The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has written a children’s book and is thrilled his daughter Theodora was able to help as illustrator.
Speaking with a smoker’s rasp, the legendary Rolling Stones rocker is keen for a chat about his latest endeavor, a kids book titled Gus & Me — The Story of My Grandad and My First Guitar.
“Gus has always been part of the family, although most of my kids didn’t know him of course,” Richards says in a break from The Rolling Stones’ Australian tour. “Gus lives with us by his jokes and his attitude really.”
Gus, as his family affectionately know him, is Richards’ late grandpa, Augustus Theodore Dupree, a jazz muso back in his day.
He toured the UK with his band, Gus Dupree and his Boys, and the now 70-year-old Richards credits him for nurturing his musical talents from a young age.
“Gus sort of led me into it I think,” reminisces Richards.
“He did it very subtly and I am always grateful for that. He used to see me looking at it (his guitar). It was up on a shelf in the parlour and every day he’d say, ‘when you can reach that, I’ll show you a thing or two’.
“And so I faked it and got a chair and a couple of books and I got the thing down. So he said, okay, you are smart enough to get it into your hands so I’ll show you a few tricks.”
Richards, now a grandfather of five, is upbeat, bubbly even, and far more coherent and considered than this scribe had expected from one of the world’s most famously hard-partying rockers.
The name Keith Richards immediately conjures images of the quintessential hard-living rock ‘n’ roll bad boy.
So to hear him speak about his family so passionately is refreshing and a little jarring.
Perhaps it’s just life when you age. We tend to slow down, although Richards is still holding his own playing with the Stones in stadiums around the world.
Even the thought of Richards making a cup of tea is at odds with his reputation.
“Oh I can make a good cup of tea mate, don’t you worry about that,” he laughs.
“I suppose it is natural in a way because they (people) only know me when I’m out there doing stuff. Meanwhile, I do have to have a roof over my head and I’ve got a wife and I have to do some of the stuff that most of us do and I enjoy it too.”
Even though he has that hard reputation, at the core for Richards he is just like most people who care for their family.
And he shared a special bond with his grandpa, just as many of us do, and wanted to celebrate that love for someone he remembers as a “very, very cool guy”.
“He had seven daughters and he lived in London off the Seven Sisters Road which he always used to joke about and saying that with the wife, that makes eight,” Richards recalls.
“He was surrounded by women, he only had daughters you know and they were all funny. My aunts are just as funny as he is and all musical.
“Somebody was always playing the piano or on the violin and I had an eye for that guitar.”
Gus & Me — The Story of My Grandad and My First Guitar is a physical memory that won’t be forgot, a testament to Richards’ strong relationship with his grandfather.
Adding to that family flavor, Richards’ daughter Theodora lent her creative hand as illustrator to the book.
“She has always been a great illustrator and to be able to work with your own daughter was quite fascinating. She would keep coming to me asking me what did Gus wear and what size should I be compared to him. She was very professional and did a great job and probably she is going to do thousands (of kids books) now.”
It was when Richards’ fifth grandson was born that the rocker decided to “do something for my grandad too”.
“Maybe behind it all is everybody somewhere has got a grandad and maybe he is more fun than you think and maybe he could show you some things that you wouldn’t think of,” explains Richards, who has five children as well as five grandchildren — aged from 18 to 18 months.
“I was just thinking of the extended family sort of thing and how we can really learn a lot from the old cats. Now I am one, I know the feeling.”
When not touring, Richards enjoys spending time with his family although he admits it’s hard to get everyone together.
“I don’t see them a lot but I get really into it when I do,” he says of his grandkids.
“They are all different ages so I have to gauge, I have got them from 18 to a few months and each one is different. It is usually mayhem (when we get together) but it all sorts itself out. We all sit around and have a laugh, somebody gets pissed.”
What do they call him?
“The universal term is grandpa.”