Keith Richards tells the story behind Rolling Stones' 'Gimme Shelter'

Music 01/11/2017

In a new interview with Harper's Bazaar Keith Richards talked about the events that helped shape the writing and recording of three of the band's biggest hits and fan favourites.

Richards looked back on Gimme Shelter from 1969's Let It Bleed, Sweet Black Angel from 1972's Exile on Main St  and Beast of Burden from 1978's Some Girls.

About Gimme Shelter, Richards said that the song's intense lyrics weren't initially any part of the inspiration behind the music.

Instead, he was inspired to grab his guitar after watching people trying to get out of the rain.

"I had been sitting by the window of my friend Robert Fraser’s apartment on Mount Street in London with an acoustic guitar when suddenly the sky went completely black and an incredible monsoon came down. It was just people running about looking for shelter — that was the germ of the idea," said Richards.

"We went further into it until it became, you know, rape and murder are ‘just a shot away.’"

Gimme Shelter is also remembered for the vocal contributions of singer Merry Clayton, whose involvement was another gradual addition to the track and one that represented a creative departure for the band.

"I can’t think of a time I ever started a song off saying, ‘This is going to be a duet,’" said Richards. "But somewhere in the process of making the record it suddenly became obvious that we needed a female voice. Mick and I both looked at each other and said, ‘Man, we need a bitch in this!’ So [producer] Jack Nitzsche called up the singer Merry Clayton, and she was at the studio within an hour, and we cut it. Just like that."

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