Chuck Berry was one of Keith Richards‘ greatest influences, but their relationship was not always amicable. One time Berry punched Richards in the eye when he went into the rock icon’s dressing room and started playing his ax, the Rolling Stones guitarist recalls in a remembrance of Berry in Rolling Stone. Richards would later call this Berry’s “greatest hit.”
“We saw him play in New York somewhere, and afterward I was backstage in his dressing room, where his guitar was lying in its case. I wanted to look, out of professional interest, and as I’m just plucking the strings, Chuck walked in and gave me this wallop to the frickin’ left eye,” Richards said. “But I realized I was in the wrong. If I walked into my dressing room and saw somebody fiddling with my ax, it would be perfectly all right to sock ’em, you know? I just got caught.”
Berry passed away March 18 at the age of 90 and, as Richards points out, his influence is heard across all rock music.
“Chuck is the granddaddy of us all. Even if you’re a rock guitarist who wouldn’t name him as your main influence, your main influence is probably still influenced by Chuck Berry,” Richards said. “He is rock & roll in its pure essence.”
Richards teamed with Berry in 1986 to produce the documentary concert film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll that celebrated Berry’s 60th birthday. For this, Richards moved into Berry’s house for weeks, which he called a “childhood dream come true.”
Richards recalled, “I’m living at Chuck Berry’s house, putting a band together with him! Steve Jordan, Chuck Leavell and [NRBQ‘s] Joey Spampinato were there too, and every day was an adventure. One night I woke up and found him outside the door with this enormous machine, shampooing the rug at three in the morning: ‘It’s gotta get done!’
Upon hearing of Berry’s death, Richards said it wasn’t a “total unexpected shock” but still felt like a “blow to the gut.”
“I kind of got the strange feeling that I remembered when Buddy Holly died. I was in school, and this whisper started to go around the classroom. The whole class gave this collective gasp of horror,” he said. “This was that same blow to the gut. It hit me harder than I expected.”
Richards added, “But Chuck certainly hung in there. There’s another thing I hope to emulate.”
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