March 11, 2012

Author Q&A: Sax and drugs and rock 'n' roll

What's in a name? Reporter Bob Keyes finds out when he interviews legendary saxophonist Bobby Keys about the new book, 'Every Night's a Saturday Night.'

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

My name has opened a lot of doors in the music business.

When a publicist or band manager gets a message from Bobby Keyes, they usually return the call pretty quickly. Sadly, their enthusiasm dims when they realize it's not Bobby Keys on the other end of the phone, but Bobby Keyes.

That extra "e" in the last name makes all the difference.

Bobby Keys, with one "e," is a world-class sax player from Texas, whose greatest claim to fame is not that he has played sax with The Rolling Stones for several decades, but that he may be the only man on this planet who can drink Keith Richards under the table and live to talk about it.

Bobby Keyes, with the double "e," is a hack journalist from Maine who wishes he could write for Rolling Stone, and sometimes ends up under the table when he fools himself into thinking that he can still party with the big boys.

So when the opportunity came to finally talk by phone to the famous Bobby Keys, I jumped. "Do you have any idea how many times I have been mistaken for you over the years?" I asked.

He was not surprised, and relates a string of stories about impostors over the years who have tried to use his identity to get backstage passes, special access to the band and various other favors, usually involving women.

I assure him I have never abused our mistaken identity – it is my real name, after all – although I do admit the time that Stevie Ray Vaughan invited me into his dressing room for a conversation was pretty cool, and probably would not have happened had my name not piqued his curiosity.

The point of my conversation with my namesake was to discuss his new biography, "Every Night's a Saturday Night: The Rock 'n' Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man Bobby Keys," published by Counterpoint Press.

Saxophone player on and off with the Stones for 40 years, Keys has lived a sideman's dream. In addition to his tenure with the Stones, he has also played with John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Buddy Holly, among others. He uses the book, co-written with Bill Ditenhafer, to tell his story. 

Q: I suppose after Keith's book, "Life," came out last year, you had no choice but to write one.

A: Keith's book definitely had an effect on me. I wanted to write one about the music, and not about the excesses and the crap and the non-music (stuff) that goes along with it. But I have actually been thinking about it for a long time. I signed a contract about 20 years ago to do a book. But the co-writer and I were on separate pages. She wanted to write about sex and drugs and sex and drugs and sex and drugs. She did not want to write about the music.

But the guy I wrote this one with, he and I just got together and spent a lot of time talking. We spent a lot of time in the corners of restaurant-bars sipping tall cool ones and relating the past in glorious terms.

He was easy to talk to. He was a musician, and knew the right direction to go with the questions. I had given him my ideas, but I was not enthusiastic going into it. I had to be pushed into it. But he had the same idea of the story to write as I did. What you read is what I said. He just wrote it down the right way. I didn't monitor what he was writing, but when I read it, it sounded like the way I told it. It sounds like my voice.

(Continued on page 2)

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