A Look Into Keith Richards' Friendship With Tom Waits

Keith Richards and Tom Waits have been buddies for decades now, a friendship that dates back to the 1980s. Richards first got a taste of the legendary growler's unique recording style on Waits' 1985 album Rain Dogs. Quoted on the Tom Waits Library, guitarist Mark Ribot said that Waits would begin recording without any rehearsing and use enigmatic instructions like, "Play it like a midget's bar mitzvah." The gritty singer/songwriter would rather get his percussions by swinging a two-by-four around a dingy basement bathroom than use a sample. "It wasn't a mechanical kind of recording at all," said Ribot.

And he found that Richards responded well to his perplexing recording style. "There was something in there that I thought he would understand," Waits said in the comments to the song "Big Black Mariah" posted to the Tom Waits Library. "I picked out a couple of songs that I thought he would understand and he did. He's got a great voice and he's just a great spirit in the studio. He's very spontaneous, he moves like some kind of animal. I was trying to explain 'Big Black Maria' and finally I started to move in a certain way and he said, 'Oh, why didn't you do that to begin with? Now I know what you're talking about.' It's like animal instinct." Keith is featured on three of the album's tracks, and that connection they created through movement and music in the studio lasts to this day.

Keith Richards felt honored that Tom Waits wanted to write songs with him

Fans of Tom Waits will know that his biggest collaborator and creative inspiration is his wife Kathleen. For the longest time, he only wrote songs with her, but he saw something in Keith that made him want to break that trend. "There's nobody in the world like him," Waits told NPR in 2011. "We wrote songs together for a while and that was fun. I had never really written with anybody besides my wife, so it was unique and a little scary at first."

For his part, Keith felt honored to have been allowed in to that creative part of Tom Waits' reclusive psyche. "Tom, blessings, it was great to work with him," he said in an interview posted to his official YouTube channel. "It was only found out later that he never writes with anybody else, he only ... writes with his wife, Kathleen. So I realized that was an extra honor, to work with a guy that ... is not a collaborator."

Tom called their collaboration "an interesting dynamic." Unsurprisingly, Keith doesn't bother with writing anything down, or even remembering what he plays. Tom said they'd play for a while and then the Rolling Stone would shout, "Scribe!" and expect him to write what they'd been playing. "I realized we needed an adult in the room," said Tom. "I've never been the one that one would consider the adult."

Keith Richards and Tom Waits' bromance waxes poetic

Their friendship has lasted well into the 21st century. Keith joined Tom in the studio again on the 2011 album Bad As MeAccording to Ultimate Classic Rock, Keith didn't get any writing credits on the album, but he was mentioned in the first single, "Satisfied." Aside from the song's obvious allusion to Keith's classic hit "(Can't Get No) Satisfaction," Tom also snarls a shout out to him and the Rolling Stones frontman: "Now Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards / I will scratch where I've been itching." The pair of musical pirates teamed up again in 2013 for a characteristically gruff rendition of the classic sea shanty "Shenandoah" (on YouTube).

Their connection runs so deep that Tom wrote an irregular ode to honor Keith in a special edition of Rolling Stone magazine dedicated to the guitarist. Among the numerous and perplexing blandishments Tom attributes to him are that he's "faster than a fax machine." He purportedly won the Hope Diamond in a poker game, then lost in at craps the very same night, and created the opening chord to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by strumming the lid of a paint can along a barbed wire fence in Detroit. Tom compares him to a praying mantis, too. With these two old swashbucklers still alive and ticking, who knows what other nutty creations their friendship will come up with next.