Bobby Keys

Bobby Keys was the sax player who performed with the Rolling Stones for many years. He was born in December 1943 near Slaton, Texas, and started touring at age 15 with Bobby Vee and fellow Texan Buddy Holly.

Keys, a heavy-set man with jowls to match, and had a raw, piercing sound and was one of the few rock saxophonists to develop a name in his own right. He died from liver cancer in December 2014 in Franklin, Tennessee.

In his autobiography, Keys wrote: “Buddy Knox’s booking agent was a guy named Jimmy Thomas. He also booked Myron Lee Wachendorf from Sioux Falls, SD. Buddy and the Rhythm Orchids would sometimes play gigs in the upper Midwest with Myron because The Caddies had a following there. They had a regular gig at a place called Shorty’s. Myron would open the night, and Buddy would finish. Bobby Vee helped Myron’s band get the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour. Myron’s regular sax player couldn’t make the gig or got fired or quit. All of a sudden I had an offer to do the Dick Clark tour with Myron and Bobby Vee. Once again I was an afterthought —or maybe I was in the right place at the right time.”

Bobby Vee’s band appeared on the same bill as the Rolling Stones in San Antonio in 1964, and Keys struck an instant friendship with Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Upon Keys’ death, Richards said, “I have lost the largest pal in the world, and I can’t express the sense of sadness I feel, although Bobby would tell me to cheer up.”

The two men shared a taste for throwing televisions off hotel balconies. They both developed heroin addictions, which led to Bobby’s estrangement from the group. His sax solo on “Brown Sugar” is legendary.

Bobby and Mick Jagger also became close in the early 1970s, with Keys serving as best man at Jagger’s wedding. He toured with the Stones through several decades. The list of musicians that featured his saxophone playing is incredible: Eric Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Leo Sayer, and many more.

The South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association is proud to honor Bobby Keys with the Spirit of Music award.


2018Spirit of the Music Award