The Truth About Keith Richards and Chuck Berry’s Relationship
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Keith Richards, Rolling Stones’ guitarist, has always stated that the late Chuck Berry is the musician he most admires. Berry was essential in introducing Richards to the blues and expanding his musical horizons, which resulted in Richards’s newfound interest in the genre.
Years later, he befriended his hero, but theirs was no ordinary friendship; despite their mutual admiration, it was frequently tumultuous.
Berry’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 was mentioned by Richards in an interview with Rolling Stone. He said: “When I saw Chuck in Jazz on a Summer’s Day as a teenager, what struck me was how he was playing against the grain with a bunch of jazz guys. They were brilliant — guys like Jo Jones on drums and Jack Teagarden on trombone — but they had that jazz attitude cats put on sometimes: ‘Ooh… this rock and roll’.”
“With ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ Chuck took them all by storm and played against their animosity,” the guitarist added. “To me, that’s blues. That’s the attitude and the guts it takes. That’s what I wanted to be, except I was white.”
Richards had trouble hiding his ardent fandom of Berry whenever the two were together, and they famously got into a fight over the issue. Writing about Berry’s death in 2017, Richards said: “Chuck Berry once gave me a black eye, which I later called his greatest hit. We saw him play in New York somewhere, and afterwards, 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. But I realized I was in the wrong. If I walked into my dressing room and saw somebody fiddling with my axe, it would be perfectly all right to sock ’em, you know? I just got caught.”
And the infamous rehearsal blows also came into the discussion when Richards played along with Berry in celebration of the latter’s 60th birthday. Berry allegedly snapped at Richards about who would play lead guitar on the song, prompting Richards to back down and give the birthday man his moment in the spotlight.
Yet, Richards’ admiration for Berry as a guitarist remained unwavering through the ups and downs of their friendship, and he was able to effectively separate the man from the music.