Chuck Berry Takes Keith Richards to School, Shows Him How to Rock (1987)

Update: The great Chuck Berry has passed away at 90, join­ing many oth­er leg­ends in rock n roll heav­en. There’s so many great things to say about Mr. Berry. And we’ll have more on the site in the com­ing week. For now, enjoy one of our favorite Berry items from the archive.

The pur­pose of Tay­lor Hackford’s 1987 film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll was to doc­u­ment two con­certs held at the Fox The­atre in St. Louis to cel­e­brate Chuck Berry’s 60th birth­day, and that it does, giv­ing audi­ences loads of con­cert footage. Berry plays the hits, backed by an all-star band of leg­endary blues­men, R&B singers, and rock gui­tarists, assem­bled and direct­ed by pres­i­dent of the Chuck Berry fan club, Kei­th Richards: There’s Bob­by Keys and Chuck Leavell, Robert Cray and Eric Clap­ton, Etta James and Lin­da Ron­stadt.

And that’s not to men­tion the talk­ing head appear­ances from peo­ple like Bo Did­dley, Jer­ry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbi­son, Lit­tle Richard, and Bruce Spring­steen. In the pan­theon of rock-docs, it’s right up there with Last Waltz. The live takes are electrifying—the band’s pis­tons pound as they strug­gle to keep up with Berry. If the man had slowed down any in his sixth decade, it’s lit­tle won­der he had trou­ble hold­ing onto back­ing bands in his youth. Watch him go in the 1958 clip below.

But there’s anoth­er rea­son Berry burned through musi­cians. He is not an easy man to work with (nor, I would think, for). Bril­liant live per­for­mances abound in Hackford’s film, but one of its prin­ci­ple charms is the rehearsal footage, where Berry berates and bewil­ders his musicians–and some­times, like he does above to Richards, takes them to rock ’n’ roll school. In the clip above, Richards, Berry, and band rehearse “Car­ol,” but it takes them a good while to get going. Richards tries to play band­leader and, think­ing he’s doing Chuck a favor—or not want­i­ng to lose the spotlight—suggests that Berry play rhythm while he plays the lead.

Berry agrees at first. They bick­er and look dag­gers at each oth­er as Richards spoils a bend that only Chuck can play to his own sat­is­fac­tion. Final­ly he dives in and takes over. Why not? It is his song. Richards falls in line, takes the rhythm part, but looks a lit­tle sullen as Berry out­shines him. It’s almost an oedi­pal strug­gle. But the rock fore­fa­ther isn’t about to roll over and let Richards take over.

Else­where in the film, Berry gives voice to the under­ly­ing anger he har­bored for Richards. The Stones and oth­er British bands took Berry’s riffs (he claimed) and made mil­lions, and Chuck nev­er for­gave them. He still doesn’t get enough cred­it. The Rolling Stones still tour and record, but Berry, almost twen­ty years old­er than Richards, is still out on the road too, still show­ing ‘em how it’s done. See sec­ond video below.




Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (28) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (28)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • VAUGHN neal says:


  • larry blakey says:

    After watch­ing this film years ago, I learned some­thing along with oth­ers. Chuck stole his riffs from John­ny John­son his piano play­er and was ex posed by Kei­th Richards, it was tak­en to court after this movie was made and the court agreed, Eric Clap­ton also tes­ti­fied at this hear­ing.

  • Doug says:

    Your take on this is inter­est­ing, but imo flawed:

    a. Rock and Roll has always been about amalgamating/mixing/stealing riffs and licks. That’s how it made it from coun­try and R&B to rock and roll.
    b. Kei­th and the Stones among many oth­ers have always been straight­for­ward and upfront about Chuck and his con­tri­bu­tion to their music, paid the cor­rect roy­al­ties, etc. Please show me where they have not shown homage to the man.

    As a famous man once said, if you were going to give rock and roll anoth­er name, you might call it Chuck Berry. Chuck pur­pose­ly and wise­ly placed the tre­ble parts (e.g. horn parts, piano parts) in the fore­front in his songs and with his gui­tar, to appeal to a white audi­ence. This was amal­ga­ma­tion and at least tone/arrangement “steal­ing” at its finest.

    Of course, to give due, the man can and could tell a hell of a sto­ry in 2 min­utes flat, which is what stands out to me after 50 years or so. “I met a Ger­man girl in Eng­land who was going to school in France, said we met in Mis­sis­sip­pi at a Alpha Kap­pa Dance”…“I saw her from the cor­ner when she turned and dou­bled back And start­ed walkin’ toward a cof­fee col­ored Cadil­lac”. Those lyrics and more AND of course the sig­na­ture and much copied gui­tar riff from the first beat of John­ny B. Goode still sends chills down this old man.

  • I saw Kei­th, break a gui­tar string and smash his gui­tar in a fury. I asked him why and he said, ‘because it ruined the song for the audi­ence’. Even though I told him that no one noticed, he did­n’t care. To him the music was impor­tant. Chuck on the oth­er hand, would grab pick up bands of ran­dom guys at the dates he did on the ’69 tour and did­n’t give a damn about how bad they sound­ed. That same tour had a man who con­tin­u­al­ly thanked the Stones for hav­ing him on their shows, the dif­fer­ence between class and crass B.B.King. class, Chuck Berry crass.

  • Shoezzz says:

    It’s just two musi­cians ban­ter­ing. Kei­th appears to be the class act in this one. Agree with Doug above.

  • Johan says:

    Chuck Berry nev­er stole any­thing from John­nie John­son. Maybe Mr. John­son was try­ing to stole some­thing from Chuck Berry. I know the sto­ry. Peri­od.

  • Robert Cox says:

    Ashamed of my “hero” Chuck; He’s
    still great, but why would he try to “pull-
    wool” on us about that fan­tas­tic lead
    gui­tarist from the Rolling Stones? Is
    he jeal­ous? Both are Awe­some in there
    own way! The man­ners exhib­it­ed clear­ly shows Berry not to be the man
    I thought he was.(-still,-love his music,)
    ‑apol­o­gy IS due!;(dumb-ass!).

  • MarkAndrews says:

    Chuck­’s the Buck.

    His amp
    His lick
    His movie

    His Way.

  • Eric says:

    Kei­th is one of the worst play­ers in the his­to­ry of the elec­tric gui­tar. He was only kept under con­trol by hav­ing Bri­an and Tay­lor push him out of his god awful lazi­ness. Now the Stones just have two Kei­th clones, both god awful.

    Berry always sound­ed bet­ter with an unre­hearsed pick up band than the Stones ever have with Ron and Kei­th.

  • shane crilly says:

    1) c.b. pret­ty much invent­ed rock gui­tar
    2) he spent years set­ting his amp up to achieve his sound. Why would­n’t he get upset when the record­ing engi­neer changes the set­up
    4) Kei­th played the riff slight­ly wrong and chuck showed him the right way
    5) while it got a bit heat­ed when chuck was dis­sat­is­fied with the per­for­mance, it was all smiles when the song was learned prop­er­ly
    6) call­ing a com­pos­er class­less for demand­ing his work be just the way he wrote it? Wtf, I mean c’mon, it’s his work

  • Jim Pugh says:

    “Kei­th is one of the worst play­ers in the his­to­ry of the elec­tric gui­tar.”


  • Chris says:

    Great as Kei­th may be at play­ing in the style of Kei­th Richards, he did get the lick VERY wrong! Chuck had no option real­ly. Dave Edmunds found Richards’ inabil­i­ty to grasp Berry’s riffs mad­den­ing too.

  • Chris Green says:

    In an inter­view in, I think, Gui­tar Play­er Mag­a­zine, Chuck acknowl­edged he stole a lot of his licks from Illi­nois Jacquet… a jazz/ R&B tenor sax­o­phone play­er.

    Here’s Illi­nois’ break­out hit per­form­ing with the Lionel Hamp­ton Big Band’s record­ing of Fly­ing Home, fea­tur­ing Illi­nois Jacquet on honk­ing tenor sax:

    Chuck Berry prob­a­bly used some of Lionel’s licks to, I think. And ones from oth­er peo­ple.

  • David Moore says:

    A lis­ten­ing of Louie Jor­dan’s Tym­pa­ni 5 would lay to rest where the “Chuck Berry” gui­tar licks were born.

    Check out “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” record­ed 6 years before Chuck took the stage in John­nie John­son’s band, and 10 years before “John­nie B. Goode.”

    Rock ‘n Roll, Blues, Rock-a-Bil­ly, what­ev­er, took from the past, and deliv­ered to the future. The per­fect trans­la­tion of the word, “tra­di­tion.”

  • Jil Van Alstine says:

    Delight­ed to find your site!

    Thank you so much for post­ing

  • jim e says:

    Well said. Glad I’m not the only one to under­stand what was going on.

  • Aussie S. says:

    You’re all tak­ing it too seri­ous­ly. I’ve watched this heaps of times and love see­ing how easy true tal­ent­ed musos make it look. It’s so fun­ny the two of them at each oth­er that I’m sure it’s staged. Richard’s glances at Chuck and the oth­ers are price­less as are those of the piano play­er. Loosen up folks and see it for what it is, pure com­ic enter­tain­ment by a group of extreme­ly tal­ent­ed musi­cians. One of my favourite clips.

  • Alan Kemp says:

    I can­not now tell which I have enjoyed more. Read­ing the above com­ments or just watch­ing those two gui­tar play­ers and their band. Sure was tense in there at times! I have to agree with Aussie S above. The nett result is pure “rockin’ ” joy for those who like this music still. Great clip, great com­ments, great times.

  • Carol Krejce says:

    The fact that Kei­th Richards saw Mick Jag­ger on the train car­ry­ing Chuck Berry music this same date of Chuck Berry’s Birth­day 10/18/61 was sup­posed to hap­pen! God has a great way of mak­ing things work out at exact­ly right time!!

  • Thomas says:

    Kei­th invent­ed a style and he’s a great gui­tar play­er, not inter­est­ed in being demon­stra­tive. Go lis­ten to Van Halen.

  • MJ Cox says:

    I’ve watched Hail Hail many times and I think Kei­th knew the lick and was mess­ing it up just to get Chuck­’s goat.

  • lightkeeper says:

    Kei­th richards could­nt hold chuck berry jock­strap and vaugh blow dick

  • alissa mower clough says:

    He was the only artist I knew who could undress every sin­gle woman with his eyes.…and make it feel good!

  • Cap'n Dope says:

    Oh, come on! Lis­ten to Down the Road Apiece from as far back as ’65 and tell me with a straight face that Kei­th Richards can’t play the hell out of Chuck Berry lucks!!!

  • Mal Kontent says:

    Kei­th Richards is an incred­i­ble gui­tar play­er. The moron above should clean the crap out of his ears.

  • Joseph Johnson says:

    Kei­th’s solo in “Car­ol” from GET YER YA YA’S OUT shows once and for all who was the mas­ter inter­preter of Chuck Berry. Y’all can shout me down as much as you like–it won’t change my mind. The best Berry gui­tar i ever heard. Thank you Kei­th!

  • Isaac says:

    Kei­th, Chuck…they all got it from T‑Bone walk­er.

  • Davemac says:

    Absolute­ly! Kei­th has the chops when it comes to Chuck­’s licks …

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.