Bobby Keys

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Bobby Keys
Keys performing in October 2009
Background information
Born (1943-12-18) December 18, 1943 (age 70)
Slaton, Texas, United States
Genres Rock, jazz
Occupations Session musician
Instruments Saxophone
Years active 1956–present
Associated acts Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Warren Zevon, Joe Ely, Sheryl Crow, John Lennon, Leon Russell, Plastic Ono Band, Harry Nilsson

Robert Henry 'Bobby' Keys (born December 18, 1943, Slaton, Lubbock County, Texas, United States) is an American saxophone player, and has performed with other musicians as a member of several horn sections of the 1970s. He appears on albums by The Rolling Stones,[1] Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, Harry Nilsson, Delaney Bramlett, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker, amongst other notable musicians. Keys has been a touring musician since 1956.

Life and career[edit]

Keys started touring at age fifteen with Bobby Vee and fellow Texan Buddy Holly.[2][3] Keys is best known as being the main saxophone player for The Rolling Stones. He played on every album from 1969 until 1974 and from 1980 to present, and has performed on all Stones tours since 1970. Keys has played on hundreds of recordings, many uncredited, including Dion's "The Wanderer."

Keys met the Rolling Stones at the San Antonio Teen Fair in 1964. He is known for his relationship both as a musician (for example, the saxophone solo on the 1971 hit "Brown Sugar") and his friendship with Keith Richards[4] - the two were born on the same day - (there is a film of him and Richards throwing a television set from the 10th floor of a hotel during the 1972 American Tour, as seen in the Stones' unreleased 1972 concert movie Cocksucker Blues). Keys recorded with them around 1969 on their track "Live with Me". Keys, along with the addition of Mick Taylor, made their debut on Let it Bleed. Mick Jagger and Keys became close in the early 1970s, with Keys serving as an attendant at Jagger's wedding. Together with Jim Price on trumpet, Keys toured with the Stones in 1970, 1971 and 1972, and with Steve Madaio and Trevor Lawrence on the first half of the 1973 European Tour, at which Keys was thrown out after missing some shows. According to legend Keys filled a bathtub with Dom Perignon champagne and drank most of it. Allegedly this caused a falling out with Mick Jagger, and Keys only guested on some shows of the 1975 and 1978 tours, missing the 1976 tour completely. He performed only two tracks on the 1981 tour, on which Ernie Watts was the main sax player. Keys returned to backing the Stones together with Gene Barge on the 1982 European Tour, and has toured with the Stones on all tours ever since.

He is also featured in the 1971 concert movie, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, narrating the story of his early life while driving around downtown Dallas. Other recordings made by Keys was the baritone saxophone on Elvis Presley's "Return to Sender" (though this is disputed), and on John Lennon's first American solo #1 single hit (and the only US #1 in Lennon's lifetime) "Whatever Gets You thru the Night".

From 1973-1975, Keys participated in John Lennon's Lost Weekend in Los Angeles along with Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon. Keys had played with Lennon in the Plastic Ono Band and, while in Los Angeles, he played on Lennon's albums Walls and Bridges and Rock 'n Roll. Additionally, Keys took part in the last known recording session between Paul McCartney and Lennon; A Toot and a Snore in '74.

In the late 1980s, Keys became the musical director for Ronnie Wood's Miami club, Woody's On the Beach. The first week the club opened, Keys booked Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and The Crickets.

Although more commonly known as a session musician, Keys released two albums of his own in the 1970s; a self-titled instrumental album on Warner Bros. Records that featured Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Eric Clapton in 1972; and Gimme the Key on Ringo Starr's record label Ring O'Records in 1975.

Still active in 2011, Keys appeared on December 16 with the Athens, Georgia, band Bloodkin in their "Exile on Lumpkin Street" show at the legendary Georgia Theater (which re-opened in August 2011 in its spectacularly remodeled and enlarged space after the building was gutted by fire in June 2009); besides performing some of their own music, Bloodkin rocked out with Keys on numerous hits from three of the biggest Stones' albums on which Keys had performed, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street.

In 2013 he played with the Rolling Stones at their Glastonbury Festival debut, headlining on Saturday 29 June.[5] Keys also played on the "14 On Fire" tour[6]

Select discography[edit]


  1. ^ Huey, Steve. "Biography: Bobby Keys". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "Bobby Keys Interview" - Austin Chronicle.
  3. ^ "Bobby Keys Biography"
  4. ^ Richards, Keith; Fox, James (2010). Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85439-5. 
  5. ^ "The Rolling Stones headline Glastonbury 2013". 30 June 2013. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  6. ^