Chuck Berry was the only man that could give Keith Richards a black eye and get away with it. The intense love that The Rolling Stones guitarist the work of Berry is a well-covered topic, and Keef possesses a special appreciation for one song, which he singled out as his favourite.
There isn’t an artist on that planet that has played a more crucial role in helping The Stones establish their sound like the late Berry. During their early days, the band would bond over listening sessions of Berry’s records until the wax began to tire, and their first single, ‘Come On’, was a cover of one of his creations.
Interestingly, Berry also helped give the band one of their biggest hits after taking lyrical inspiration from Berry’s track ‘Thirty Days’ to create ‘I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)’. The lyric had subconsciously entered Richards’ lexicon, and after all, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. While it likely wasn’t a deliberate steal, it does signify just how far Berry’s work had seeped into his brain.
“To me, (Berry’s music) had sort of a crystal clear clarity of what I wanted to hear, and what I was aiming for,” Richards said regarding the influence of Berry on his adolescent self to the LA Times. “And they were having fun — that was the underlying aspect of it all,” he added. “There was an exuberance, and they were not too serious. What was serious was what was going down — they weren’t serious about it.”
Unsurprisingly, when Richards appeared on Desert Island Discs, the first artist that he expressed love towards was his teenage hero. On the radio programme, guests name the eight pieces of music which they’d want to accompany them if trapped on an island, as well as a luxury item.
“‘Wee Wee Hours’ Chuck Berry, first off a great inspiration to me, and I thought also that I would like to hear something that is not obviously Chuck Berry, to be surprised,” Richards told host Kirsty Young. “And it’s always surprised me this track, such a supple blues, almost Nat King Cole in style with the brilliant piano of Johnny Johnson.”
Although the two had a misunderstanding which left Richards with a battle scar after he naively fiddled on Berry’s precious guitar without permission, he did manage to earn his idol’s respect. The Stones member played alongside the blues icon at his 60th birthday celebrations in 1986, and they tore through a rendition of ‘Johnny B Goode’ with Keef unable to hide his childlike enthusiasm.