Stupid Question ™
March 15, 2004
By John Ruch
Q: Is it Keith Richard or Keith Richards?
—T. Bowen, from the Internet
A: It’s pretty weird how little attention this gets—the name of one of rock ’n’ roll’s seminal figures, the great Rolling Stones guitarist, suddenly changing mid-stream.
There’s no doubt that the real, official name is Keith Richards. He was born with that name and will presumably die with it, if something proves capable of killing the infamously drug-proof star.
But there is also no doubt that he was billed as Keith Richard for at least the first 14 years of the Stones’ venerable existence. (The “s” was already gone with the band’s 1963 breakthrough and didn’t formally reappear until 1978’s “Some Girls” album.)
I suppose you want to know why. Well, we are talking about rock ’n’ roll here. The truth is hard to find, and probably impossibly lost after all these years.
But there are, of course, stories. They all agree that the dropping of the “s” was intentional, not some kind of typo that stuck.
Which is interesting, because it seems that a presumption a typo was involved may be why there is so little curiosity about this subject. It’s a name that’s prone to typos in any case.
As for the specifics, you can take your pick:
*Richards just thought it sounded better without the “s.” Banal enough to be true.
*Same thing, but with darker interpretation: It was a way of distancing himself from his father, from whom he was long estranged. From Keith Richards, dropping a consonant would be tame rebellion indeed.
*The official explanation, meaning it shows up in all those unreliable biographies (authorized or not): The “s” was killed at the insistence of original Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, an infamous control freak credited with even more severe loppings, such as entire band members. (He also reportedly inserted the formal “g” on the band’s original name, the Rollin’ Stones.)
Why Oldham supposedly did this is itself the font of multiple tales. Depending on which you prefer, he thought it sounded more rock-ish, more classy, even more “Clockwork Orange” (his favorite book at the time), whatever that means.
The truly gruesome speculation is that it was rooted in the name of Cliff Richard, a sort of British Pat Boone who was a chart-topper of the time, and who could not be more different from Keith Richards.
Here’s a little irony for you trivia buffs: The Stones, of course, are named for a Muddy Waters tune. But old Muddy was “Water” before he made his first record, whereupon a typo turned him into “Waters.” Letters come and go; the music remains.