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Netflix documentary 'Keith Richards: Under The Influence'

Keith Richards will be featured in a new Netflix documentary, “Keith Richard: Under the Influence.”J. Rose

Keith Richards will be featured in a new Netflix documentary, “Keith Richard: Under the Influence.”

Most music documentaries tell a star’s life story. A new one on Keith Richards plows a different path.

“Under the Influence,” which debuts Friday on Netflix, doesn’t offer the expected visual answer to Richards’ personally revealing 2010 autobiography, “Life.”

Instead, director Morgan Neville says, “We looked at the music itself, because that’s so much of what makes Keith a person.”

At first, the project wasn’t even supposed to be a formal documentary. It began when Richards’ manager, Jane Rose, asked Neville — who directed 2013’s Oscar-winning doc about backup singers, “20 Feet From Stardom” — to shoot an interview with the legend to promote his first solo album in 23 years, “Crosseyed Heart” (also out Friday).

Over the course of their talk, Richards’ influences became the focus.

“Keith has said, ‘Music is the center of my life,’” the director says. “Revolving around that center is the massive hurricane of fame, with winds blowing hundreds of miles an hour. ‘Whenever I get away from that center,’ Keith said, ‘those winds pull me away. What I’ve learned in these years is to stay at the center.’”

For Richards, it revolves around American roots music — acoustic and electric blues, country, R&B and soul. Every one of those sounds comes into play on “Crosseyed Heart.”

The guitarist’s connection to such genres takes precedence over discussion of the Rolling Stones in the film. “Keith loves talking about other people’s music more than he likes talking about his own,” Neville says.

Still, the film does include some Stones fan-catnip, like Richards’ description of how he got the iconic guitar sounds on the classics “Street Fighting Man” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” Turns out Richards used only acoustic guitars on those tracks. In the film, he demonstrates how he distorted the sound to get such an electrifying effect.

A nice portrait from the Netflix documentary “Keith Richards Under the Influence.”Justin Wilkes

A nice portrait from the Netflix documentary “Keith Richards Under the Influence.”

Richards also discusses the relationship between soul music and the Stones’ “Satisfaction.” “We talked about what it was like hearing Otis Redding’s cover of the song,” Neville says. “For an English R&B fan to have an American hero like Otis, or Aretha Franklin, cover your song — what a validation that was.”

There’s also talk of the band’s attachment to Chicago blues stars like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Purists have often sneered at the Stones’ Britification of the blues in the ’60s. They sped it up to the point of the manic. But, Neville argues, “If it sounded exactly like Chicago blues it wouldn’t have had the same impact.”

At the same time, bands like the Rolling Stones brought major attention to their blues heroes. “I did a doc on Muddy Waters years ago,” Neville says, “and I know that Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy all loved what the British bands did. The blues was very much on its way out by 1964. They gave them new careers.”

The film contains footage of one of the most bizarre benefits of that. It shows the Stones bringing the hulking Wolf to play before fresh-faced suburban teens on the ’60s TV show “Shindig!”

3021416053Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Caitrin Rogers and Morgan Neville with their Academy Awards for best documentary feature, “20 Feet From Stardom.”

“That has to be one of the greatest incongruities in pop history,” Neville laughs.

A seemingly similar incongruity can be found in the prominent presence of Tom Waits in the film. Though he and Richards have written and recorded together in the past, Waits isn’t the most obvious person to speak on Keith. Still, Neville insists, “Tom is one of the few people who’s on a similar wavelength. If 99 out of 100 people see a picture one way, they’d see it the other.”

The pair also share a resolute confidence in their eccentricities. In the film, Richards comes off as someone more comfortable in his life than ever at 71. Part of that may come from the fact that his early blues role models weren’t young at the time he worshipped them.

“There’s a sense of peacefulness that comes with age, which is something Keith always admired in the blues stars and which he always wanted to get to,” Neville says. “Now, I think he’s gotten there. He’s liberated from having to worry about hit singles and groupies. He can do whatever he wants — and he does.”


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Music & Arts – NY Daily News


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