Bobby Keys 1943-2014 “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin”… On Heaven’s Door

by Chris Murray on December 3, 2014

Bobby Keys, who played saxophone for the Rolling Stones for more than 40 years.

Bobby Keys was one of the great rock and roll sidemen of all time.  He performed and recorded with George Harrison, Chuck Berry, Donovan, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Graham Nash, Sheryl Crow, and The Rolling Stones, to name a few. His sax riffs on “Brown Sugar” for example, are the heart and soul of that song.  I met Bobby after a Rolling Stones show in Atlanta in 2006.  I was in the suite where the band members would return their performance outfits after gigs to Isobel Work, who is in charge of their wardrobe.  Elvis at 21, the award-winning book of Alfred Wertheimer’s photographs of Elvis Presley in 1956 that I edited had just been published.  I brought a copy of the book for Isobel, and when Bobby Keys came in the room we showed it to him.  It turns out that Bobby was a massive fan of Elvis as a young boy and told me that his room at home was covered wall-to-wall with photographs of Elvis.  It was great meeting Bobby and he couldn’t have been more gracious.

I was in Hampton Roads, VA for the last show of the Stones’ 1981 American tour.  Michael Halsband was the tour photographer and Govinda Gallery was about to have the first exhibition of Halsband’s remarkable photos of musicians.  Michael had invited me down to the two gigs at Hampton Roads and took me along to the after party for that last show of the tour which was on December 19, which happened to be my birthday.  Bobby Keys and Keith Richards were both born on December 18.  The after party was also a birthday party for Keith and there was a birthday cake with a guitar on top made out of confectionery sugar.  I went up to Keith and told him it was my birthday and he said to me “Yeah, you, me, and Bobby Keys”.  Keith smiled and gave me the little guitar on the cake which I gave to my neighbors at Govinda Gallery Laura and Amy Harney, the first Govinda Girls, who kept it in their freezer at home for four years!
img036Hampton Roads, VA December 19, 1981 backstage. Copyright © Chris Murray. All Rights Reserved.

When I told Donovan this morning that Bobby had passed on I did not realize that he had played on Donovan’s song “Sleep” from his Cosmic Wheels album.  Donovan sent me that song with Bobby playing sax for this posting from The Back Room for Bobby’s fans to enjoy.  He and his wife Linda also sent me these words of tribute to Bobby Keys:

“We send our love to all Bobby’s family.  Bobby is the consummate sideman, the guy who makes your session Special.  Not only incredible sax parts and tone but the humanity and cool.  Bobby played with the best.  Check Bobby on my “Sleep” track on my album Cosmic Wheels.  See link below.” -Donovan and Linda!

“Sleep” by Donovan with Bobby Keys

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