Legendary saxophone player Bobby Keys showed an enthusiastic crowd at Headliners Music Hall Tuesday night, why he’s one of the greatest sidemen in rock and roll history.
He and his band “The Suffering Bastards” rocked the house as they highlighted some of the many songs over the past five decades that have featured his signature sound. The list included classics like the Rolling Stones “Brown Sugar,” Joe Cocker’s “The Letter,” John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” and even Dion’s “The Wanderer.”
Keys got his start as a teenager and told the crowd that when “The Wanderer” hit the airwaves it was the first time he heard himself playing the sax on the radio.
“Nobody believed it was me,” he recalled, laughing.
The list of groups and artists Keys has played with over the years is a virtual “Who’s Who” of Rock and Roll. It includes Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, each of the four Beatles, Harry Nilsson, B.B. King, Sheryl Crow and many others. He’s probably best known though, for his work with the Stones, both in the recording studio and on tour. He started with the group in 1970 and last toured with them in 2007. He says it’s been a great relationship.
“There’s just something about the band that really was just so basic, so good, and so right on rock and roll,” he said in an interview before Tuesday’s show. “And that element is very definitely still present with all of the guys, Charlie and Keith, Ronnie and Mick, you know? It’s a great rock and roll band and rock and roll is what I play!”
Keys says he’s fortunate to have worked with so many of music’s great artists.
“Working with John Lennon was very special to me because I really loved John. I liked his songs, I liked him, I liked his lyrics, I just liked everything about the guy. A standout memory for me was when I recorded the solo in “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” in New York. It was just me and him and the producer and the tape operator.”
Keys shares a number of those stories and memories in an autobiography released this year. It’s called, “Every Night is a Saturday Night: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man Bobby Keys.”
And now, after more than fifty years as a sideman, Keys has stepped into the limelight as a headline act in his own right. Interestingly enough, he waited until the age of 68 to do it. (He turns 69 in December.) And though he may joke about the challenges of getting older, when he picks up the sax, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Keys, who lives in Nashville, began playing with The Suffering Bastards about a year ago. The band is made up of talented Nashville-based musicians who get together whenever they can. (Band members include Dan Baird, Steve Gorman, Robert Kearns, Michael Webb and Chark Kinsolving. Brad Pemberton replaced Steve Gorman for the Louisville performance.) This tour which wrapped up with the final stop at Headliners marked their first time out on the road.
“It feels great,” says Keys. “Everybody in the band gets along really well together. Everybody has the same idea and concept of the music we’re playing. And Dan is a great singer.”
Keys says the only challenge is scheduling.
“This band is kind of made up of other band members so it’s kind of hard to get together on a regular basis because our bass player Robert, he plays for Sheryl Crow so when she’s on the road we don’t have a bass player and our keyboard player plays with Poco and John Fogerty, so sometimes he’s not available.”
For now, everyone heads back to Nashville to work on other projects and will look for another opportunity to tour again soon. They do have one upcoming gig in January. They’ll join Foreigner, Paul Rodgers, Kansas, The Marshall Tucker Band, The Kentucky Headhunters, and a number of other groups for a Legends of Rock cruise.
In the meantime, Keys will continue to keep playing music.
“I have been really lucky. I have found myself in positions, in situations with no grand design or grand plan,” he explains. “It was just, I guess you could say, as unrehearsed as a hiccup. I found myself in a good position and I’ve had enough chops to pull it off, I guess you might say.”
Photos: Pam Windsor