Although you may not be familiar with Nils Lofgren, you are almost certainly aware of his work. He’s been a Bruce Springsteen mainstay since the 1980s having recorded as part of The E Street band, along with his work with Neil Young, riveting in immediacy and honesty. However, Lofgren is a very formidable singer-songwriter in how right, having penned many infectious, chorus heavy songs in his time.
And yet there’s something special about ‘Keith Don’t Go’, precisely because it is so frank and honest. Emotionally coiled, the song is a calling card from guitar player to his hero, begging him not to venture down the perilous road that he is taking. The subject, naturally, is Keith Richards, whose predilection for drugs was becoming more famous than his sparkling guitar playing. It’s strange to think now, but it did look like Richards was spiralling into a drug-laden abyss. Many rockstars have fallen for the perfume of drugs. Many survived, many didn’t. The Rolling Stones had already suffered one bereavement in the shape of Brian Jones-his shadow still looms over the band to this day.
Lofgren goes straight to the subject matter. As if throwing himself at the feet of the Stones chief songwriter, Lofgren bellows out: “This is a right-away letter, I’ve got to mail it today,” he sings. “Straight to my main inspirer, says urgent from the USA, Its got this heart inside it, the postage is my soul; Contains a message from millions, says Keith don’t go.”
Lyrically, the song owes little to Richards writing, but the guitar is crisp, choppy and calculated with almost cut glass precision-are soaked in his influence. Lofgren is far from the only guitarist who enjoyed Richards playing: The Smiths Johnny Marr considered him a personal hero. Izzy Stradlin, formerly of Guns N’ Roses, is another disciple. But no one has been as frank about their admiration for Richards as Lofgren has.
The song was released in 1975, and still proves to be a live favourite. “I’m on Neil’s Tonight’s the Night UK tour,” he told Mojo. “I’m just 22, and in heaven. Every day, I’m meeting musicians, a dozen best friends of Keith, and he becomes a common conversation; how sick he is but what an enormous imprint he continues to make. My song was a giant thank you note saying, ‘You’re a medicine, we need you, why not stick around and take care of yourself.’”
Whether or not Richards heard the message, he still managed to clean himself up. In later years, he cautioned musicians to the dangers of drugs. “Amy Winehouse and Pete take drugs for the same reasons we did,” Richards said. “All I’d say is take your drugs in your spare time, if that’s what you want to do, but don’t mix it up.”
As of the time of print, Richards remains alive and well, having outlived Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. Lofgren is still performing prolifically, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 as a member of The E Street Band.