Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chuck Berry on Soul Train 1973

It must be weird being Chuck Berry, whose career has taken him from small black and mixed race audiences at clubs in St. Louis, to the 1950s era rock halls divided into black and white by rope, to halls today that are divided more by musical taste and largely filled with white people.

And then, once in a while, back again.

In 1973 Chuck Berry was on the teenage dance show Soul Train-- a show where, that year, you'd be much more likely to see Barry White, Gladys Knight, The Jackson Five, James Brown or Earth Wind & Fire than an early rock and roller backed by a bunch of long haired white guys. (For a little time trip, check out the line dance to the O'Jay's "Love Train," from the same show, same year.)

When Chuck takes the stage, just about everybody looks a little nervous about this homecoming, including Chuck, who might be remembering that audiences at The Apollo were a bit tougher on him in 1955 than cross town audiences at The Paramount in Brooklyn. But it works. Little by little the dirty lyrics break the ice, kids laugh, Chuck scoots on the stairs-- and there's something just plain sweet and 70s about the sound of feet on the dance floor whenever the band stops for the vocals.

(In the movie "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll!" Chuck went back to the wreckage of the Cosmopolitan Club and played to a group that were probably friends and family. Or maybe just the Soul Train kids grown up.)

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