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  • Writer's pictureWayne Ewing

The Night We Shot Keith Richards, Part 2

Updated: 6 days ago

“Be careful. It changes you and it changes me,” said Hunter as he handed me the grinder. “This is a very important night.”

We were sitting in his car on Galena Street in downtown Aspen next to the Ritz Carlton Hotel (now the St. Regis) – about to meet Keith Richards for the first time.

We were as ready as you could hope to be after almost a week of insane preparation. (see Part 1 of this for the back story) A Hi-8mm video camera loaded with a fresh tape was in my hand. Hunter had his own personal public address system – a bull horn on top of an audio cassette player in the form of a square briefcase, powered by a dozen D-cell batteries with a shoulder strap to handle the weight. Before leaving Owl Farm for town I had replaced the batteries and cued up one of Hunter’s favorite tapes – pigs being killed. Their squeals of death made me quite uneasy.

Another dozen D-cells powered the combo taser/cattle prod that Hunter also carried. Blue bolts of electricity would dance up and down the two foot shaft, accompanied by a 110 decibel siren that made your ear drums bleed.

We left the car with the Ritz Carlton doorman who wisely asked no questions. The staid après ski crowd in the lobby bar was too inviting a target and Hunter immediately hit PLAY. Heads snapped at the sound of dying pigs, but no one stopped us as we headed for the elevator.

“What’s Keith’s room number,” asked Hunter.

“Suite 1017,” I said “But we have to go to Jane’s (his manager) room first and she will take us to Keith. He won’t open the door for anyone. Jane has to get us in. That’s the plan”

“Fuck your plans,” said the Beast who had just replaced the Nervous Fan of Keith Richards that had been with me in the car. “We’re going to Keith’s room.”

“We’ve got to go to Jane’s first,” I insisted..

“Fuck You. We’re going straight to Keith’s,” growled the Beast.

The pigs began to squeal as the elevator opened on the tenth floor. A few squeamish guests opened their doors to investigate the horrible noise, and closed them very quickly when Hunter brandished the sparking cattle prod. At the large double doors of Suite 1017 Hunter turned up the pigs’ volume and hit the cattle prod’s siren, screaming “Keith, Keith Come out,” and damned if he didn’t.

Keith seemed overjoyed to meet his hero, and Hunter was beside, under and over himself with glee as well. Clearly this meeting, months in the making meant the world to these two members of a small oddball tribe of celebrities, bold-faced names who shared a love of music, drugs, and words – outsiders who had found uncommon success on the edge.

Hunter and Keith shared some laughs and I sat on the floor in front of them in the suite and recorded the scene on Hi-8. As someone who had spent decades working with real film, or better video formats, I was as nervous about the Hi-8 as Hunter was about meeting Keith.

Back at Owl Farm, a camera crew that I had hired from Denver was lighting the living room for a two camera interview shoot in Betacam SP – a far superior format that we had moved to from Hi-8 when the decision was made for me to direct and shoot the interview as a “work-made-for-hire” for Keith’s production company who would license it to ABC for their “In Concert” Friday night series. The initial plan to shoot my own project – “The Thompson Tapes” – was quickly being co-opted by money.

I left first for Owl Farm and finished lighting the set. Looking at the footage now on YouTube I’m surprised how dark the foreground is. Hunter and Keith were lit by instruments outside on the porch in and around the peacock cage with just a bit of fill light on the camera side. An interesting choice and I’m not sure why I made it. Yet, the YouTube video is still considerably darker than ever intended. The VHS off-air tape source introduces much unintended contrast.

The interview itself was, like most of Hunter’s interviews, quite disappointing. You can begin to see why it took me so many years to shoot and piece together enough material with Hunter to make intelligible films – Breakfast with Hunter & the work-in-progress Breakfast with Hunter: Vol. Two. Old television interviews with Hunter like these abound on the internet, except this one has Keith.

At 4am we stopped shooting, and I urged the crew from Denver to wrap as quickly as possible. Rather than splitting asap as you would expect, Keith hung around while we wrapped, sitting on the couch in the kitchen, not wanting to leave the inner sanctum of Gonzo quite yet. Hunter clearly wanted to get the Denver crew out so he could have more private time with Keith, who by now had fallen asleep on the couch, looking exactly like the famous 1972 Annie Leibovitz shot of him splayed out in a chair. As the crew endlessly wrapped cables, an unconscious Keith began to slide off the couch onto the floor.

Hunter grabbed the “Marine Defender” – a stainless steel pump 12 gauge that I knew was loaded with OO, killer buckshot that I had recently procured for Keith’s visit. The Beast went out into the driveway where the Denver crew was slowly loading up their van in the Rocky Mountain dawn and blew apart the garbage can next to them with the Defender. They left quickly, seeing no humor in the assault.

Back in the kitchen, I gave the tapes to Jane Rose, and left as Keith picked his butt up off the floor where it had finally ended its slide from the couch.

The lesson: if you want to make your own films don’t do a “work-made-for-hire.”

Copyright 2009 By Wayne Ewing

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