Friday, December 31, 2010

One Last Song (And then Another!)

Thanks to Liz, for this great shot of Chuck Berry and Daryl Davis trading places at B. B. King's.  I'm told they were doing "Wee Wee Hours." 

And thanks to the obsessive Mr. Spaur and "girlwithabrick," we've got a bit of "School Day."  And it's sounding sweet!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays?

Check out the letter from Bob Lohr at the bottom of this article about the Johnnie Johnson MOVIE.

More about the New Years Shows

Daryl Davis talks about backing Chuck Berry-- and he'll be doing it again in New York on New Year's Eve.

Daryl was there when Bruce Springsteen backed Berry back in the 1970s.  Springsteen talks about it in "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll."  Since then Davis has made a career of it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Omar Sharriff Goes Home!

Here's a story made for the season: the town of Marshall, Texas wants its native son to return.  Check out this GREAT STORY about the great boogie woogie and blues piano player Omar Sharriff, formerly Dave Alexander.  You can hear him in the post just below this.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Boogie Woogie "Boogie Bob" Christmas in Marshall, Texas

Robert "Boogie Bob" Baldori, who played harp on "Back Home,"and whose band The Woolies backed Chuck Berry on "San Francisco Dues" (and at countless live shows,) does a duet with Bob Seeley in Marshall, Texas December 17, 2010, Seeley's spontaneous dance undoubtedly celebrating the imminent arrival of baby Leila Tulane O'Neil 2000 miles away in a colder, darker clime.  (They just didn't know they were celebrating that momentous event.)

I would have liked to be at that show (except that it would have meant missing the bigger one in Seattle) because in addition to Seeley & Baldori the show featured the great Omar Sharriff, a man I first saw play at a little coffee house in San Jose, California back in 1973.  (It was a good room.  A few weeks later blues pianist Mark Naftalin put on a solo show there. )  At the time Sharriff went by the name Dave Alexander and had a couple of fine records out on Arhoolie.  I've got one of them.  The piano on that one sounds like it was driven by the atomic clock.  Here he is, nearly 40 years later, sounding mighty fine.

You can read more about Sharriff HERE

Monday, December 20, 2010

Just Let Me Hear Some Of That Algebra Equation

Chuck Berry is always quick to say that he is good at math.  Here's a math professor writing about the musical mathematics of Chuck Berry.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lord, Bless and Welcome My Little...

Well, let's not jinx it.  But the girl I wanted to name ____ may just give the beautiful Leila a GREAT middle name.  Go head on, Leila!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bo Diddley, diddley bow, and a BEAT from West Africa

From 1980 until 1983 I lived in the West African nation of Togo. Togo is a tiny place with about 40 different ethnic groups. I lived in the southern half of the country in a town called Kougnohou, which translates exactly as “Death is Better.” It was the biggest town for a people called the Akebou. I don’t know how many Akebou there are, but there weren’t too many back in 1980. They were squeezed between larger groups like the Ewe, Twi, Akposso and Ana people. The Akebou have their own distinct language, but many of their other customs were part of the larger fabric of the region, heavily influenced by the larger and better known Ashanti (or Twi) people.

For a time in Africa I actually started to enjoy going to funerals. A typical funeral involved several consecutive nights of eating, drinking, and visiting, finally culminating in a long night of drumming, singing and dancing. Funerals often took place long after the body was buried. It sometimes takes a couple of years for a family to save enough money to celebrate a loved one's life with sufficient gusto. When important people died the ceremony could include visitors from all the surrounding villages. They all expect to eat and drink. And the dancing becomes a sort of competition.

When I was there men generally danced with men, and women with women. Both bent at the waist and pounded their feet powerfully on the ground. I remember one old woman who literally made the ground shake so that I could feel it 15 or 20 feet away. Usually two or three people would dance at one time, walking towards the center of the circle, linking up visually, and then bursting simultaneously into a powerful dance that would last about 20 seconds. If they were good, people would let them know.

The women would keep their upper bodies gently bent in what looked almost like a curtsy, raising their shoulders and elbows while their feet stamped rhythmically. Men would crouch with their elbows back and snap their backs and shoulders up and down. At the end they would jerk into a pose that said “Top that!” If they were good people would go crazy. It was all fueled by a local white lighting called petesi, or strong palm wine. (On rare occasions, fueled by same, I entered the circle myself. The roar of the crowd was even more intoxicating than the local gin. I was like one of the folks on American Idol who make a spectacle of themselves before millions. I can't dance, you know I wish I could!)

There could be hundreds of people at any given celebration. There were six or eight serious musicians, but nobody sat idle. Everyone was given sticks of “pamprankou,” a light wood from raffia plants to tap to a beat that went “tap tap tap-tap, tap tap tap-tap.” (Children, learn to write music!) The serious musicians were mostly drummers who beat out rhythms I could barely begin to understand.

But the backbone of that beat was done by a singer playing a sort of double cow-bell called the gong-gong. And often the beat on the gong-gong was one you know-- the Bo Diddley beat: shave and a haircut. Or more precisely in this instance:

“shave-haircut: two bits; shave-haircut: two bits.”

I used to hear the funerals but didn't think I'd be welcome. The drums and voices would carry for miles. Once my neighbors were having a funeral and I actually dreamed that Bo Diddley was performing at a private party next door. I woke up a little disappointed.

Years later, “Back in the USA,” I saw a documentary about how African traditions survived in the United States. The documentary showed a kid in South Carolina playing a simple stringed instrument similar to what I had seen kids in Togo make.

The announcer was one of those serious public television types. He said, without irony or recognition, “the instrument is called a ‘diddley bow.’”

I about fell from my couch.

If you ever get the chance, go see Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill. And if you get a bigger chance, go to West Africa. You’ll see and hear a lot that you know and love.

(For ambiance, at least, this is the best I can find right now. No Bo Diddley beat-- the gong-gong is playing a flat beat, and the dance is different. But it gives you something of the feel.)

This is getting closer. The dance looks like a "kinder, gentler" version of the Akebou dance, without the snapping, stamping intensity. But still not the beat I'm looking for on the gong-gong. Ah well. The wonders of youtube are many, but tonight I'm not finding it.

Golden Decade, Volumes 2 and 3

I’ve talked in the past about my first Chuck Berry collection, The Golden Decade. It was a helluva record (two records, actually). And for a while it was my only old stuff.

But then came Volumes 2 and 3. As I recall, they came one right after the other, sometime after the massive success of “The Chuck Berry London Sessions,” introducing me to a whole new set of great Chuck Berry records.  both have a bit of roughness to them, at least in parts-- stray guitar notes twanging insistently on a couple of songs-- but they have a freshness, too, like live recordings.

Volume 2 was sort of the “Rolling Stones’” collection, with “Carol” and “Little Queenie.” Or maybe “The Christmas Collection,” with “Run Rudolph Run” and “Merry Christmas Baby.” This collection was somehow rougher edged Chuck Berry, with more reverb and a bit less polish. Except for a couple songs. “You Never Can Tell” and “No Money Down” were as intricate and poetic as anything on the first volume, and should have been included there for sure, along with “Carol.” But the others were somehow, to me, wilder and rougher. “Let it Rock” is a grown up work song.

In The Heat Of The Day Down In Mobile,Alabama
Working on the railroad with the steel driving hammer
Gotta make some money to buy some brand new shoes
Tryin' to find somebody to take away these blues
She don't love me, hear ‘em singing in the sun
Payday's coming and my work is all done

It’s a strange song, but seems to me to be a favorite of Chuck Berry, who plays it live a lot. What’s strange is the story—a train comes and they have to scatter.

Everybody's scrambling, running around
Picking up their money, tearing the teepee down
Foreman wants to panic, 'bout to go insane
Trying to get the workers out the way of the train
Engineer blows the whistle loud and long
Can't stop the train, gotta let it roll on

This isn’t "Johhny B. Goode." No one’s going to make a motion picture. No  one's name's gonna be in lights.  Their names are gonna be on a tombstone if they don't hurry.  It’s a song about work, motion and an unstoppable force.

Another wild one is "Promised Land"—same sort of motion, but this time across the continent by bus, train and plane to California. The song starts with an abbreviation of the Carl Hogan intro and just steamrolls—the only break being a T-bone stake a la carte(y) up in the airplane. (AT least two other Chuck Berry songs look down from airplanes—“Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Oh Louisiana” are a couple I can think of.) I think of “Promised Land” as one of Chuck Berry’s veiled civil rights numbers, with its mention of bus breakdowns in Alabama, and a quick shot through Mississippi. Not that Houston was probably a whole lot safer for the poor boy if he hadn’t had friends there.

“Little Queenie” was always a favorite. It’s the shy Chuck Berry hero, mostly watching and thinking.

There she is again standing over by the record machine
Looking like a model on the cover of a magazine
She’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen

I don’t know who Chuck Berry saw when he wrote it, or who Mick Jagger saw when he sang it, but I know who I saw when I heard it, and who I still see about 35 years later, and she was cuter than sin itself. It’s a great song, funny, with Chuck Berry’s incredible comic timing. “Meanwhile, I was stilllllll thinking…” (I was a kid who thought wayyyy to much at age 17.)

If I had been choosing, some of these songs would have made it onto volume one. I’d have relegated “Too Pooped to Pop” and “Anthony Boy” to later volumes and swapped in “No Money Down” and “You Never Can Tell.” And I would have squeezed in “Carol” somehow or another. But that’s okay. When you’re as good as our man, there’s always something more out there—and it was a treat to be introduced to it back in 1973 or thereabouts.

I used to laugh at “Together We Will Always Be” which sounded tentative and—well—bad. But I slowed down my turntable and learned to like it better. See my (perhaps whacky) analysis here.

And then comes Volume 3—a whole new kettle of fish, funky, with a little bit more blues. My favorites on Volume 3 were songs Berry didn’t even write— the sentimental “Time Was,” a song originally recorded by Jimmy Dorsey, and the wonderful “House of Blue Lights.”

Time was when we had fun
On the school yard swings
When we exchanged graduation rings
One lovely yesterday.
Time was when we wrote
Love letters in the sand
Or lingered over our "coffee and";
Dreaming the time away.

It is no surprise that Chuck Berry thought a song about school yard swings and graduation rings was a perfect fit. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song didn’t give him ideas. He probably knew it in high school, and it fits his oft repeated assertion that his songs were written on purpose to appeal to a large, crossover audience. (He was, I guess, one of the original Michael Jacksons. When Michael died everyone was repeating the media mantra that he was the “first” crossover artist. They were forgetting single namers like Chuck, Louis, Nat, Ray, B.B., Otis, Fats, Jimi, Sly and probably a dozen others who did it a long long time ago. Oh yeah—how about groups like The Temptations, The OJays, The Supremes. Lordy! Such revisionism!)

I liked the cover art of Volume 3, which showed Chuck as a filling station sign, and hearkened back to one of my favorite Chuck Berry lines ("dollar gas!"). Volume 2 showed hm reflected in a Coke glass and didn't quite do it for me-- except that all that expensive cover art showed a committment from Chess to sell the guy.  But the inside of Volume 2 had a great discography that I checked off with my ballpoint pen, and a blue-tinted photo of the smiling Chuck Berry that I wanted to adopt me (when I was 16 years old!). Volume 3 has lots of information about the musicians and recording dates—something no one bothered with on Volume 1.

Of course, all of these are somewhat irrelevant now, with the two four disk sets that contain every recording from Chess on them.  But these three disks were sure important to me at the time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Founding Fathers

It’s not an original thing to say that America’s music is one of its biggest gifts to the world—but it’s a true thing that bears repeating. Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Country, Rock and Roll, R & B, Soul, Funk, Rap.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving, ain’t it?

And it comes from our diversity. Look at the list: the only music that didn’t start in the African American community is Country-- but even so, modern country music is drenched in the blues.

It is the mixing and matching that make the music so wonderful. Chuck Berry writes a “hillbilly” tune. Elvis and Carl Perkins sing R & B. Ray Charles brings gospel into pop music. John Coltrane plays a song from The Sound of Music. Miles Davis plays Michael Jackson. Otis sings the “Tennessee Waltz.” Sly Stone yodels like Jimmy Rodgers. Bob Dylan channels Muddy. The rappers sample them all.

There is a lot we can be proud of. (The Constituion. The Declaration. Our old movies.) There's a lot we should NOT be proud of. (Torture.  Slavery.  Vietnam.  Iraq.  Tax breaks for the wealthy.)

But our music-- that's one of our great legacies. It thrills me.  It thrills the world.  (I should add, paranthetically, that the world's music thrills me, too.  I spent a decade of my life drenched in African highlife and soukous and Jamaican reggae, and I've been thrilled by music from everywhere from Tibet to Bulgaria to Mexico.  We have no monopoly.  We just have what we have-- and it's great.)

And I have no hesitation putting Chuck Berry up there with the greatest contributors to American history-- up there with Washington, Jefferson and Franklin-- as one of the greatest Americans. (I put Lincoln and King a step higher. They are untouchable.) His contribution is different; he didn't write a constitution. But he wrote songs that set us free, in a lot of ways, a ringing gift to the world that will be felt forever.

And for me, personally, an entry into something bigger, huge and good, almost eternal.  I can only comprehend a tiny smidgen of it-- but Chuck Berry got me started near the foundations, with good instructions on how to find even more.

Here's "Waiting for a Train" from the Father of Country Music (and a direct influence on the king of modern funk, Sly Stone! Lordy!)

(And did I say that Sly Stone yodeled like Jimmie Rodgers?)

This Kid Gets Around! (Go Jarred, Go!) (From Doug)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Calaboose, Some Perfume, and de Basil Beans

I finally looked up “calaboose,” as in:

“Riding along in my calaboose. Still trying to get her belt unloose.”

The online dictionaries say it’s a southern or creole term for jail. I wasn’t completely satisfied so I went and looked at the big old dictionary my mother left me, and it says pretty much the same thing, a slang term for jail or prison, from the Spanish “calabozo” for “dungeon.”

Lots of you probably knew that. Chuck Berry obviously did.

Poets are like that—collecting interesting words and filing them away until they become ripe enough to express some powerful sentiment.

As it turns out, there's an old Missouri Calaboose just northwest of St. Louis in the town of Elsberry.  That's a picture of it there on this page somewhere!
And it makes sense—because he’s stuck and going nowhere until he gets that buckle off.

// // //

The lyrics online, even though they are often suspect or just flat wrong, have become invaluable to me. For example, one of my favorite songs is “Tulane.” But what was she supposed to say she swallowed? I always hear “tell him you swallowed cycle fuel,” (pronounced like “pickle”), but I always knew that couldn’t be right. The online lyric sites tell me it’s “some perfume.” That makes sense. Still can't hear it, though.  (I've never heard "motorvatin'" either.  I still hear, and prefer, "motivatin'."

Or “You Can’t Catch Me.” For 35 years this is what I heard.

I bought a brand-new air-mobile
It was custom-made, 'twas a lightning vehicle (wrong!)
With a pow'ful motor and some highway (wrong!) wings
Push in on the button and you can hear her sing
Oh you can’t catch me!

If there is a single person in the world who is as confused as I was, (and I doubt there is) the airmobile is a “Flight DeVille” and the wings are “hideaway” models. What’s funny is that I always knew my version had to be wrong. What the hell is a “lightning vehicle?”

// // //

But I’m not alone. One reader of this site thought Chuck caught “a rollin’ off a writer” while sitting down at the rhythm reviews. Makes as much sense as a lightning vehicle!

// // //

I still wonder what sort of bean is mentioned in “Oh Louisiana!” It’s usually put down as “basin beans” on line. I haven’t found that term on google. I personally hear “basil bean” and there are references to “basil bean salad” all over the internet.

Who knows? I’m the guy who hears “cycle fuel” and “lightnin' vehicle.” Maybe it isn’t a bean at all.

But anyway, just in case it is basil bean (salad???  hell no!) here's one way to make it!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Summing it Up: Gibson's Top Ten Revolutionaries!

Talk about putting it in a nutshell!

"Did anybody combine country and western with R&B better than Charles Edward Berry? Did anybody marry rhythm and beat with lyrics of such wit and imagery, better than Charles Edward Berry? Did anybody develop a trademark guitar style that would be the staple of every garage band for the next 50 years? Did anybody write better rock numbers than “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”? Could any other rock and roll legend show up minutes before a gig confident that the local pick-up band and would know all his material inside out and backwards? Are any other rock and roll legends in their 80s who still perform on a regular basis (as Berry does monthly at the Blueberry Hill bar in his hometown of St. Louis)? Think about it. Others came along, others played their part in music history, but Chuck Berry is, and always will be, rock and roll." – Andrew Vaughan.  See the rest of them HERE

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Random Encounter re a Random Encounter

You know Chuck Berry's always been out there doing his thing, going where he wants to go, without the entourage.  I've always thought it would be cool to bump into him.  Here's a great little story by a very litterate boxing writer who knows a lot about our hero:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The song "Christmas" appears on the album "Back Home."  It mixes three important Chuck Bery themes-- nostalgia, aloneness, and the attempted seduction.  And one he got from Muddy Waters-- the long distance call.

If I could only have an hour
Of this holiday with you
We could sit and rap together
Spinning records old and new
Have a little cake and a bit o' coke now
And do the things we used to do

Jingle bells will all be ringing
And little kids' eyes all aglow
Children strolling, singing carols,
Makin' tracks out in the snow
Oh, but I'll be with you this Christmas,
Maybe yes and maybe no

Christmas time is really joyful
Oh, but it's a lonely season, too
Many people are so cheerful
And some are alone and blue
It would make my Christmas happy
If I could have it all alone with you

But if I just can't be with you,
Let me call you on the phone
I wanna tell you I still love you
And how it feels to be alone
Wanna wish you a merry Christmas
As the old year passes on.


Ray Charles Can Do A Song Justice

Trying to Get Into the Mood

Monday, December 6, 2010

When it's THIS Good He Ain't EVER too Old (A "Review" of Chuck Berry's 84th Birthday Show at the Pageant on October 16, 2010)

St. Louis, October 16, 2010

Chuck Berry turns 84 on Monday, but tonight, in St. Louis, he turned 40.

You could see it and hear it in the very first notes, in the perfect intros, in the old Chuck Berry riffs, played perfectly by a grinning, happy, Chuck Berry.

It was beautiful.

His guitar was ringing like a bell (most of time!).  His singing voice was young, wry and full of humor. He scooted 2 and 1/2 times (the 1/2 to get his grandson going!)  He shook his shoulders, showed us his shoes (twice!), played from his shoulder, strummed, and thumped and and picked like a MF.

I feel like the luckiest guy in the world-- except that there was a full house of lucky folk, and a very happy time was had by all.

There is something outlandishly wonderful about these St. Louis shows-- Chuck Berry on stage in the city he so evidently loves, surrounded by band members he's played with for years (and whom he so evidently loves), surrounded by family on stage and off.  A huge contingent of Berrys sat to my right, including his wife Themetta, and four of them worked the stage.  Darlin' Ingrid Clay Berry played harp and sang; Charles II played guitar, and Charles III played guitar right beside him-- until he was coaxed by granddad into doing the scoot!  And Charles Edward Anderson Berry played and sang and moved like he was at his own 40th birthday party.

Somewhere, someone out there has good photographs of this show.  Send them to me!  In the meantime I'll do what I can with what I've got from my crappy little camera and my pathetic camera skills.

As for a description, what can I say?  Chuck Berry (forever young) turned younger still tonight in St. Louis.  He was feeling his oats.  He played old, familiar licks on that beautiful, scratched up, taped up, wine red Gibson, and pulled out a couple of tidbits I've never heard live.  And he sang, with an incredible, young voice.  (It's a benefit of his later years, with less touring, and less day to day wear and tear on his voice.  But tonight was special.  Tonight the melodies returned full force.

The band-- as usual, they were great.  Chuck kept returning to Bob Lohr and encouraging him to do his thing on keyboards.  Keith Robinson and Jim Marsala held the beat, which never faltered.  Charles II and Charles III wailed when asked, and held down the fort the rest of the time.  And Ingrid was spectacular.  (I've heard her on records for decades, and seen her on film and video, but never live.  Glad I finally got the chance.)  My brother, who loves dance, came to the show and was talking afterwords about how Ingrid and Chuck know how to move.  And isn't that part of it?  Even when he's just walking on stage Chuck Berry does it with such charisma and grace that you can't stop looking.  And Ingrid?  When she bends down in those black leather pants, or leans back and blows-- well, you can't stop looking at that, either.  What a family.

There was a special moment when Ingrid had crossed the stage and looked up to her dad at the end of a solo.  He locked eyes with her and mouthed the words "I love you."

The men got a more boyish nod.  "See that boy over there on the right, playing guitar?  That's Charles Berry!  And see that bald-headed guy playing guitar right next to him?  That's also Charles Berry!"

He started with "Roll Over Beethoven," doing a perfect introduction on the guitar and nailing every riff he played.  Then he chugged straight into the chords of "School Day," taking special relish from the "slot" line.  Then "Memphis."  When he started "Carol" he must not have liked the first few notes, so he stopped and started again and (no surprise tonight) nailed it again-- and then started doing what Mr. Richards thought impossible 24 years ago, playing lead and rhythm and singing like it was about 24 years ago.

(Do I sound surprised?  I guess in a sense I am.  The last time I saw him, at Blueberry Hill, he put on a great show, with a lot of great rhythm guitar and beautiful singing-- but his fingers weren't really finding the notes on lead.  And the reviews from Phoenix weren't especially kind.  [Of course, Arizona is earning a reputation as the unkindest state.]  But tonight, for most of the show, he couldn't miss, and he clearly knew it.)

(I'm only guessing here, but I think he could hear himself tonight, which might make all the difference.  The sound at The Pageant is good.  And the band seemed restrained-- holding back just a bit on volume so the man at the front could hear what he was doing.)

Meanwhile, during "Carol," he started thinking ("I do that sometimes!") and it became "Little Queenie" for a bit.  Then back to Carol, thumping on the strings like a drum.  There was a moment he was singing "oh" to the girl so plaintively you thought he might cry!

He began "Wee Wee Hours" with the patented intro you might hear on "I've Got a Booking" then took us all to blues school.  I love Chuck Berry's rock and roll, but I probably love his blues even more.  The first time I pushed open a door to see the man live 40 years ago he was singing blues to a half filled auditorium, bending notes in his own way, and tonight he did it on "Wee Wee Hours" and another blues song I didn't recognize, sharing both with Ingrid on harp.  At a couple of points during the blues numbers he began doing a rhythm riff-- a 12 note arpeggio from an old blues that I'll identify later (It'll come to me!).  Anyway, another rabbit from the hat.

He responded to a request with "Nadine," (were you there?), chugging away at its complicated rhythm riff; he played "Rock and Roll Music," giving a special lyrical mouth twisting to the lines about modern jazz, and ending with a powerful cha cha cha of chords.  He played "Let it Rock," which must be one of his favorites.  He played a verse of the one about "Baja California" and the senorita.  (He forgot the words.  I forget the title!  Ah well.) (La Juanda!)

He finished with "Reelin' and Rockin'," which didn't last till the break of dawn, but kept going for about the closest thing to an encore that I've seen Chuck Berry do, when he got most of the way off stage, then came back to sit on the drum riser and play a while longer.  And then a bit of "House Lights," and he left.

Which was enough.

But I got lucky.  After the show I got a chance to meet my hero for a couple minutes in the dressing room, and give him some small gifts.  I babbled and gushed, told him what I thought of him, (which is some pretty good things), and thanked him as best I can for what he's done for me and all of us.  I shook his hand, and touched his shoulder, and he bumped my forearm.  I gave him the picture I drew of him when I was 17 off the Bio cover.  I gave him Doug's photo of him kneeling and playing.  I gave him printouts of interviews from some people who love him, like Judy, Karen, Bob, Bob and Daryl.  It's something I'll never forget.  Special thanks to Bob Lohr and Jim Marsala for that one.

Someday I'll find words.  Tonight?  Just reporting.  And feeling like my cross-continental journey was well worth it.  And it's just starting!  Wednesday?   Blueberry Hill!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Was a Brown Eyed Handsome Man!

Check it out: Lou Brock, Darryl Strawberry, and another Berry helping out the Albert Pujols Family Foundation.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Rare Sight (for Me)

I asked on if he'd ever been seen in public playing an acoustic.  And today I stumbled into this shot on  (Got to say, he doesn't look comfortable!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More from Bob Lohr: a Film by Gail Mooney

Actually, from Gail Mooney via Bob Lohr.  Here's the trailer that Bob cites in his comment below.  Can't wait to see the whole thing.  Right up front you'll see Willie Smith and Bob Stroger, who I just saw at Jazz Alley last winter.  Pinetop Perkins comes later.  Sam Carr, Little Milton, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and others all speak.  Got to see / hear the movie itself.  Got to contact the movie maker!

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the News

Here's a nice review of "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!" that was inspired by Keith Richards' recent bio.


And here's a little article about Bob Margolin, who began his musical life copying Chuck Berry, then became a sideman for Muddy Waters.  Now he's a blues star in his own right, and frequently collaborates with people like Daryl Davis and Pinetop Perkins.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blues 101 by Robert Lohr

Bob Lohr is always ready to advance my musical education.  Check the comments to the story about Lohr's records below and you'll find names of other folks that Bob Lohr has recorded with.  One he mentions is drummer Sam Carr, who Bob describes as one of the best performers of the "delta shuffle."  Here he is playing with Frank Frost on a version of "Big Boss Man" from 1962.

Here you can see him at work (but not working very hard!  Mainly smiling.)

And here's Arthur Williams, also mentioned by Bob. 

Where Hamburgers Sizzle (at the back door).

I picked up my copy of “Chuck Berry: The Autobiography.” I need to read it again. I’m especially interested in reading it after just reading B. B. King’s book.

Anyway, I open it and stumble upon a paragraph that I missed last time.

He’s talking about a teenage road trip with a couple of friends. It’s a trip that ends in trouble for Chuck Berry. And on the way towards Kansas City and the reformatory, he stops at his future home.

“It was high noon and I was seventeen years old. My running buddies and I got in my ’37 Oldsmobile sedan and we set sail westward. We stopped in Wentzville at the Southern Air Restaurant to get some zoo-zoos (food). The colored lady cook came to the little window built in the back kitchen wall that solely catered to black patrons, and she asked what we wanted. She overfilled the paper plates of our order, which was the one good result that can be remembered about a jim crow cafĂ© policy: getting more on our paper plates than we would have been served on china out front.”

"Chuck Berry: The Autobiography,” page 50.

This is 13 or 14 years before he started touring, but the same laws and same customs prevailed in the mid 1950s when carloads of rhythm and blues musicans risked life and limb and indignity when taking their music out on the road. Listen to Bo Diddley:

“When I was goin’ through the South, I used to cook all the time. The reason for that was: here am I, gotta go in some white dude’s back door, an’ I’ve got ten—maybe fifteen thousand dollars in my pocket! I’m gonna get a 95 cent hamburger ‘cause I can’t go n the front door. So I said: “To hell with your Iback doorI! I’ll go buy me some chicken an’ put it in the trunk, get some utensils, put it all on the bus, an’ I’ll do my own cookin’! I ain’t goin’ to your daggone back door! You got a black cook sittin’ up there cookin’ up all this shit, an’ gonna tell me I can’t comein the front door? I gotta go round the back an’ get a hamburger because of the color of my skin? BULL-SHIT!

…We’d go in a grocery store, buy all our stuff an’ stick it in our little cooler on the bus. When we got hungry, we’d just get up an” grab somethin’. Chuck Berry did the same—he always carried a little electric hot plate with him, you know.”

“Bo Diddley: Living Legend,” page 81.

According to Marshall Chess, Berry “carried a little electric plate in his suitcase. He’d buy like canned beans and he’d cook it.”

“Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry,” page 164.”

So when he had money, Berry bought the restaurant that had once forced him to order  at a back window. (In typical Berry fashion, the Southern Air got him in trouble again in his later years-- or rather, Berry got himself in trouble there.  Ah well!)

But I don't care that much about the mistakes.  What I know for certain is that all of us benefitted when Chuck Berry, B. B. King, Bo Diddley and so many others took their music on the road in the 1950s. In their own nitty-gritty way, the early rock and roll shows did as much as the marches and lawsuits and laws to begin breaking down the racial barriers that have crippled this country for centuries. Berry, Diddley, Little Richard and King didn’t do it for us. They did it for themselves and their families, risking life, limb and dignity to make a little money by delivering their astounding art and music to screaming teenagers. But in the process, they delivered all of us another few inches away from the days of old.

As I often say, “Hail! Hail!”

And thank you!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Here's a Place to Hear (and Buy) Bob Lohr on CD

Pretty cool, recording with people like Willie Big Eyes Smith.  Check it out AND LISTEN TO BITS HERE.  (Of course, what we're really waiting for is the new Chuck Berry CD, with Lohr and the rest of them.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Roll 'em Pete

Carmelo and the Boogie Ramblers posted a great video of Chuck Berry playing "Roll 'em Pete" on Soul Train on their facebook page.  I couldn't find that one on youtube, but it got me to this beauty, by Berry's childhood hero Big Joe Turner.  Pretty cool.  And since it was cut in 1938, it shows the truth of Berry's frequent statement that "there's nothing new under the sun."

And if it works, here's a link to what the Boogie Ramblers posted-- a great version, with some fun questions and answers at the start.  ("Roll 'em Pete" is the only Chuck Berry single I bought. I think it had "Bio" on the flip side.  I bought it because it was the only way to hear the song, which didn't come out on the London Sessions album.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Idle Thoughts

You may have noticed a drop in verbiage since my trip to St. Louis.  What can I say after an experience like that one?  Two Chuck Berry shows in less than a week.  A trip to Wentzville.  Numerous excursions into North St. Louis.  A view of the old Crank Club.  An opportunity to attend a sound check.  A chance to see Bob Lohr again and meet Jim Marsala, CBII, Keith Robinson, Karen and Judy for the first time.  And an opportunity to shake my hero’s hand and tell him, as best I could, how I feel about him.

Suffice it to say, I came home pretty satisfied.  (Of course, I'll feel more satisfied if I can give you interviews from Mr. Marsala or Mr. Robinson or Ms. Clay or the son of rock and roll.  Hey-- I'm an optimist!)

I suppose some fantasies remain-- but they are just that: fantasies, idle thoughts.

I suppose I would like to have dinner with the man, or ride in his car while he talks-- some sort of extended chance to know more certainly who he is, what he thinks, etc.  But I don’t need it.  I don't think he’s held back that much.  I think his book, and the better interviews over the years, tell us a whole lot. 

But I do have this one vision.  It's a silly one, because it involves telling Chuck Berry what to do on stage, and he doesn't need advice about that.

But I’d like to see a Chuck Berry show that settles down for a few minutes of quieter stuff, with a chair on stage, and some ballads and blues.  A sort of “Chuck Berry Unplugged.”

It happens now and then, without the chair.  Daryl Davis tells of a Nat King Cole song during the Strathmore show.  He tells of a blues, too.  And I’ve certainly seen Chuck dismiss the band for a time, and play solo-- but usually something funny like "My Ding-a-Ling," or "South of the Border."

Some of the best, most interesting performances I’ve seen or heard from the man were him leaning back during “Hail! Hail!” playing those sad ballads, or the beautiful “Annie Lou” done with just him and his guitar on the “Have Mercy” set.

So I’d love for him to sit down for a bit, settle back, and give us a taste of what we might hear if we somehow found him at home, in his study, strumming or singing something he especially loved.

And of course, I would like to hear some of the “new” songs, or some of the stone cold classics that just don't get played enough.  "Thirty Days."  "Havana Moon."  "Oh Louisiana."  Now that he's got a band, it would be nice to take advantage of it.

But why even say this?  What we get, night after night, year after year, is so good, so classic, that I'd be a fool to complain, and feel foolish imagining something different.  When all is said and done, what more would I want, and what more could he give?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been relatively quiet since my trip to St. Louis a month ago. I’m still absorbing that experience.

One thing this year of blogging has done (and I’m afraid it’s gone beyond a year now) is to allow me to think and wonder and perhaps discover why Chuck Berry means so much to me.

I’ve said before that I’m convinced part of it is simply genetic—some inborn disposition to a certain sound from the guitar. My dog likes to swim. I like Chuck Berry’s guitar. And songs. And the way he moves around on stage. And he makes me laugh.

And part of it is undoubtedly luck. I “discovered” him when I was 14. That will sometimes do it. I hear that some animals will adopt whatever face they first see as their mother—so something like that obviously happened. But, the truth is, I’d had lots of powerful musical experiences before I saw my first Chuck Berry concert. I remember going crazy over Otis Redding’s stuttering climax to “Try a Little Tenderness” when I was only 12 or 13. I remember the same feeling when the bass jumped in at the end of Sly Stone’s “Stand.” One of my earliest concerts was a young B. B. King, who put on a thrilling show at the California State Fair of all places. And I’d paid due attention to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and all of the popular acts who were actually good.

So I think that the real clue came earlier this year when an archivist in Sacramento dug up the date of that first live Chuck Berry show that I saw at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. It was mid-February 1971. I was 14. And within a few weeks my father would die.

He was probably dying at the time.

My father was pretty different from Chuck Berry. He was way older—born in 1901. He was white. He wasn’t thin—at least by the time I knew him.

The only song I ever heard him sing was something called “Down Among the Dead Men.” (Actually, that sounds a bit like “Downbound Train.”) He didn’t play music, but he seemed to like it. I know he went to see Louis Armstrong several times when I was a little kid.

And he drank way too much.

He was an alcoholic, and that’s what ultimately killed him.

I was the youngest of his seven children. When I was little he was, of course, my hero. And he was a worthy hero—a nice, nice man, funny, a former athlete with a host of famous ex- ball players as friends. (They used to come to our house on his birthday and get drunker than skunks. We tended to leave.)

He was well known in his home town, with more friends than he could recognize. We’d be accosted by some guy, they’d talk for ten minutes, and as we’d walk away my dad would ask my mom “Who WAS that guy?”

He was on the right side of all things political. He was a Democrat. He was for working people. He was for civil rights. He was against Nixon.

Unfortunately, by the time I turned into a budding teenager his drinking had become such a problem that whatever was good about him was usually overwhelmed by the evil of the alcohol. He never became angry or violent, but he lost a lot of dignity. We’d find him on the floor unable to get up. He’d lose his mind for a few days or a few weeks. There was a time he began to speak “Indian talk,” which he kept up for several days for reasons only he understood. I was just a kid, and it was more than I could handle.

Around this time, my brother Stevo first told me about Chuck Berry.

I was probably not the intended recipient of the wisdom. My other brother Danny must have been there. But I heard and retained all of it.

There was this guy Chuck Berry.  He’d played recently at the Fillmore.  Stevo saw him.  Stevo said that he was more important than Elvis, and better.

And he talked about Chuck Berry’s roots, and the show he’d put on, which had been steeped in the blues. And what I remember is that he said “He’s not really a blues man, but he grew up with all that, that’s where he came from, and he plays it well.”

This was probably 1970. These words have been said many times since, but in 1970 this was some pretty original thought coming from Stevo, and pretty right on.

Of course, since then, Chuck Berry’s blues have become my favorite Chuck Berry music. His blues style is so unique. Sure, he shows the influence of his heroes, T-Bone Walker, and Elmore James, and others—but the style he’s patched together is unique and (to me) instantly recognizable as his own. He wasn’t the bluesman that Muddy was—but he had it, and it became more powerful with time.

By the time I first walked into the Memorial Auditorium, in February 1971, his blues were deep, and so, undoubtedly, were mine. My father was dying (killing himself) (being killed by his addiction).

So I push open those doors, and there he is, playing blues, slow, bending those notes two at a time, playing the licks that would work their way deep into my soul. The auditorium was a quarter full. (The archivist told me: 800 people.) He was alone at the mike stand, a cherry red Gibson, jeans, a sad look, opening a show he was supposed to headline, probably just to get out of town and back home.

I’ve written about that show elsewhere on the blog. It was a good one. Despite a mediocre band he got it going, playing hit after hit, all of them sort of familiar, sometimes because of the Beatles. It was a classic, Chuck Berry show.

The next day I bought “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” and my life was changed.

And two or three weeks later, my father died.

He had almost died so many times that it took me by surprise when he actually did. I remember getting the call and then walking out into a little pasture in front of our house and cried for a while.

Part of the loss is never getting to know the man who was my father. The eight year old me knew him, but only the way eight years olds can know an adult. I idolized him.

But on the eve of my ninth birthday, like a freight train, I was hit by his faults.  That night my sister, my dad and I were spending the night in our new home.  He christened it accidentally with a bottle that broke on the cork floor of the hall.  He had me clean it up, and he was prickly, because he'd just dropped his supply for the night.  Somehow, as I bent to clean up that fould smelling bourbon and broken glass, I figured it all out: that this was the cause of so much that was weird and hard in out lives.

And for the next several years there, the weirdness just got worse.

So like a bird in a nest, looking up at some kindly but unrelated fowl that passes by, I looked up one day and saw Chuck Berry, alone on stage, and something clicked.

I was helped by a lot of symbolism. He was “The Father of Rock and Roll.” He strutted across stage between songs looking out at the crowd and saying “All my children!”

Anyway, I took him on as a substitute father.

Which in later years seemed absolutely crazy: he was a crazy rock star, surrounded by rumors and controversy. What sort of father figure could that be?

But he was family. I put up with his faults. And I got to know him better than I ever got to know my poor father.

I read every tidbit I could find, bought all the songs, saw him live as often as possible, drove to his house once, and obsessed. I took my mother to see “Let the Good Times Roll.” I took my friends and family to see him at Tahoe and in Monterey (they came, anyway). I took my ex wife to see him at the Seattle Paramount. I took my two little girls to see him at Seattle Center. My brother and his wife Liz joined me for two shows in a week in St. Louis, last October.  (My now and forever wife keeps sending me, or letting me go! Someday, she’s got to go with me, too.  Another reason for another "last" Chuck Berry show.) That time I got to meet him briefly, and although I didn’t tell him “Hey, I adopted you as a substitute dad forty years ago!” I did try my best to tell him, quickly, how much he means to me and to so many of us. He’s heard it a million times before.

And that show cemented something that I’d only begun to understand when I went to Blueberry Hill in the winter of 2009: that my adoption of Chuck Berry as father figure was not so far fetched after all.

When I first saw him at Blueberry Hill, I was struck by how his son, CBII, moved about the stage, cautiously protecting his 81 year old dad from the women and girls dancing on stage at the end.

Ingrid wasn’t at that show, but when we saw him at The Pageant this October it was a full tilt family rumble, with Ingrid blowing harp and singing, Charles II on guitar, and Charles III doing the scoot and playing his own Stratocaster a little further down. Chuck’s wife Themeta was seated to my right with a host of other people I took to be family, and there cute girls dancing up front who might have been Berrys, too (or maybe fans of CBIII!). At that show there was a moment when Chuck Berry mouthed the words “I love you” to Ingrid, and instructed CBIII on the art of scooting. At the next he showed his incredible pride in CBII during a solo.

And of course, there are so many other examples. The scene with his dad in “Hail! Hail!” The pictures with his brother and nephew that recently surfaced. The songs themselves, with their mothers, and fathers and children: “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Dear Dad,” “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Ingo,” “Johnny B. Goode.”

He once said he didn’t write love songs—but he does.

So, not such a bad choice for a 14 year old to make, searching for someone to symbolically take the place of a dad who was slipping away. I was smarter than I knew.

As for the real one? I keep him by my side. And maybe someday, I’ll get lucky, go backstage, and meet him again, for the first time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chuck Berry: Mean Old World, BBC, 1972

Here's a beautiful new "print" from the great BBC special from 1972.  It's a great version of "Mean Old World" to compare with that other great version from around the same time that you can find on "The London Sessions."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blew It

I saw this picture on Ida May's facebook page and it reminded me of a moment at the Blueberry Hill show in October.  I was there in the front row with my camera.  And Chuck saw me and was looking right at me for a small eternity.  I was mesmerised-- so much so that by the time I realized "he's giving me a chance for an incredible photograph" the opportunity was gone!  Actually, it was worse than that: I pressed the shutter button, and the camera wasted precious time focussing or doing whatever it is that my camera does when I want to take a picture. 

Got to bring an old fashioned one next time.  Oh well.  The show itself was worth a thousand pictures.

Into Each Life a Little Luck Must Fall

And today I stumbled across this interesting looking blog, Squeeze My Lemon.  If you've seen the Chuck Berry blues enough, (a great one from the 1972 BBC concert) click on the masthead of the blog and see what else is there. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chuck Berry In Concert – 10/22/10 Strathmore Music Center Rockville , MD, (and Bo, and Jerry Lee, and Nat, and Jimmy, and More) by Darl Davis

What could be better than to open my e-mail and find this-- a story of the Strathmore concert by one of the performers-- Daryl Davis!  As "editor" I was thinking for a minute about holding half of it back to lure you all in another time.  But hell-- If Daryl took the time to write all this for you, you get to read it all now.  Enjoy.

Chuck Berry In Concert – 10/22/10 Strathmore Music Center Rockville, MD, by Daryl Davis.

The Strathmore is a top notch operation. The concert hall holds 1,976 and was sold out. People were starting to come in while the musicians were treated to a gourmet dinner in the Green Room. The entire staff from the sound crew, security, backstage attendants to the promoter, Ms. Brown and her assistant Georginia, were absolutely fabulous. The hall itself is a magnificent structure, acoustically designed to perfection and there’s not a bad seat in the house.

The idea for a Chuck Berry concert actually started almost two years ago. The new and beautiful Strathmore Music Center in Rockville , Maryland had not been open very long when almost 2 years ago they hosted my friend Jerry Lee Lewis in performance there. He was the second of the original wave of pioneering Rock’n’Rollers to play that venue. The late, great Bo Diddley was the first just a couple of years prior, shortly after the venue first opened. I had a night off from performing the night Jerry Lee was scheduled to perform and I made it a point to go by the Strathmore to see his show and visit with him. I had known Jerry Lee and all the guys in his band for many years. In fact, one night in Washington , DC , my own band, The Daryl Davis Band, had the pleasure of being Jerry Lee’s backup band for a show when he didn’t bring his band with him.

Jerry Lee’s band arrived at the Strathmore a short time ahead of their boss and proceeded to the stage to do the sound check. Jerry Lee himself, like Chuck Berry, rarely makes a sound check appearance. Much in the fashion that I or Jimmy Marsala, Chuck’s bass player will take a guitar and conduct the sound check, Jerry’s bandleader and primary guitarist, Kenny Lovelace usually sits at the piano and makes sure that the volume and tone is dialed in with the sound tech the way Jerry likes it. Since I was there before Kenny did this, he asked me to play a couple of numbers with the band for the sound check. So I got behind the grand piano and Kenny got on his guitar and the rest of the band took their places and we rocked!!!

When the sound check was over I was heading down the hall to Jerry’s dressing room when I ran into Shelley Brown who was responsible for booking Jerry into the Strathmore. Shelley had been a good friend of mine for many years and had booked me at the Strathmore Mansion as well as the Kennedy Center in Washington , DC . We chatted a bit and I said, “You should bring Chuck Berry here sometime.” She looked at me and said, “You’re absolutely right, I’ll do it, get me his booking contact info.”

Jerry Lee Lewis put on a great show that evening and the following day I gave Shelley the contact information for Chuck’s agent. A lot of performances at the Strathmore, get booked months and even a year in advance. But true to her word, as soon as she had an open date she contacted me in early 2010 and said, “Hey Daryl, I want to book Chuck Berry for October 22nd of this year and I want you and The Daryl Davis Band to open for him.”

I said, “Shelley, I’ve never opened for him. I usually play piano with him when he comes to this area.” She said yes she knew that, but wanted my band and me to open and back him up. I explained that in Chuck’s contract, it clearly states that the backing band cannot perform on stage before playing with Chuck Berry. She asked if I thought he might make an exception and I agreed to find out. Sometime before the date arrived and in time to advertise, I called Chuck on his cell phone and explained what I wanted. Shelley is a wonderful and generous supporter of my music and was very interested in providing me with maximum exposure by wanting to have my band perform before a huge audience. Chuck is equally a wonderful and kind friend who has provided me with numerous opportunities that have elevated my music status and helped me make a living as a musician. Chuck made an exception to his rule and allowed me the opportunity to have Shelley showcase my band and additionally play with him immediately following my own performance.

Now, let me digress for a moment. In 1976, I was a senior in high school in Rockville , MD. Every year, the last edition of the school newspaper is dedicated to the graduating seniors and the student staff will come around to each senior and ask, “What are your future plans when you graduate in two weeks?”

Some will respond that they will go to University of Maryland , major in chemistry and become a pharmacist, while others might answer, they will take liberal arts, take a semester off and take it easy before attending college, or some will opt not to go to college, but to work in their father’s plumbing company. When the paper was published, the entire senior class was listed alphabetically and by their names were written their responses to the status of their future plans. However, when someone was asked about what their future plans were and they responded, “Duh, I don’t know,” politely next to their name in the paper, was written the word, “Undecided.” The term, “Undecided,” was a polite code word, synonymous with the word, “Stupid.” In other words someone has gone to school for 12 years preparing for this time to graduate and hopefully have some inkling as to what they want to do with their future and if they have no clue, it is commonly thought that they are stupid. The “Undecideds” usually fit into this category and were most often the ones in my school who were always in trouble, in detention or suspended at one time or another for being lazy or doing something stupid.

A group of students from the school newspaper staff approached me and asked the aforementioned question, to which I responded, “I’m going to go to Howard University , major in music and play piano for Chuck Berry.” They went on down the hall laughing. A week later when the paper came out, next to my name was printed the word, “Undecided.” Despite the fact that I often got straight “A”s and was well respected academically, a lot of my fellow schoolmates thought I was a dreamer and a laughing stock when it came to my thinking that one day I would play piano for the legend, the man who invented the whole thing, the King, Chuck Berry. I graduated from high school a week later in June of 1976 and graduated from Howard University in May of 1980 with my Bachelor of Music Degree.

Fast forward to October 22nd, 2010. I am now 52 years of age and in addition to leading my own band, I have been playing many gigs with Chuck Berry for almost 30 years; my first gig with him was in 1981, a year after I graduated from Howard. So in essence, as of now, I’ve played with Chuck Berry for a little more than half my life!!! And I was called a dreamer? Hmm??? Well guess what? My dreams come true.

I headed over to the Strathmore that afternoon and made sure the Fender Dual Showman amps and speakers were placed on stage where Chuck likes them. The Strathmore is a top notch operation. The hall itself is a magnificent structure, acoustically designed to perfection and there’s not a bad seat in the house. All 1,976 seats for that evening’s concert with the creator of Rock’n’Roll were sold out. My band met me there and we conducted a sound check with me at the piano. Once that was done, I took my cherry red Gibson ES-335, which Chuck has played many times when he has broken a string on his, and plugged it into the amps that were rented for him. Then we proceeded to have the sound man set the sound for Chuck Berry while I played the guitar and sang some verses to some of his songs at the microphone he would use that evening.

A little while later Chuck’s bassist, Jimmy Marsala arrived and we exchanged jokes until dinner was ready. Jimmy is has vault full of funny jokes in his head and every time I see him, he has to unlock that vault for me. He is one of the few people I know who can a joke that I haven’t already heard.

In the lobby, throngs of people of all ages were milling about. A friend of mine named Michelle came with her 8-year-old son Daniel who was there to see Chuck Berry for the very first time. Ironically, Daniel and I have something in common. We both like Johnny B. Goode as our all-time favorite song. Michelle would later email me a cute video of Daniel at an open mic, playing guitar on Johnny B. Goode. The conversations of the waiting crowd went from, “This is my first time seeing him,” to, “The first time I saw Chuck was in 1956,” to “I saw him back in the ‘70s,” or “We saw him in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” to “I just saw him a few months ago at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival.” It was amazing to think about all those people who were so positively affected by his music over all those decades. My goodness, 1956, the ’70’s, 80’s, and ‘90s? Wasn’t that back in the 20th century? Talk about Back to the Future, this man, Chuck Berry and his music have transcended time!!!

When the doors to the main house opened, people started coming in and taking their seats in the audience while the musicians were treated to an excellent gourmet dinner in the Green Room. The entire staff, from the sound crew, security, backstage attendants to the promoter, Ms. Brown and her assistant Georginia, were absolutely fabulous.

It was soon time and my band and I waited in the wings of the stage until we were announced. As we walked out, we were greeted with cheers and applause. Having played and lived in this area for a number of years, I was no stranger to many in the sold out crowd. Ironically, a good number of my former high school classmates were there. Many of them contacted each other and came out in full force to support the now grown up kid some of them had called a dreamer so many years ago. Even though I’m originally from Chicago , I’ve been in the Maryland/DC area long enough to also call it home. It was great to know that so many of my hometown people and classmates were there to see Chuck Berry but to also support one of their own and I truly thank them for that.

We played a rockin’ 30-minute set with a Blues thrown in. Anyone who has ever played Rock’n’Roll has been influenced by and owes something to Chuck Berry. He must have taught me well, because the sold out crowd gave my band and me a standing ovation for the set we played.

Chuck arrived by limo and I escorted him to his dressing room. He looked great having turned 84 just 4 days prior to this concert. I sat in his dressing room with him marveling at his youthful spirit and remarkable agility for that age, hoping that I too will be that blessed when I reach that age. They say, “You don’t quit playing music because you grow old; you grow old because you quit playing music.” People like Chuck Berry and 97-year-old Pinetop Perkins have proven that!!!

Jimmy Marsala had already hooked up Chuck’s wireless guitar system earlier. When it was time to go, Jimmy flipped on the switch on the transmitter and he, my drummer and I took our respective places on stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, CHUCK BERRY!!!,” came a voice over the sound system. Then from the wings, but unseen by the audience came the familiar classic Chuck Berry guitar intro. He came strolling onto the stage playing the guitar just like ringin’ a bell. The audience once again leapt to its feet, screaming in glee and excitement as Chuck approached the microphone and started to sing something about wanting to write a letter to his local deejay about a rockin’ little record he wanted his jockey to play.

He continued playing hits from his catalogue of 278 songs. For most of the songs he would only sing a couple of verses, take a guitar solo, give me a solo, end it, or do another verse then end it. Occasionally, when he would cut a song short, he would tell the audience that he didn’t remember the words to the song and apologize. The audience was happy to see him regardless. They knew that he had nothing he had to prove. His legacy has and will always be, cast in stone. They knew they were not going to see Chuck Berry 1956. They were seeing Chuck Berry 2010, a living legend still does his best to please his fans. This was very evident when he did his duckwalk several times. I don’t know too many if any, people who would attempt this feat at the age of 84.

The master of pacing himself, Chuck interspersed his rockers with some Blues numbers including his own Wee Wee Hours, to give himself the opportunity to re-energize. He even pulled out For Sentimental Reasons, which was a hit by his idol, Nat King Cole. The audience was also treated to an original poem by Chuck. They sat in total awe as he vividly described the house he would build. All the amenities such as the fireplace, and his dog came to life has his words flowed effortlessly from his mouth. His oral descriptions were as detailed as a painting by Andrew Wyeth. His innovative guitar playing and fact that he had created a new genre had long ago established his musical genius. But it was moments like this that reminded people of his lyrical genius as well.

About half way through Johnny B. Goode, Chuck and I traded instruments. He played the piano and I played his guitar. This is always a treat for the audience, many of whom don’t know that Chuck plays some piano. On the other hand I’m trying to play all of these Chuck Berry licks on the guitar in front of the Man himself!!!!

On his last number, Reelin’ & Rockin’, Chuck invited some girls from the audience to join us on stage and dance. Out of crowd of girls up there dancing, almost half were my former high school classmates!!! If I had known back then that some of them could shake it like that back in high school, hmm…….. Let’s not go there, I’m married now and so are they!!!. The show ended the same way it started, with a standing ovation and 1,976 screaming fans.

Back in Chuck’s dressing room, I invited him and Jimmy to come over to my house for some more dinner. They agreed. I dismissed his limo driver and told him that I would get Chuck back to the hotel. I drove Chuck and Jimmy to my house where my wife and secretary prepared the food. We made some doggy bags and I took them back to the hotel. The next morning, I picked them up and drove them to the airport. Within hours of their landing in St. Louis, they would be driving to a nearby casino to perform that evening with Chuck’s home based band consisting of my friend and excellent pianist Bob Lohr, Keith Robinson on drums, Chuck’s son Charles Berry, Jr. on guitar. Yes indeed, a [rock’n’] rolling stone gathers no moss. Long live Rock’n’Roll, the spirit is there body and soul!!!!

Daryl Davis

Good Stuff from Gibson

The Gibson website always has interesting stuff.  Here's a recent article:

Now all they need is one or two Chuck Berry tribute guitars.