Bobby Keys: That Was Him on Sax in 'Brown Sugar'

Bobby Keys' driving, raw tour de force saxophone solo in the middle of the Rolling Stones' 1971 hit "Brown Sugar" will still raise the little hairs on your neck decades later.


But Keys, who died Dec. 2 at age 70 in Franklin, Tenn., was no one-hit wonder. He played frequently with the Stones for most of the group's half-century of existence and is heard on numerous other songs in their repertoire, from 1969's "Live with Me" to 1980's "Emotional Rescue." You've heard him on the records by a pantheon rock greats, from Joe Cocker to Sheryl Crow, and was featured on John Lennon's 1974 single "Whatever Gets You Through the Night."

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Here are some facts about Keys and his career.

  • Keys was born in Hurlwood, Tx., on Dec. 18, 1943, the same day as his close friend and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard.
  • He took up the saxophone because it was the only instrument still available when he belatedly joined the high school band.
  • According to Keys' 2012 memoir, he played on Dion's 1961 hit single "The Wanderer" and Elvis Presley's 1962 song "Return to Sender," although other sources credit Boots Randolph.
  • Keys met the Rolling Stones on their first American tour in 1964, which included s stop at the Texas Youth Fair in San Antonio with country star George Jones and teen idol Bobby Vee (who Keys played with).
  • In his own memoir, Richards recalls finding Keys with a woman in a bathtub filled with Dom Perignon champagne, which ate up Keys' entire earnings for a 1973 tour.

The Guardian offers this list of Keys' five greatest performances. Here's a 1972 video in which Keys performs live with the Stones on "Brown Sugar."


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Photo: Brian Hineline/Corbis

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