Documentary Review — “Keith Richards: Under the Influence”

keithClosing in on his 72nd birthday, with decades of Rolling Stones documentaries and interviews behind him, Keith Richards can be excused for repeating himself. Just like your dad, or granddad, he’ll trot out the old stories with a little prodding.

Tell us about the time you recorded your acoustic guitar, distorted, through a cheap cassette recorder and created “Street Fighting Man.” Wait, you played bass on “Sympathy for the Devil”, which started out as a Bob Dylan-esque lament?

But the new documentary on Keith by Morgan “2o Feet From Stardom” Neville still manages to surprise and delight. This Netflix original, uploaded to coincide with the release of the new solo album “Cross-eyed Heart,” takes Richards to Chicago and Nashville, the twin roots of his sound — blues and country.

It hangs out with him in the studio with Steve Jordan and Waddy Wachtel, and sits at home in Weston, Connecticut as he croons-growls his way through originals and classic blues numbers, and gives us a taste of the new material.

Mostly, though, it’s to be relished for being unadulterated Keith — laughing, grinning and smoking, thoroughly enjoying the life he’s led and the image he’s created.

That image? “Walking down the road, smokin’ a joint, a bottle of Jack Daniels in my hand, cursing the fact that the liquor store’s closed.”

Neville shows us some terrific vintage recording studio stuff — the Stones at Chess in Chicago, and elsewhere, working things out, performing with the blues legends they  worshiped and popularized when they first came to America — Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.

And Keith plays a little pool with Buddy at Buddy’s Chicago blues bar, walks the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and talks up, more extensively than we’ve heard before, his early love of country music, the Nudie suits he got as hand-me-d0wns from Gram Parsons, how he met his non-Stones bandmates Jordan and Wachtel when he did that trying and terrific Chuck Berry documentary and concert, “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll” in the ’80s.

He records, with the oldest microphones he can get his hands on, sings sweeter than we remember him ever singing, and owns it — ALL of it, with a few pithy profundities.

“You can’t BUY a persona. You can either make it up, or live it.”

If you know anything about him at all (his autobiography “Life” is just part of the answer), you don’t have to guess which path he took.


MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity and endless smoking

Cast: Keith Richards, Steve Jordan,  Tom Waits, Waddy Wachtel
Credits: Directed by Morgan Neville. A Netflix Original.

Running time: 1:21

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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