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  • Writer's pictureWayne Ewing

The Night We Shot Keith Richards – Part I

Updated: 6 days ago

One of the more popular YouTube videos with Hunter is a ten minute clip wherein he interviews Keith Richards. The piece has been up for almost three years and received over 50,000 views.  I’m amazed that whoever owns the copyright has never done a takedown of what appears to be an old VHS recording of the original ABC broadcast, but I’m grateful that they haven’t. Otherwise I would never have seen something that I shot as a “work-made-for-hire” as they say in the contracts.

In the late winter of 1993 I had just finished shooting and directing the first season of the dramatic TV series “Homicide: Life on the Street” for NBC.  Episodic TV is like factory work once you have made the mold, as I did with “Homicide,” and after a season of fighting with ugly producers from New York, I thought it was time to shoot some more with Hunter and see if there was a fun movie to be made.

What became “Breakfast with Hunter,” I was then calling “The Thompson Tapes.” The original plan was that Hunter and I would travel to New York City where he would check in to the Carlyle Hotel and interview one his greatest heroes, Keith Richards, for ABC’s Friday night show “In Concert.”   Someone else from MTV would shoot the interview and I would video the whole scene in Hi-8 for my project -”The Thompson Tapes,” while Keith and Hunter emptied the mini-bar and chatted.

But Hunter came down with a virulent flu and we never went to New York. Instead, a few weeks later in the middle of March, Keith and his manager Jane Rose , along with Laila Nabulsi, Hunter’s old girlfriend who knew Jane well, and a couple of producers flew out of New York after one of those “snow storms of the century” and checked into the Ritz Carlton in Aspen.  My plan to shoot my own video was pushed aside when I took on the “work-for-hire” shooting the interview for Keith’s production company and ABC, and I never saw the results until it went up on YouTube in 2006.

I wrote the following notes the day after the shoot in March, 1993:

THE THOMPSON TAPES

OR

BEWARE OF WHAT YOU WISH FOR

3/16/93

It was a long hard night, a night that came at the end of a crazed week, a week devoted to taping, a conversation between Hunter Thompson and Keith Richards.  I had this idea I called The Thompson Tapes – Hunter’s video autobiography.  The interview with Keith was a separate deal Hunter made with ABC and Keith.

At six o’clock last night, I was still feverously working on the autobiography.  Hunter – nothing if not a perfectionist – had taken my observation to heart that his Canon L-100 – a five thousand dollar camera – was soft.  This was one of his main concerns this last week, second only to the fact that he was convinced (perhaps rightly so) that “a ni**er in the woodpile,” as he referred to the MTV director slated to helm the interview with Keith, would creep into his house with a camera crew, as he had done not too long ago, tape Hunter’s antics, and then sell the footage to every news outlet between Woody Creek and Saigon. [ which is why Hunter in the end insisted I shoot the interview ]

So Hunter’s Canon was fuzzy, and to rent another camera for the event I committed some four hundred dollars of mine that Hunter’s staff promised to reimburse along with the $334 for 250 rounds of .44 Magnum bullets, thirty pounds of gun powder, and 100 double 0 12 gauge shells that could blast through steel.

“What are you guys doing up there?” inquired the fat man in the Basalt Police cap behind the counter at Western Sports as he slid the special order of 00′s across the counter.  “Nuthin.,” I mumbled, wondering as I wrote a corporate check whether or not I, as President of Wayne Ewing Films, Inc., would be held somehow responsible for the killed and wounded.  Nonetheless I was excited by the prospect of the next day, Saturday, when Keith would arrive and we could witness Hunter’s pyrotechnics.

Hunter’s mood had been foul all week, but it was particularly nasty that Friday afternoon.  He fired all his staff – Deborah and Nicole – because the housekeeper’s boyfriend, who was hired to clear the firing range of snow, had made an unholy quagmire of mud.  I first heard the news while waiting for an hour and a half for him to meet me for a cheeseburger at the Tavern.  I spent some of the time with Nicole who was hiding out, trying to gauge Hunter’s movements so as to make a dash back to the house for cover once he left.  Once Nicole left, I went in search of “the Beast.”

I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall back on Deborah for protection as I entered the gates of Owl Farm.  Nicole had reported her MIA after the Beast had threatened to shoot out the tires of her car to keep her from leaving.  Hunter had become a walking contradiction of anger; firing Deborah, and then threatening to shoot her car out from under her to keep her from leaving.

Now he was leaving as I drove up.  Noriss the housekeeper darted about the garage, as he gunned the Wagoneer into reverse.  I jumped into a snow bank to keep from being crushed.  The Beast screamed “Get in!”

He gunned the car down the small two lane road.  I scanned the horizon for dogs, deer, police, and other solid objects that might impede our supersonic trip back to the Tavern.  At the Tavern, he growled at college sophomores on ski vacations demanding autographs. I warned them that he was dangerous, yet they still kept coming, holding out soiled napkins with pens for a record of their momentary brush with fame, even when we moved to the bar for more protection.

Hunter just couldn’t stop lamenting the muddy firing range, insisting that Keith’s visit was ruined, and refusing to even consider taking Keith onto the range.  I kept suggesting wacky solutions, while I thought of the $334 worth of ordinance that Keith would miss.  Losing ground on the firing range issue, I switched to suggesting goofy ideas for the video with Keith.  “It’s not your movie!” the Beast growled at me, “It’s Keith’s!”

We returned to Owl Farm, barely missing two head on auto collisions and three deer.  Ron, the firing range mutilator, was lurking by the side of the garage.  Nicole’s car was gone.  “Lucky for her,” muttered the Beast.

We hung in the kitchen for an hour, maybe three.  I concluded that Hunter’s irrational lashing out at his loyal staff (and, unfortunately, I seemed to be creeping into the serf-to-be-beaten category in his eyes) seemed to apparently stem from his deep anxiety about Keith Richards’ visit.  His ability to transfer anxiety was quite creative.  The arrangement of objects on the piano, the shine of the kitchen floor, and the placement of liquor bottles on the cabinet by the front door all were objects of intense concern and belittling of the “staff.”

It was dark when we heard the car in the driveway.  Hunter immediately became like a guilty little boy, dreading his mother’s return, then quickly lashed out at himself.  “Look at me.  I’m quaking, worried about Deborah coming back. See what they do to me,” he observed, adroitly turning the guilt back on the staff for making him feel guilty.

I went out to meet Deborah, thinking I could capitalize on his guilt, and arrange a rapprochement between Hunter and her.  I knew that Deborah was tough, you’d have to be after ten years or more taking care of the national treasure known as Hunter Thompson.  She wouldn’t back down easily.

“He wants everything to be alright with you.  He’s just uptight about Keith,” I implored.

It was an easier sell than I anticipated.  Deborah smiled and handed me bags of groceries.  “I know that,” she said, as if her intuition had been insulted.

Hunter hugged her at the door.  I was overwhelmed.  I felt like Kissinger with the Vietnamese – a true diplomat in the land of the terminally crazed.  Deborah and Hunter laughed and joked, even about the firing range.

I asked Deborah for my Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum that I had left the other night to avoid complications in case I were stopped weaving my way back to Taylor Creek at three in the morning.  She brought it from the safe, in the shoulder holster that Hunter had given me the day we bought it.  He seemed to like when I wore it around Owl Farm, as if I were some kind of pseudo bodyguard, so I put it on to give them a few laughs.

It turned out to be a wise move, for the .44 soon became my only security as I stood between Hunter and Deborah, now screaming at each other across my face.  I had checked the revolver to make sure it was unloaded before putting it on so I felt it would be safe to pistol whip them without fear of an accidental discharge if things really got crazy.

Crazy doesn’t begin to describe the level of argument.  Hunter made more and more outrageous accusations to the point where Deborah returned the fire with incredible force, ending with the simple observation that “You’re an asshole, Hunter.”

Hunter smiled, taking it like a man, and was the Beast no more.  “That’s impressive, Deborah.  Really impressive,” he said, genuinely complimenting her outburst.

Deborah smiled proudly and I followed her into the red room.  “I’ve never seen him like this,” I said.

“It’s OK,” she replied.  “Anger’s good sometimes.  Hunter thrives on anger. It’s just when it gets so misplaced, that it’s bad.”

The “tempest of the century” was shutting down the East coast by the time I left the farm, and Keith’s Lady Jane called to say they couldn’t fly out of New York on Saturday.  As I white knuckled Frying Pan Road, I figured there was no way Keith would ever come to Woody Creek, and wondered how to avoid a $400 rental charge for the Hi-8 camera we would never use.  I felt lucky though.  Lucky to have seen the fury of the Beast and know that my hopes for his “video autobiography” were best doomed.  The gypsy’s curse about “getting what you wish for” seemed particularly appropriate.

Despite this rare moment of wisdom and insight, come Monday (or was it Sunday?), when the word came down that Keith was coming, I scrambled, along with the rest of “the staff” to somehow document this historic event – the meeting of the two “bad boys” of our time.

Copyright 2009 By Wayne Ewing

To Be Continued

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