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Keys performing in October 2009
December 18, 1943|
Slaton, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 2, 2014
Franklin, Tennessee, U.S.
|Instruments||Tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone|
|Associated acts||The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Warren Zevon, Joe Cocker, Joe Ely, Sheryl Crow, John Lennon, Leon Russell, Plastic Ono Band, Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney|
Robert Henry "Bobby" Keys (December 18, 1943 – December 2, 2014) was an American saxophonist who performed with other musicians as a member of several horn sections of the 1970s. He appears on albums by the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 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
Keys was born at Lubbock Army Airfield near Slaton, Texas, where his father, Bill Keys, was in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His mother, Lucy Keys, was 16 when she gave birth to Robert Henry (Bobby), her first child. By 1946, Bill Keys got a job for the Santa Fe Railroad in Belen, New Mexico. The family moved to Belen, New Mexico, but young Robert stayed with his grandparents in Slaton, Texas, an arrangement he was quite happy with. Bill and Lucy would have three more children, Gary and twins Debbie and Daryl. Lucy Keys went on to become a state senator in New Mexico.
Keys met the Rolling Stones at the San Antonio Teen Fair in 1964. He is known for his impressive resume as a musician (his contributions include the saxophone solo on the 1971 hit "Brown Sugar") and his friendship with Keith Richards. Keys and Richards share exactly the same date of birth. 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. Both Bobby Keys and Mick Taylor made their debuts with The Rolling Stones on the Let It Bleed track "Live With Me".
Keys and Mick Jagger became close in the early 1970s, with Keys serving as best man at Jagger's wedding. Together with Jim Price on trumpet, Keys toured with the Stones in 1970, 1971 and 1972. He formed the horn section on the first half of the 1973 European Tour, with trumpet player Steve Madaio and Trevor Lawrence (sax), before he got thrown out. 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 American tours, missing the 1976 European tour completely. He performed only four tracks on the 1981 tour, on which Ernie Watts was the main sax player. Keys was reinstated as main sax player for the Stones on the 1982 European Tour, together with Gene Barge. Keys 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.
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 & Englishmen tour. The live album Mad Dogs & Englishmen was released in 1970, followed by a concert movie in 1971. After work on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and more Sticky Fingers tracks, he joined the Rolling Stones for a European tour.
The 1971 concert movie Mad Dogs & Englishmen, is the filmed record of the 48 cities American tour undertaken in 1970 by the young British blues and soul singer Joe Cocker and the largely American entourage (band, choir, friends, wives, children, groupies and a single dog named Canina) that accompanied him. The entire group numbered almost 40 people. 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".
Keys' most famous contribution to rock history may be his roaring, lasciviously melodic solo on "Brown Sugar", from Sticky Fingers. He was also prominently featured on “Can't You Hear Me Knocking”, “Happy”, and other Stones songs. From 1973-75, 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.. He also played the tasteful solo on Leo Sayer's 1977 international hit "When I Need You" from the Endless Flight album. 
In 1989, Keys became the musical director for Ronnie Wood's new Miami club, Woody's On the Beach. The first week the club opened Keys booked Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and the Crickets. In the early 90s Keys was a resident of Miami and had a band with former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, Stones pianist Nicky Hopkins, Ivan Neville, Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels and others called Tumbling Dice. 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. Keys played on their 14 On Fire tour with Roskilde Festival in Denmark being his last ever gig for the Stones.
Bobby Keys is survived by his wife of 30 years, Holly, three sons, Jesse, Randy, and Huck, one daughter Amber, and three grandchildren, Jordyn, Ashlyn, and Chauncy.
An eponymous solo album was released by Warner Bros. in 1972. He also appears on:
- The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Let It Rock EP (UK), Exile on Main St., Goats Head Soup, Emotional Rescue, Flashpoint, Stripped, No Security, Shine a Light, Live Licks, Sweet Summer Sun
- Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishmen
- George Harrison: All Things Must Pass
- John Lennon: Some Time in New York City, Walls and Bridges, Rock 'n' Roll
- Keith Richards: Talk Is Cheap, Live at the Hollywood Palladium
- Ringo Starr: Ringo, Goodnight Vienna
- Ronnie Wood: 1234, Gimme Some Neck, Mahoney's Last Stand
- B.B. King: B.B. King in London
- Barbra Streisand: Barbra Joan Streisand
- Carly Simon: No Secrets, Hotcakes
- Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll
- Delaney, Bonnie & Friends: The Original Delaney & Bonnie: Accept No Substitute, On Tour with Eric Clapton
- Donovan: Cosmic Wheels
- Dr. John: The Sun, Moon & Herbs
- Eric Clapton: Eric Clapton
- Faces: Long Player
- Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson, Son of Schmilsson, Pussy Cats, Duit on Mon Dei
- Warren Zevon: Warren Zevon
- Humble Pie: Rock On
- Joe Ely: Lord of the Highway
- John Hiatt: Beneath This Gruff Exterior
- Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle
- Keith Moon: Two Sides of the Moon
- Leo Sayer: Endless Flight
- Lynyrd Skynyrd: Second Helping
- John Lennon and Paul McCartney: A Toot and a Snore in '74
- John Lennon: Whatever Gets You thru the Night
- Marvin Gaye: Let's Get It On (deluxe edition)
- Sheryl Crow: The Globe Sessions
- Yoko Ono: Fly
- Jim Carroll: Catholic Boy
- Graham Nash: Songs for Beginners
- Huey, Steve. "Biography: Bobby Keys". AllMusic. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
- Varga, George (December 2, 2014). "Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys dies at 70". UT San Diego. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
- "Bobby Keys, Longtime Saxophonist for Rolling Stones, Dies". Voice of America. Reuters. December 2, 2014. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
- "Bobby Keys Interview". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
- "Bobby Keys Biography". Philbrodieband.com. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
- Richards, Keith; Fox, James (2010). Life. London, UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85439-5.
- 3 December 2014: Leo Sayer has paid tribute to his friend Bobby Keys who passed away at age 70. Keys, the sax player for the Rolling Stones since 1969, also played on Leo’s global hit ‘When I Need You’. In a statement Leo remembered his friend saying, “R.I.P. Bobby Keys. Bobby played the solo on “When I Need You”, 20 secs of tenor sax that no other player has ever been able to emulate. We toured together in the mid 70’s, and Bobby was always fun to work with, a great musician everybody now knows as the sax man with the Rolling Stones. I’m so proud to have known you ‘Texas’!”
- "The Rolling Stones headline Glastonbury 2013". Nme.com. June 30, 2013. Retrieved June 30, 2013.
- Gold, Adam (2014-12-02). "Rolling Stones Saxophonist Bobby Keys Dead at 70". Nashville Scene (City Press LLC). Retrieved 2014-12-02.