One man who commanded the attention of the entire music world was Chuck Berry. Undoubtedly the Granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll, the duck-walking guitar great had the respect of all those who followed him including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and countless other acts who rightly saw Berry as the first to properly harness the swing of the new genre. It meant that when Berry experienced a brief revival later in his life he was able to call on some all-star friends to perform with him.
Lots of artists worked with Berry during this time including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and countless others. But 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. Back in 1987, when the footage below was captured, he joined Berry on stage alongside John Lennon’s son, Julian, to sing his classic ‘Johnny B. Goode’.
One of the standout rock ‘n’ roll singles of all time, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ is a stalwart of any music lover’s record collection. It most certainly ranks among one of Keith Richards favourites too. 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.
That’s exactly what is shared in the footage below—soul. The clip, taken from Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, a 1987 documentary film directed by Taylor Hackford that chronicled a couple of 1986 concerts celebrating Berry’s 60th birthday. A soundtrack album was released in October 1987 on the MCA label. While Richards is undoubtedly happy to be in the band and play his way through the song with a smile, truly it is Julian Lennon’s chance to shine.
Sharing the vocal with Berry just as his father had done before him, the singer delivers a charming rendition of the track that we’re sure the Beatle would have been very proud of. Sparkling and incandescent, Berry and Lennon provide a stonking reminder that the purity of rock ‘n’ roll runs through generations.