Bobby Keys, a saxophonist and rock ‘n’ roller known to millions for his blasting solo on the Rolling Stones‘ “Brown Sugar,” has died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 70 years old.
Michael Webb, who played keyboard with Keys, said the musician died on Tuesday after a lengthy illness. Keys had been out on tour with the Stones earlier this year before his health prevented him from performing.
“The Rolling Stones are devastated by the loss of their very dear friend and legendary saxophone player, Bobby Keys,” the band said in a statement. “Bobby made a unique musical contribution to the band since the 1960s. He will be greatly missed.”
Known for his heavy jowls and forceful style, the Texas native was born on the same day as Keith Richards – Dec. 18, 1943 – and the Stones’ guitarist would often cite Keys as a soul mate and favorite musician.
Besides “Brown Sugar,” Keys also played memorable solos on such Stones favorites as the seven-minute jam “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and the country-styled “Sweet Virginia.” Other career highlights included John Lennon‘s chart-topping “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”
“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,” Keith Richards wrote in a statement.
Keys’ career dated back to the 1950s, when as a teenager he played with Buddy Holly and the Crickets. He joined the Stones in the late 1960s and was with them off and on over the following decades. He also played on Richards’ solo album Talk Is Cheap.