“One of the things people forget about Keith Richards is he’s one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century,” filmmaker Morgan Neville says about The Rolling Stones icon.
Imagine listening to vinyls all day with one of the greatest guitarists of our time. That’s what filmmaker Morgan Neville (“Twenty Feet from Stardom”) did for a sit-down interview with Keith Richards, which eventually grew into an unexpected full-length documentary.
In “Keith Richards: Under the Influence,” which made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last week, Neville explores the many musical inspirations behind the latest solo album from The Rolling Stones guitarist. On “Crosseyed Heart,” his first solo record in two decades, Richards fluctuates from bluesy rock and roll to country to reggae. Beyond uncovering the sonic roots behind Richards’ songs, Neville captures the essence of the songwriter and guitarist in his film, revealing the musician that’s so laid back and cool “you want him to be your dad,” as Neville said.
From Richards’ bumbling recollections of famous Stones recording sessions to the time Chuck Berry punched him in the face to his profound love of all music, “Under the Influence” shows us more of the legend behind the cigarette and bandana. We caught up with the Oscar-winning director over the phone to hear about his time with Richards and the spontaneity behind the making of the film.
How awesome was it to hang out with Keith Richards?
If I told my 14-year-old self that I’d be hanging out with Keith Richards talking about records, my head would’ve exploded.
What was the original idea behind making this doc?
First of all, it was most definitely not supposed to be a film. I got a call from [Richards’] manager, Jane. She wanted to know if I wanted to interview him to have something to go around the new album. […] Then I heard the record and it had all these different influences. I came up with this idea that I’d show up at his house with a pile of vinyl and a turntable, and that we would just talk about all of these different influences in his life. He came in and immediately started going through the records. It was George Jones, Lightning Hopkins, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, The Flying Burrito Brothers. He started playing songs and we had this amazing three hour interview. At the end, Jane said, “God, that was great. Keith had a great time. We should keep filming. But we’re not going to make a documentary.” So it was just one of those things where we kept going. […] The edit was going so well that it somehow became a feature length.
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