Though the members of the Rolling Stones weren’t able to make it to rock icon Chuck Berry‘s private funeral service in St. Louis on Sunday (Apr. 9), guitarist Keith Richards posted a heartfelt tribute to his hero on Facebook in which he praised Berry’s status as a progenitor of rock.
“To Put Chuck Berry into words! That is a task,” wrote Richards in the post, which was accompanied by a clip of the pair from the 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. “If I flip the coin and wonder how the f–k Chuck Berry reacted to me when he first heard my feeble efforts to spread his groove, my guess is a disdainful chuckle and then a gleam as he imagined the royalties roll in. Then a realization that his music was far more important than he had ever imagined. (He did thank me for that). And, let’s face it, Chuck had imagination. Just check the songs.”
Richards reeled off a list of classic Berry hits on which he claims “all is revealed,” pointing to: “Monkey Business”, “Wee Wee hours”, “Jo Jo Gunne”, “You Can’t Catch me”, “Childhood Sweetheart,” as well as such landmark rock staples as “Johnny B. Goode”, “Little Queenie” or “Around & Around,” and “Let it Rock”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Memphis.”
“You have to hear the original recordings to get the whole picture. Let us make no mistake about him,” Richards continued. “His inventiveness, natural exuberance, brought all of the variations of this vital music together, be it Rockabilly, country, R & B, Jazz or pop. His own roots went wide and deep, even back via Louis Jordan to the big bands. But we’re talking about a complicated and thoughtful man here. Listen to ‘No Money Down’, the incredible ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ with its reversed riff. As a lyricist his imagination, the themes and subject matter took songwriting to a level yet to be matched. Who else could come up with ‘Too Much Monkey Business.’ Throw in as well ‘No Money Down,’ ‘Memphis, Tennessee’ and ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ … a song that John Lennon reworked with ‘Come Together.’ And then there were the guys he worked with; Johnny Johnson, on piano, an icon of boogie and feel; Willie Dixon, the BASSMAN!; Freddie Below and Ebbie Harding on drums.”
Richards remembered Berry as a “very guarded and private man,” someone who was “essentially” warm hearted, “though he spent a lot of time disguising that fact which could give the opposite impression. Hard to know, moody, but when you got him at the right time, beautifully friendly. It’s hard to find the words to describe his contradictions: warm, infuriating, moody, disarmingly charming, angry . He once gave me a black eye for daring to touch his guitar. Quite Right!!! I called it Chuck’s greatest Hit.”
Processing Berry’s death reminded Richards of the same feeling he had as a 15-year-old when Buddy Holly died, describing it as a “sickening thud to the guts and a feeling of losing a member of the family.” He’s been listening to Berry all along and, admittedly, he’s “still working on it.”
“He brought joy to us; the feeling for a fifteen year old guitar player that there was more to life than seemed possible,” concluded Richards. “With the exuberance, he brought a casual ease and a rhythm that makes bits of your body move you didn’t know you had. In essence, he was a revelation. I ain’t 15 no more but the joy remains.”
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Berry, who’s hailed as a founding father of rock, passed away on March 18 at the age of 90. Before his passing, he was working on a new eponymous album — his first since 1979’s Rock It — scheduled for release on June 16.