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Keith Richards

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Somehow, while pursuing his beloved rock 'n' roll and blues, young Keith Richards accidentally veered head-on into superstardom. The teenager who idolized Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Chuck Berry has eventually joined them in the pages of music history, via his work as a solo artist and as a member of the Rolling Stones. Astonishingly, 30 years after Richards first embarked on his journey into the Pantheon of modern music, the guitarist/songwriter/singer is still creating rock 'n' roll with the same gleeful recklessness that characterized his earliest efforts.

Richards' recent solo career has revealed his seemingly limitless ability to create great, slashing rock 'n' roll guitar riffs. His 1988 Virgin Records solo debut album, "Talk Is Cheap, " captured a raw, almost primeval energy in its eleven tracks. Immediately following its release, Richards took his studio band -- dubbed the X-Pensive Winos -- and hit the road, proving that his new songs packed as much muscle onstage as in the recording studio. Documenting the raucously successful, first-ever solo tour, a live album and a home video -- both entitled "Keith Richards & The X-Pensive Winos Live At The Hollywood Palladium December 15, 1988" -- were released in 1991. His second studio album as a solo artist, 1992's "Main Offender, " again brandished an inimitable assortment of potent songs and bruising guitars.

As Richards' current musical creativity continues at a torrid pace, the list of awards and honors recognizing his career long accomplishments continues to grow. In January 1989 Richards and his Rolling Stones band mates were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame, and four months later he received the International Rock Awards' "Living Legend" honor. In 1986 Richards and the Stones received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award; in 1993 Richards was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall Of Fame, and at the 1994 MTV Awards the Rolling Stones received a Special Recognition Award "for setting the standard of rock n' roll excellence."

If this keeps up, Richards is going to need a much bigger mantelpiece soon.

Born December 18, 1943, Richards grew up in the drab south London suburbs, eventually falling in love with the raw rock 'n' roll sounds emanating from faraway America. Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry tweaked the ears and hormones of an entire generation of young British rockers-to-be, and Richards was no exception. He explored rock 'n' roll's blues roots, and had become a zealous R&B acolyte by the time he bumped into his Dartford, Kent schoolmate -- a young fellow named Mick Jagger, who shared Richards' rabid interest in American Rhythm & Blues.

The pair immediately struck up a friendship and went on to form a band with a variety of personnel. By 1962 the group had begun calling themselves the Rolling Stones, inspired by Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stones Blues." At pubs and clubs throughout London, the Stones performed raucous covers of songs by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy, and Elmore James -- earning barely enough money to stay alive.

1963 emerged as a pivotal year for the Stones. By year's end, they had permanently escaped squalor and poverty by releasing two groundbreaking cover singles -- "Come On" and "I Wanna Be Your Man" -- which attracted hordes of young fans while simultaneously infuriating and terrifying an entire generation of older, genteel British citizenry. More cover hits in 1964 -- "Not Fade Away," "It's All Over Now," and "Little Red Rooster" -- propelled the Stones to the top of American and British charts, while their debut album paved the way for the full-scale musical assault soon to follow.

Even the briefest listing of classic Rolling Stones songs ("Jumping Jack Flash," "Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses," "Tumbling Dice," "Miss You,") and albums ("Aftermath, " "Sticky Fingers, " "Exile On Main St., " "Some Girls, " "Voodoo Lounge") testify to the extraordinary worldwide cultural impact of Jagger, Richards, & Co. -- as musicians, songwriters, and icons.

The guitar interplay between Richards and a succession of band mates -- Jones, Mick Jagger, and Ron Wood -- coupled with the legendary drumming of Charlie Watts has formed the cornerstone of the Rolling Stones' sound, both in the recording studio and on the concert stage. The spectacle and audacity of the Stones' live shows continue to set the standard by which all other concerts are measured. Even the group's album artwork -- especially the album artwork! -- crystallizes their knack for wedding popular music with outrageous satirical imagery.

Attempting to sum up the group's all encompassing sway, pundits have resorted to a succinct phrase that speaks volumes: The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band.

Through all the hoopla, Keith Richards has maintained a self-effacing, slightly bemused outlook on his career as a solo artist and as a member of the Rolling Stones. Hailed by historians, vilified by straitlaced fogies of every stripe, and idolized by rock 'n' roll fans, Richards' true devotion remains today -- as always -- with the music itself.

And in that sense, he really hasn't changed much from the hungry young Rhythm & Blues fan of three decades earlier.

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