R.I.P. Bobby Keys: 5 Songs to Honor a Saxophone Great

As has been reported elsewhere, Bobby Keys, saxophonist for the Rolling Stones and one of the most in-demand session players of the 1970s, died yesterday at the age of 70. 

Though best known for his work with the Stones, Keys cut a staggering, zigzagging path through rock history, touring and recording with greats like Buddy Holly, John Lennon, The Faces, Marvin Gaye, Dr. John, Harry Nillson, Chuck Berry, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, Joe Cocker, and George Harrison, among many others. At a time of heavy cross-pollination between American and British blues, and rock and soul musicians, Keys and trumpet player Jim Price could frequently be found providing a solid backbone to a chorus or ripping a rhythmic, driving solo. 

[jump] A powerful and intuitive player, Keys brought a rock 'n'roll edge to the saxophone. Unable to read music, he developed a style focused more on rhythm, articulation, and dynamics than flurries of notes up and down the scale. He claimed early inspiration from rock, soul, and R&B saxophonist King Curtis, telling Rolling Stone that Curtis “approached his solos differently than your jazz cats…he played sax the way a guitar plays”. Later he would credit the distinctive rhythm-guitar playing of longtime friend and bandmate Keith Richards as an important driving force behind his playing.

“I have lost the largest pal in the world and I can't express the sense of sadness I feel,” Richards said in a statement yesterday, “although Bobby would tell me to cheer up.” 

Check out the rest of this Rolling Stone piece for more of his backstory and tales of his famous hijinks (hint: he was throwing TVs off hotel balconies before it was a cliche). But the best way to honor Keys is, of course, through his music — here are five great examples of his contributions to rock 'n' roll. 

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Delaney & Bonnie Friends feat. Eric ClaptonThe Rolling Stones John Lennon

Harry Nilsson

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