Keith Richards has collected a lot of rock and roll stories in his time. From threatening Donald Trump with a knife to snorting his cremated father’s ashes, it’s fair to say there’s not much The Rolling Stones guitarist hasn’t done.
That means him meeting the legends and founding fathers of rock and roll is pretty low on his sensational lifetime list. However, being punched in the face by the legendary rock and roller, the late and great Chuck Berry is right near the top.
If you get punched in the face by one of the leading men of rock there better be a good reason for it and, when Chuck Berry sadly passed away, Richards took the chance to share not only his sadness at the loss of his hero and idol Berry—an artist whom Richards calls “the granddaddy of us all”—but the whole glorious story which left Keef with a black eye and a tale that would please him more than most.
Richards wrote into Rolling Stone to share the story following Berry’s sad demise: “Chuck Berry once gave me a black eye, which I later called his greatest hit. We saw him play in New York somewhere, and afterwards, I was backstage in his dressing room, where his guitar was lying in its case.” Now, we don’t know Keith Richards personally, but we’d assume that good ol’ Keef isn’t one for abiding by the rules, even if they are the unspoken writs of the guitarist, such as ‘never touch a man’s guitar without his blessing’.
“I wanted to look, out of professional interest,” Richards remembers, “And as I’m just plucking the strings, Chuck walked in and gave me this wallop to the frickin’ left eye. But I realised I was in the wrong. If I walked into my dressing room and saw somebody fiddling with my axe, it would be perfectly all right to sock ’em, you know? I just got caught.”
Richards recounted more moments of rock and roll pride with the ultimate guitar hero, the pair having spent a fair bit of time together over the years: “He would do things like throw me offstage, too. I always took that as a reverse compliment, sort of as a sign of respect—because otherwise, he wouldn’t bother with me.” Berry was known for his cantankerous side and generally being a little annoyed by all these English kids coming to America and stealing his gig.
Richards continued: “He was a little prickly, but at the same time there was a very warm guy underneath that he wasn’t that willing to display. There were other times between us when we’re sitting around and rehearsing, and going, ‘Man, you know, between us we got that shit down’—and there would be a beautiful, different feeling.
“When I got the call that he was gone, it wasn’t a total, unexpected shock,” he explained of the moment following learning of Berry’s death. “But I kind of got the strange feeling that I remembered when Buddy Holly died. I was in school, and this whisper started to go around the classroom. The whole class gave this collective gasp of horror. This was that same blow to the gut. It hit me harder than I expected. But Chuck certainly hung in there. There’s another thing I hope to emulate.”
Watch Keith explain the story below on Jimmy Fallon, and below that enjoy Chuck Berry at his absolute finest, and enjoy the idea of Berry swinging fast at the brilliant Keith Richards.