Thursday, April 1, 2010
It Goes To Show You NEVER Can Tell! (A recycled post about Family)
When three generations of Berrys and probably several branches of the family tree showed up on stage at the Pageant Theater the other day, it made me think of that consistent theme: Family. (Think "Memphis." Think "Back To Memphis." Think "Rain Eyes." Think of Johnny's mother and the pawn shop loans. Think of the family "standin' and waivin' at the kitchen door." Think of the "hurry home drops" and the "tears from her happiness." Think of the great scene with Chuck's own father in "Hail! Hail!) So here's a repeat of an earlier post.
Chuck Berry’s often described by tired writers as a quiet, closed up, surly sort of fellow, a loner who’s stingy with interviews and stingier with details of his personal life. (This despite a 300 page Autobiography).
There’s a famous scene where he shuts down an interview with his wife during “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll!” (Good for him. The interview was turning into a sensationalized surprise attack worthy of Fox Cable “News.”)
My theory is that everything he really wants to give us is in the music—either on record, or live.
But shutting down the impudent questioning of his wife shows another side of the man. And it’s there in the music, too.
One of his early songs is bouncy, sweet instrumental called “Ingo.”
My guess—and that’s all it is—is that the song is named after his daughter, Ingrid, who was featured in the movie “Hail! Hail!,” on the album “Chuck Berry,” at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and who frequently performs with Berry in St. Louis and elsewhere, singing backup and blowing harmonica-- right next to her brother, Charles, Jr., who plays backup guitar, emcee, and personal bodyguard to Berry at every show now. Charles, Jr. is always there to help his dad with a forgotten lyric, and sidles close when, at the end of the show, the women and girls get on stage and dance for Chuck Berry’s attention.
Charles, Jr. is the very accessible moderator on www.chuckberry.com/forum, where he often shares the enthusiasm of fanatical fans, and sometimes offers amazing tidbits of history. My favorites have been his descriptions of a an old redish brown Gibson that Chuck Berry has played for the last 35 years or so (as old as those red pants he’s worn half the times I’ve seen him!) The guitar is bandaged, taped, scratched, busted, with missing knobs and other parts tossed as useless for the purpose.
Charles, Jr. says it’s the best guitar ever made—an accident of the assembly line, probably, with the tone of a railroad airhorn. (There’s a video on youtube of Charles, Jr. and the band doing a sound check in France. With the Gibson in hand, the genetic link becomes clear. Charles bends those double string notes in a way that would make me jerk with recognition from down the street.)
When Chuck Berry celebrated his birthday at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis last fall, Charles, Jr. brought his own son to play. The trio were featured in a wonderful photograph in Rolling Stone. And the kid can play. Search chuckberry.com/forum, and you’ll find a home movie of (Charles III?) playing blues like an elder. Watch out for that one.
Other grand kids have shown up on news shows. One granddaughter is evidently a singer. Another described what it’s like to have such a famous grandfather.
There are less public kids, too. Just a couple weeks ago I read somewhere about a daughter named Isalee. That’s also the name of Chuck Berry’s music publishing company.
It’s nothing new. Chuck’s sister sang backup on some of his records. And check out the family scenes in Hail! Hail!, with Chuck and his sister surrounding their dad and telling stories. (I’m doing this from memory, but the man was either deaf or blind as a child, until they pierced his ear, and cured him!)
There’s a British news segment about Chuck Berry with a short interview of Charles and Ingrid. It’s pretty wonderful. Again, I’m doing this from memory, but they talk about their dad still mowing his own lawn at age 82. And then, I think I heard something like:
"Yeah, he makes crop circles!"
"Pretty weird, right?"
"I think they’re beautiful."
Me, too. And I haven't even seen them.