Our ongoing Reheater column from the print edition, in which we revisit and revere old records being reissued, makes its way online with the reissue of Keith Richards’ Wingless Angels project, recorded with Jamaican folk musicians over the course of many visits. Read the story after the jump, and check the full interview with Richards over on Large Up. If haven’t yet, also pick up a copy of Keef’s autobiography, simply and gangsterly titled, Life.
“A bird fell out of its nest so we took it to the bird sanctuary and made sure it’s alright. And then I watched some soccer.” That, one balmy afternoon early this summer, was Keith Richards’ answer to the question, What did you do today? The soccer match he was watching was actually England’s expulsion from the World Cup, but Keef seemed pretty Zen about it. The earthbound bird made for an oddly ﬁtting omen since the Rolling Stones guitarist happened to be on the phone to talk about the second release from his sporadic Jamaican passion project, Wingless Angels.
To get the scope of it, you’d have to go back to 1972, when the Stones convened at Dynamic Sound studios in Kingston to record the sessions that would eventually become the 1973 classic Goats Head Soup. Jamaica, Richards has famously said, “was one of the few places that would let us all in,” referring to the drug charges and conﬁscated passports that had dogged the Stones since 1967. He decided to stay, bought a house on the beach below a village named Steer Town near Ocho Rios and took up with the Rastas, who worked the island’s North Coast as divers and ﬁshermen. “They invited me up to the village,” he says. “And I started to hear what they were doing—very different, very ancient.”
Those ancient sounds were churchical Rasta chants—a combination of Methodist spirituals and trance-inducing Nyabinghi drumming, songs of praise that inspired reggae but have rarely been recorded themselves. Over time, the dreadlocked liturgy drifted down from the village and settled at Richards’ residence for informal evening jam sessions. “At ﬁrst I wasn’t allowed to play,” he says. “The old guys were like, No, no, no—no guitars. And then one night I was just tinkling away behind them and then, Okay you’re in.”