Bobby Keys

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Bobby Keys
Keys performing in October 2009
Background information
Born (1943-12-18)December 18, 1943
Slaton, Texas, United States
Died December 2, 2014(2014-12-02) (aged 70)
Franklin, Tennessee, United States
Genres Rock, jazz
Occupation(s) Session musician
Instruments Tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone
Years active 1956–2014
Associated acts The 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 (December 18, 1943 – December 2, 2014) was an American saxophone player who 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 & Bonnie & Friends, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and other prominent musicians. Keys played on hundreds of recordings and was a touring musician from 1956 until his death in 2014.

Life and career[edit]

Keys was born in Slaton, Texas, on December 18, 1943.[2][3] He started touring at age fifteen with Bobby Vee and fellow Texan Buddy Holly.[4][5] He is best known as being the main saxophone player for The Rolling Stones.

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,[6] and they 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". He and Mick Taylor made their debuts on Let It Bleed. Keys and Mick Jagger 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, from 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 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 toured with the Stones on all subsequent tours up to his death.

In late 1969 Keys toured with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends with Eric Clapton and George Harrison. At the end of the year he played on tracks from the Stones' Sticky Fingers such as Brown Sugar.

The year 1970 was an extraordinary series of notable performances. Keys started the year working on Eric Clapton's first solo LP. With Leon Russell he supported Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. After work on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and more Sticky Fingers tracks, he joined the Rolling Stones for a European tour. He finished the year with more work on Sticky Fingers.

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

From 1973 to 1975, Keys participated in 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, he 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 better 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.

Keys appeared on December 16, 2011, with the Athens, Georgia, band Bloodkin in their "Exile on Lumpkin Street" show at the Georgia Theater, which re-opened in August 2011 in its remodeled and enlarged space after the building had been 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 St.

In 2013 he played with the Rolling Stones at their Glastonbury Festival debut, headlining on Saturday, June 29.[7] Keys also played on their 14 On Fire tour with Roskilde Festival in Denmark being his last ever gig for the Stones.

Keys died as a result of cirrhosis at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, on December 2, 2014.[8]

Selected discography[edit]

An eponymous solo album was released by WEA France c. 1970. He also appears on:


  1. ^ Huey, Steve. "Biography: Bobby Keys". AllMusic. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  2. ^ Varga, George (December 2, 2014). "Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys dies at 70". UT San Diego. Retrieved December 2, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Bobby Keys, Longtime Saxophonist for Rolling Stones, Dies". Voice of America. Reuters. December 2, 2014. Retrieved December 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Bobby Keys Interview". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Bobby Keys Biography". Retrieved December 2, 2014. 
  6. ^ Richards, Keith; Fox, James (2010). Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85439-5. 
  7. ^ "The Rolling Stones headline Glastonbury 2013". June 30, 2013. Retrieved June 30, 2013. 
  8. ^ Gold, Adam (2014-12-02). "Rolling Stones Saxophonist Bobby Keys Dead at 70". Nashville Scene (City Press LLC). Retrieved 2014-12-02.