Revisit Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday show featuring Keith Richards, Etta James and Eric Clapton
Chuck Berry is the guitarist who you’re favourite guitarist most likely grew up inspiring to be. Throughout his prolific career, he taught the world that there was a new way to play rock ‘n’ roll and every chord he played was infectious. Listening to Chuck Berry was a lifechanging experience for the likes of Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, both of whom came out to celebrate on October 16th, 1986, at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis for a star-studded evening paying tribute to Berry as he turned 60.
Two concerts took place in one day to celebrate Berry’s greatness which was later turned into a documentary film titled Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. Berry could secure some of the biggest names in the business and any musician worth their salt would drop their plans at a moment’s notice in order to spend time in his company. The 1987 documentary was directed by Taylor Hackford and tells the story of both these concerts and, as well as a film, there would also be a soundtrack released which documents one of the greatest nights in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Berry was joined by many iconic figures from the world of music including Robert Cray, Julian Lennon, Linda Ronstadt, Bobby Keys as well as a host more. There was one moment towards the end of the set which would go down as one of the ultimate Chuck Berry performances which saw him not only joined by Etta James who took up lead vocals on ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Music’ but The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray all assisting Berry on guitar duties.
There was no man more appreciative of the chance to work alongside Chuck Berry than The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. He is a superfan of the pioneer and has worked with him on many occasions but this appearance might be the most special as it was a show of such significant importance for Berry.
The guitarist has long shared his admiration for Chuck Berry and has continuously cited him as a vital inspiration to both him and Mick Jagger, rekindling their childhood friendship after Richards spotted the singer holding a Berry LP.
“When I started, all I wanted to do was play like Chuck [Berry]. I thought if I could do that, I’d be the happiest man in the world,” Richards once remarked of the iconic rock and roller. Speaking with Rolling Stone he shed some more light on the moment Berry spoke to him and the performance he gave on a landmark film.“When I saw Chuck Berry 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,” the avid jazz-lover himself, the dissent sparked life into an idea for Richards.
“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.
“To me, that’s blues. That’s the attitude and the guts it takes. That’s what I wanted to be,” Richards mused. During the same interview, the guitarist also mentioned a few other notable guitarists from whom he got “it”. What that “it” really is, is anyone’s guess. But we’d guess it was connected directly to the soul.
You can see from the performance just how much Keith Richards is getting lost in the moment as he gets to share the stage with his biggest hero and the person we’ve got to thank for the incarnation of The Rolling Stones, check it out below.