Keith Richards on Johnny Depp, the Scream Awards and talking like a pirate

Oct. 23, 2009 | 10:44 p.m.

SCREAM AWARDS, airing 10 p.m., TUESDAY, OCT. 27 on SPIKE TV

Keith Richards and Johnny Depp

You never know who you’re going to meet at the Scream Awards — last year I found myself standing between Marilyn Manson and George Lucas — and this year didn’t disappoint. Not long after I arrived at the Greek Theatre for the taping of this year’s show I was whisked off to a trailer for an unexpected interview with a guitar hero who qualifies as true rock royalty — even if he was tapping his cigarette into an ashtray he had just made out of aluminum foil.

Scream logo

“I’ve never see one of these shows,” Keith Richards said with a rasp and a chuckle, “but it sounded like fun and when I heard Johnny was going to be involved, I said, ‘Well, at least I’ll know somebody there.’”

Richards meant Johnny Depp, of course, the actor who based a good bit of his Jack Sparrow screen persona on the bleary, decadent charm of the Rolling Stones guitarist. Depp even brought Richards into the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise for a cameo as Sparrow’s father. For the youngest generations of movie fans, the 65-year-old musician actually may be better known for his sea-dog duty than he is for playing the signature riffs in “Satisfaction,” “Gimme Shelter” and “Start Me Up.”

Keith Richards at scream Awards

“Yeah, it’s always cropped up, ever since I was in the movie and some kids even think I’m Johnny’s dad,” Richards said. “Like his real dad. That’s not so bad, right?” Then, with a wink, he added: “We might enlarge upon that in another movie.”

Depp may be the biggest movie star in the world right now, but later, during the taping (shown in photo above), he was the picture of respectful deference to Richards as he presented his British elder with the Rock Immortal Award. It’s a trophy that maybe they should call the Rock Undead Award, considering its past winners were Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne. Those previous winners have long and interesting careers but they can’t really compete with a member of the Stones as far as pop-culture heft. I said as much to Richards and, behind a haze of smoke, he grinned. “Yeah, really, we’re going uptown now.”

Richards and Depp were born 20 years and an ocean apart, but their close friendship has become a topic of fascination. Rolling Stone (the magazine, not the band) put the pair on its cover in 2007 with a story that read like a long valentine to a pair of roadhouse souls who just happen to be wildly rich and famous. The pair met in the mid-1990s and Richards talks of Depp as a peer, not a protege.

“We’ve grown together,” Richards said.”Funny enough, I met Johnny through my son, Marlon, who said, ‘Dad, this my mate, Johnny.’ I knew the name but not much more. He was just a friend of my son’s, I didn’t know more than that. It’s been grand.”

Richard needed to get going, so I asked one last question: Looking back on rock and its history, was it strange to him that we’ve reached a point where young consumers show more marketplace enthusiasm for buying ring tones and guitar-playing video games than albums?

He shrugged and said it was all just part of the evolution of a revolution. “It’s interesting how the music has pervaded everywhere. You have video games now and movies and commercials and TV. You can’t get escape it. There’s the air you breathe and there’s rock ‘n’ roll.”

As I left the trailer I noticed that Depp had been waiting patiently right outside the door for his turn to visit with his pal and, when he did enter the smoky trailer, he had a big smile on his face.

– Geoff Boucher

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PHOTOS: Top two photos by Kevin Winter / Getty Images. Johnny Depp portrait by Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times.

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