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Chuck Berry 1926-2017

‘The Granddaddy of Us All’ Chuck Berry’s biggest fan – and occasional punching bag – explains how Berry set the template for rock guitar BY KEITH RICHARDS huck berry once gave me a black eye. which studio, with the right players, with Willie Dixon behind him. I I later called his greatest hit. We saw him play in New always come back to the word “exuberant” when I listen to those York somewhere, and afterward I was backstage in records. It was stunning all around – the production, the sound, his dressing room, where his guitar was lying in its the sheer energy of them. After that, he always seemed to me to case. I wanted to look, out of professional interest, be sort of searching. And doing time didn’t help. He came out a and as I’m just plucking the strings, Chuck walked in and gave different man. me this wallop to the frickin’ left eye. But I realized I was in the He was incredibly versatile in his music. He would play evwrong. If I walked into my dressing room and saw somebody fiderything. He was picking up guitar from the jazz guys – Charlie dling with my ax, it would be perfectly all right to sock ’em, you Christian, and definitely T-Bone Walker with that double-string know? I just got caught. work – and he was very much aware He would do things like throw me of songwriters of the standards. He offstage, too. I always took that as a was a real fan of the Nat King Cole reverse compliment, sort of as a sign Trio. I think he listened to everyof respect – because otherwise he thing, because he was just as adept wouldn’t bother with me. at country music, too. His music is He was a little prickly, but at the an incredible mixture of America. same time there was a very warm There’s Spanish in there, bayou stuff, guy underneath that he wasn’t that and swamp. willing to display. There were other When the Stones were playing times between us when we’re sitclubs, it was basically Chuck and the ting around and rehearsing, and blues – which, to me, is not that difgoing, “Man, you know, between ferent! We loved to play “Around and us we got that shit down” – and Around.” Chuck’s music is interestthere would be a beautiful, differing to play because it’s not as simple ent feeling. as it looks – and it’s also a matter of Chuck is the granddaddy of us how interesting you can make it. The all. Even if you’re a rock guitarist swing beat he used gave a different who wouldn’t name him as your flavor. That’s the meaning of the roll MONKEY main inf luence, your main inf luin rock & roll: It bounced. BUSINESS ence is probably still influenced by In 1986, when we made Hail! Richards and Chuck Berry. He is rock & roll in its Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll, I moved into his Berry in 1980 pure essence. The way he moved, house in Berry Park for weeks. It especially in those early film clips; was a childhood dream come true the exuberant ease when he laid – I’m living at Chuck Berry’s house, “Chuck was not one of those down that rhythm was mystifying putting a band together with him! and something to behold. He used Steve Jordan, Chuck Leavell and players grimacing at every his whole arm to play. He used the [NRBQ’s] Joey Spampinato were note he played. He’s smiling.” shoulder and elbows. Most of us just there too, and every day was an aduse our wrists; I’m still working on venture. One night I woke up and the shoulder bit. Chuck was not one found him outside the door with this of those guitar players grimacing at enormous machine, shampooing the every note he played, which is so common among us all. Chuck’s rug at three in the morning: “It’s gotta get done!” smiling as he’s playing that shit. The scene with “Carol” in the movie was a little bit of gameBut his songwriting, man. I mean, who can come up with “Too playing on his part. He was fucking with me. He was correcting Much Monkey Business”? “Jo Jo Gunne,” “School Days,” “Back in me, but it can be slightly different every time. I thought, “Well, the U.S.A.”? And “Memphis, Tennessee” is untouchable. It’s got a I’ll just show how stoic I can be under these sorts of occasions beauty all its own, an intriguing tenderness. There’s a sort of realand do it.” ity in the plea of it – a great, poignant story – and such a beautiful When I got the call that he was gone, it wasn’t a total, unexchord sequence, beautifully played. The drums are a wonder. It’s pected shock, but I kind of got the strange feeling that I rememone of those moments you only catch now and again on record, bered when Buddy Holly died. I was in school, and this whisper and he caught it. It’s all there in two and a half minutes. started to go around the classroom. The whole class gave this colAs a budding rock & roll guitar player, his music blasted you lective gasp of horror. This was that same blow to the gut. It hit into another stratosphere. There is sort of a golden period for me harder than I expected. But Chuck certainly hung in there. Chuck’s music. When he was at Chess, he was playing in the best There’s another thing I hope to emulate.

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