Lone Stone Keith Richards Takes a Solo—Are You Listening, Mick?—and Gets a Heap of Satisfaction

updated 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Keith Richards has never been shy about speaking his mind, even to a total stranger. For example, last summer I—to drop into the first person for just a moment—was walking my mutt, Eudora Whelpy, in lower Manhattan when she began to make canine overtures to a chocolate-brown Labrador. As they pondered whether a meaningful relationship was really possible, I noticed that the hand holding the Labrador's leash belonged to famed guitarist-dog walker Keith Richards, who didn't know me from Adam. Once the obligatory small talk was out of the way—his Lab's name is Creole; I scoop as decreed by New York City mutt laws; naturally, Keith doesn't—I asked him if the Rolling Stones would ever get back together. He didn't waffle. "I don't know if I can work with Mick Jagger again, actually," the cockney rock and roll legend replied.

So when Richards appeared in print last October, accusing Jagger of disloyalty for refusing to tour with the Stones in order to launch "sad" solo record and tour projects, he was simply speaking from the heart. The provocative quotes, the now conciliatory Richards says, were not designed to whip up publicity for his own solo albums. "I hope Mick's not offended—and I'm pretty sure he's not," he says. "He's heard it all a million times, believe me. Mick's so damn good, I don't want to see him slide off into some pop music sort of rat race. He's worth more than he knows. That's the only reason I said anything. I wouldn't put him down just to grab space in some magazine."

Still, the contretemps did create free publicity for the first-ever Keith Richards album, Talk Is Cheap, and helped sell out his current three-week, 10-city tour. Richards and his all-star band, the X-Pensive Winos, have received glowing notices; a bowled-over New York Times critic wrote that the group's slam-dunk musicianship and Richards' "snarl and snicker" guitar work compensated even for "the hoarsely cheerful croak [of his] burned-out husk of a voice."

For a quarter century the Stone behind Jagger's throne, Richards is exultant in the spotlight. A battered soon-to-be 45—his birthday is Dec. 18, the day after tour's end—Richards is so charged to be back on the road after a six-year lapse that he relishes even the 10-and 16-hour tour bus rides. "It's fun with the right guys," he says. He also seems to enjoy the nonmusical rites of stardom he once disdained, including appearing, on time, for record store and postconcert autograph sessions. Richards showed up for a party in New York wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the tour's creed, LOOSE FUN, and greeted wife Patti Hansen, 32, by dropping to his knees and kissing her feet.

After battles to keep his first love, the Stones, together, Richards says marriage is a snap. "I heard it all," he says of the couple's five-year union." 'Oh, he's married a Ford model,' and all that. But Patti...Man, on top of the fact that I love the bitch to death, she keeps up with me, keeps me going. I'm a very lucky guy. She's not only beautiful, she's supportive of me—she moves me." Ditto their daughters, Theodora Dupree, 3, and Alexandra Nicole, 2, even if Dad has trouble explaining to them exactly how he earns his living. "The kids don't really know what I'm doing," he says." 'Oh, Dad's gone off to work for a couple of days.' And when they see me on TV, they freak out. 'How're we gonna get Dad out of the box? Is he all right in there?' "

But things can be tough when Papa's a Rolling Stone. Richards' son, Marlon, 19, by ex-common law wife Anita Pallenberg, plays drums but is reluctant to perform in public. "A reaction sets in," Richards says." 'Oh, you're Keith Richards' son. Play "Satisfaction." ' It's like being very tall and someone saying, 'What's the weather like up there?' "

An admitted former heroin junkie who helped define the parameters of rock and roll excess, Richards says he now limits his vices to Marlboros and bourbon and ginger ale. Performance, he says, helps keep him fit as well as hip. "I could retire and get fat and go mad," he says. "But I've got a lot of energy and ideas. You have to be young to start off in rock and roll. But this end of it is an open book. I'm very intrigued by the idea of seeing how far it goes."

Ideally, he says, he'd like to tour and record with both the Stones and the Winos, whose members include former Late Night with David Letterman drummer Steve Jordan, guitarist Waddy Wachtel, keyboard whiz Ivan Neville, longtime Stones sax man Bobby Keyes and bassist Charley Drayton. He also cherishes the hope that the Stones, inspired by the Winos' example, will regroup in 1989. "Maybe it will give a little impetus to the others—you know, 'Well, toe's out there rockin' it and putt in' his ass on the line,' " says Richards. "If it turns them on a little more to the idea of touring, great." But the Stones, he adds, will never roll without Jagger, a chum since the two toddled together as 5-year-olds. "I've always had this vague recollection of first meeting him in a playground with a sand pit," says Richards. "Mick, who used to live a few doors down on the next street, had a bucket and shovel. I said, 'Hi, how ya doin?' "

Forty years later, even though his old friend hasn't come out to play in years, Richards says he has never considered casting about for a new Rolling Stone. "I wouldn't dream of it," he says. "Either we do it together or it doesn't get done at all."

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