Giving Chuck Berry His Due

Keith Richards writes heartfelt tribute to his greatest influence

By Gary Graff
April 5, 2015

Keith Richards issued a quick statement upon Chuck Berry’s death on March 18, but he has more to say about the man who was his idol and greatest influence — and who once punched him in the face.

The Rolling Stones guitarist has penned a heartfelt essay for Rolling Stone, recalling that: “As a budding rock ‘n’ roll guitar player, his music blasted you into another stratosphere. There is sort of a golden period for Chuck’s music. When he was at Chess [Records], he was playing in the best studio, with the right players, with Willie Dixon behind him. I always come back to the word ‘exuberant’ when I listened to those records. It was stunning all around — the production, the sound, the sheer energy of them.”

Richards notes that: “Chuck’s music is interesting to play because it’s not as simple as it looks — and it’s also a matter of how interesting you can make it. The swing beat he used gave it a different flavor. That’s the meaning of the roll in rock & roll. It bounced.”

Richards was the musical director for Berry’s Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll! film in 1986. He writes that: “When I got the call that he was gone, it wasn’t a total unexpected shock, but…It hit me harder than I expected. But Chuck certainly hung in there. There’s another thing I hope to emulate.”

Berry’s final album, CHUCK, is due out in June.