Copywriting tips from Keith Richards
As well as being an iconic musician and one of the most ‘elegantly wasted’ men on earth, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards can teach us a thing or two about copywriting tips.
I’ve just finished reading Richards’ autobiography, Life. The book is entertaining from start to finish, and many of the phrases it contains are as memorable as Richard’s guitar riffs. It’s one of the most compelling and engaging pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time.
Here are some observations on Keith’s writing style that you may like to absorb into your own copywriting or blogging.
Write in your own voice
If you’ve ever listened to ‘Keef’ being interviewed, you’ll know he has a very unique way of speaking. This comes through in his writing: throughout the book, you can almost hear his trademark coughs, guttural throat clearing and wheezy smokers’ laugh. By adopting his natural tone of voice, Keith’s personality shines through. On the other hand, if you try to sound like someone you aren’t, you’ll always sound phony.
"If you try to sound like someone you aren’t, you’ll always sound phony."
Don’t pull punches
Keith is exceptionally upfront. His descriptions of band members, fans, friends, and his own drug addiction are direct and certainly not sugarcoated. He doesn’t bother much with qualifiers and modifiers. He calls John Lennon a ‘silly sod’ and Truman Capote a ‘snooty whiner.’ He describes his long-time mate, Mick Jagger, as an insecure, egotistical and promiscuous social climber, someone who has few scruples, and a ‘tiny todger’ to boot. This is someone he still works with! But, why not? If you’re going to express a view, you might as well be direct. He’s also brutally honest about his own drug use and dereliction of duty as a father and husband.
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Bloggers write because they’re interested in a particular subject. That’s obvious. But I often come away with an impression of detachment. As though being seen to be too keen is not cool.
Not Keith. He clearly loves his music, be it blues, rock or country, and he’s not afraid to show it. As he writes: ‘Music was a far bigger drug than smack. I could quit smack but I couldn’t quit music’.
For me one of book’s best parts is when he talks about tuning his guitar using the open tuning method – something I knew absolutely nothing about and would have expected to find boring. Despite the fact he goes into great detail, my attention was captured by his passion and the fact that he explains the benefits of open tuning in everyday language, without getting bogged down with technical terminology. Plus, he brings the topic to life by sharing examples of how this tuning method enabled him to create his signature guitar sounds.
He may be an exceptional guitarist but I think Keith missed his other true calling: the man would have made a great comedian.
Whether he’s describing one of his many drug busts or having a go at Jagger, the way he explains things and the unique phrases he uses conjure up funny images that make you smile. For example, he describes his wife, Patti Hansen, as ‘smart, caring, thoughtful and a very hot horizontal consideration’.
Give credit where it’s due
Keith may live life with his own characteristic version of a John Wayne-like swagger, but he’s generous in his praise of others and gives proper credit to fellow musicians and those who he learned from. For example, he explains how the Beatles paved the way for the Rolling Stones; how he stole every lick he’s ever played from Chuck Berry, and how he was in awe of one time Rolling Stone member Mick Taylor’s guitar playing.
Tell a story
One of the best ways to explain a complex matter is to wrap your explanation in a story your readers can understand. For example you might set the scene using words or phrases like ‘Imagine that…’ and then follow up with an everyday situation that the reader can relate to. The use of these types of vivid stories is what makes Life such a good read.
Can you see any opportunities to employ some of Keith’s techniques into your own writing? Please share your copywriting tips with us below. Go on. You know we ain’t too proud to beg.