Without Chuck Berry, there’s no Keith Richards, and consequently, The Rolling Stones would be resigned to residing in our imaginations. The late blues great even had his fingerprints on ‘I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)’, with Keith subconsciously stealing the phrase from Berry’s lexicon.
Perhaps only Muddy Waters played an equally vital role in establishing The Rolling Stones’ heavenly sound as Chuck Berry. Heartwarmingly, the legendary artist, was also why ‘The Glimmer Twins’ reconnected when Richards spotted Jagger holding some of the singer’s LPs among a bundle of blues records that only true aficionados could find.
“This is a true story – we met at the train station,” Jagger recalled in 1995. “And I had these rhythm & blues records, which were very prized possessions because they weren’t available in England then. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, these are really interesting’. That kind of did it. That’s how it started, really.” A shared love of music which would radiate throughout their careers.”
Throughout their career, Berry has remained a guiding light, and interestingly, he’s also the singer that the band have covered most often. Most of their takes on his work featured during their earliest recordings and live performances.
While their very first single, ‘Come On’, was a Berry cover and shared renditions of Berry’s track ‘Carol’. However, the greatest favour they owe to the late artist was his helping hand in ‘I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)’, which is built around a lyric from his song ‘Thirty Days’.
“Well, Keith [Richards] wrote the lick,” Jagger later commented. “I think he had this lyric, ‘I can’t get no satisfaction,’ which, actually, is a line in a Chuck Berry song called ‘Thirty Days’. I didn’t know it, but Keith might have heard it back then, because it’s not any way an English person would express it. I’m not saying that he purposely nicked anything, but we played those records a lot.”
Jagger kept the receipts on that spot of plagiary from his bandmate and revelled in sharing it with the world. The only issue is that while Richards almost certainly lifted the phrase from ‘Thirty Days’, he misheard the lyric, as Berry’s line goes, “If I don’t get no satisfaction from the judge, I’m gonna take it to the FBI and voice my grudge.”
Whether Richards deliberately altered the song’s words to avoid an expensive lawsuit, or if it was just a simple mistake on the guitarist’s part which ended up saving his band millions in royalties. After all, Chuck did have a reputation for that, as The Beatles discovered the hard way.
Richards once said, “Chuck is the granddaddy of us all. Even if you’re a rock guitarist who wouldn’t name him as your main influence, your main influence is probably still influenced by Chuck Berry. He is rock & roll in its pure essence.”
Berry has had his DNA splattered all over The Rolling Stones, and it’s fitting that their most notable song came to existence because of a phrase he uttered. In some way, it’s a microcosm of those early days of the band when they tried to do everything in their might to replicate his dazzling brilliance.