in the music business. I did pick up the guitar. I wanted to be a guitar player worse than anything in the world, man. All my heroes played guitars, but I didn't have a guitar. I couldn't talk anybody into buying me one. So, the few that I tried playing, a friend of mine's that had guitars; I have small hands. They were never comfortable around the neck of a guitar. They couldn't make the same chords everybody else did. So, I kind of gave up on that.
Q - When you were 18 years old, you played on Elvis' record "Return To Sender".
A - Yeah.
Q - Were you an Elvis fan? That must've been a big deal for you.
A - Oh, I was an enormous Elvis fan, man. (Laughs) At one time I had Elvis pictures all over the walls of my bedroom. I wanted to be Elvis more than anything else in the world, (Laughs) but I wasn't. It didn't work out that I was ever gonna be. So, I gave up on that. It was quite an experience.
Q - Did you like Elvis when you met him?
A - Oh, yeah. He was really cool. I didn't hang around long. "Thank-you for fillin' in." They had another guy scheduled for the session, but he couldn't make it 'cause his wife's father died or something happened in the family. So, I was a last minute addition. He was just fine. A real nice feller.
Q - That's what everybody says about Elvis.
A - A good ol' Southern boy.
Q - There you go! With those Southern manners, that always helps.
A - (Laughs)
Q - Did you meet Col. Tom Parker?
A - I never met the guy. I've heard a lot about him from people that did meet him and worked for him and Elvis for a certain period of time during his comeback in Vegas, back in the '70s. I had some friends that were in the band. But anyway, Elvis was great. His stuff is still rollin' on today.
Q - You write, "I didn't like the British Invasion music." Why not?
A - There was no saxophone in those bands, man. It was okay. Actually, I did like it. The first time I heard The Beatles' record "I Want To Hold Your Hand", I really dug it. I remember exactly where I was too when I heard it. I knew the minute I heard it, whatever it was, it was really gonna be big, and it was. I didn't feel it when I first heard The Rolling Stones. I though they were just a copy of Buddy Holly and they were covering like Chuck Berry. They hadn't really come into their own as such. They were still doing a lot of other people's material and not quite as good as the other people that had originally done it. But, there was something about the band, man, that when I saw them play in San Antonio, Texas, I changed my mind immediately. They were a hell of a Rock 'n' Roll band, even though they had the audacity to do a Buddy Holly song, they did it really well. And they didn't try to do it like Buddy exactly. They had harmonica in it for one thing. I was a fan from the first time I saw them play.
Q - To me, The Rolling Stones will always be Brian Jones. You met Brian Jones, didn't you?
A - Yeah, I met Brian. One of the strange twists of fate is the first track that Brian played on, and the first track that Mick Taylor played on, called "Live With Me".
Q - What do you remember about Brian Jones?
A - I remember he had a lot of blonde hair. It was like looking at a Pekinese. He was also a sax player, but not a very good one. But I didn't really hang out with him. I was just around him for two days. Then everybody went their own way. Then, I didn't see him again 'til years after that.
Q - Do you remember the year you met him?
A - '64.
Q - And the year you last saw him?
A - I really don't remember what the year was.
Q - What surprises me about your book is how many people have taken drugs or are into drugs today. How different would music be if drugs were not part of the equation?
A - I have absolutely no idea.
Q - How have you been promoting this book of yours? Have you been going around doing signings?
A - I did go around and do some signings. I did a little trek through the South and other places where I played concerts. I'd set up a stand.
Q - What kind of questions are people asking you about your life?
A - Well, not much, I just tell 'em to buy the book. (Laughs) You know, the people I really associate with and talk with are people that I've known for a long time. I'm gonna be 70 years old on my next birthday, which is just down the road in a couple of weeks and I've met all the people I care to meet. I've spent years and years of my life in the public. I love the public and I love what I've done. I'm glad that people loved the music, but I don't even know the name of my next door neighbor and that's just fine with me right now.