45 Years Ago: Chuck Berry Kicks Keith Richards Off His Stage
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If you think Keith Richards’ relationship with Mick Jagger is contentious, consider his friendship with Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones guitarist’s interactions with Berry have included being ignored, demeaned, punched, burned and – in the ultimate insult for a performer – kicked off the rock ’n’ roll legend’s stage.
That last incident happened on Jan. 21, 1972, when Berry was playing the Hollywood Palladium and riding high on the success of his current (and final) hit, “My Ding-a-Ling.” The rock pioneer served as the middle act between Focus and headliner Black Oak Arkansas, who had handpicked Berry for the show.
Hiring Berry meant that you only got him and his guitar, with the venue and/or main act having to provide a backing band and the other musical equipment. BOA’s Jim “Dandy” Mangrum remembers finding out that the Rolling Stones were currently in Los Angeles working on the band’s next album and thought about seeing if they would serve as Berry’s band.
“And what if we didn’t tell Chuck?” Mangrum recalled as the members of Black Oak Arkansas giggled while enacting the nefarious plan.
However, Mangrum’s memory can’t be totally trusted because, although he has claimed the entire Stones lineup (minus Jagger) played with Berry that night, not all members of the band were in L.A. at the time. It’s more likely that Richards was the only Stone on stage, with two other sidemen picked to play bass and drums, and session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, who often worked with the Stones.
So Berry started up his set and quickly became disgruntled with the sound. He stopped a song dead cold and barks his displeasure into the microphone about only needing the bassist and the drummer, indicating that Hopkins and Richards should leave. In Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry, Bruce Pegg wrote that Richards had his amp turned up too loud for Chuck’s liking, while others have suggested that Berry was threatened by being potentially upstaged by a fellow rock star.
For his part, Berry claimed that he didn’t recognize Richards and that he had no idea he was the guitarist playing with him. On the other hand, there are photos that show Chuck angrily pointing at Keith, who is wearing a lips logo shirt and same logo as a patch on his jacket. Regardless, a dejected Richards left the stage without an argument and the Berry’s set proceeded with no further issues.
Of course, the same can’t be said of Richards’s relationship with Berry over the years. The incidents include the “Johnny B. Goode” legend snubbing the Rolling Stones upon meeting them for the first time as well as punching Keith in the face in 1981 during a backstage encounter in New York (Chuck claims he didn’t recognize him that time either). He also threw a lit match down Richards’s shirt in 1983 and made all sorts of trouble for the Stones guitarist during the filming of Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll – although Berry let him stay on stage for that concert.
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“Every time him and me got in contact, whether it’s intentional or not, I end up getting wounded,” Richards later remarked, while indicating that no one but Chuck could get away with treating him that way.
But Keith has continued to laugh off Berry’s rough edges, wearing Chuck’s abuse like a badge of honor when he tells the stories on late night talk shows or in documentaries. Richards even made reference to the 1972 incident when he and the X-Pensive Winos played the Hollywood Palladium in 1988.
At the end of the opening number “Take it So Hard,” Richards welcomed the crowd to “a stage I’ve been thrown off many times.” Are there other incidents you’re not telling us about, Keith?
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