As a kid, Bobby Keys used to watch Buddy Holly rehearse in a Lubbock, Texas, garage. While playing sax for Bobby Vee in '64, Keys met the Rolling Stones in San Antonio. In '69, he became the Stones' saxophonist, providing those classic solos on "Brown Sugar," "Emotional Rescue" and other hits.
Keys also became best buddies and party partners with Keith Richards. He was with Richards when the guitarist organized the tribute to Chuck Berry that became the 1987 movie "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll." Keys will be in Minneapolis Thursday to speak before a screening of that Taylor Hackford film at the Parkway Theater. The saxophonist also has worked with Elvis Presley, John Lennon, the Who, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow and Barbra Streisand, among others.
By phone from his Nashville home, Keys, 67, answered a few questions about Berry, the Stones, Richards and himself.
On his most vivid memories of the concert in St. Louis that became "Hail! Hail!":
"Watching the interaction during the rehearsals between Keith and Chuck was fun. A few sparks flew. I was sitting on a piano bench with Johnnie Johnson when I heard the voices getting a little louder. It's a matter of, do you play it Chuck Berry's way or do you play it my way?"
On why he gets along so well with Richards:
"He seemed like a Texan to me. He reminded me a lot of [Buddy] Holly. He wasn't particularly good-looking but he was convinced. The man had a burning desire in his eye. Also, we were both born the same day, within minutes of each other. Brothers. We've known each other going on 50 years."
On how many TVs he and Richards have dropped out hotel windows (which was depicted in a 1972 Stones documentary):
"We had to send out for a tractor-trailer full of television sets. It was in our rider. They had to put them in every hotel room we were in from Denver on. And we threw one out of each and every window. It became a tradition that still goes on today. It's just like a religion; it's the same thing as Easter morning services. [He laughs.] You know, throwing that one TV set out one time, that has been mentioned more than any other thing having to do with my career."
On how he comes up with those sax solos for Stones songs:
"They'd say: 'Here's the horn solo.' And you play 16 bars, two 12-bar patterns, whatever. So it was just 'stick it in your face and blow.' I took a lot of my cues from the rhythm section, particularly from Keith's rhythm guitar. Like on 'Can't You Hear Me Knockin',' I was sitting in the studio listening to them and I thought it was jam time so I played my horn like I knew what I was doing. Essentially it was a jam, but they used it on the record."
On a rumored Stones tour for 2012:
"It seems like everyone's talking about a tour except the people I know in the band. I don't know. I'm one of the last ones to know. I've been in the band long enough to know asking questions ain't going to get no answers."
On Richards' 2010 memoir, "Life," in which Keys is featured:
"I thought it was great. I laughed. It's one of the funniest things I've read. And accurate. Right now he's writing an introduction for a book I'm having published in the spring. It's called 'Every Night's a Saturday Night.' It's not about the sins and excesses. Everybody's already read the sensationalistic stuff, and that ain't even true. It's a story about music and the people I've been in touch with."