Some people just do it right. On July 17, 2013, Chuck Berry will do yet another of his wonderful appearances at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis, and for the second time the show will be opened by the Swedish blues band Bad Sign-- a group that has also opened for Chuck Berry in Europe. Bad Sign guitarist and singer Thomas Einarsson has made the pilgrimage to St. Louis even more often. I saw him fill in for Chuck at a sound check in the fall of 2010, and last fall Einarsson was back to share the stage at Blueberry Hill with Chuck, the St. Louis band, and Guest star Johnny Rivers. How's this for a scrapbook photo? (Einarsson is second from the left. Chuck is the one on the right with the giant smile.)
You showed up in St. Louis for the same two birthday shows that I saw last October. Tell us about your trip. Did you come specifically for those shows?
Jim Marsala told me last year that I could see three shows with Chuck during twelve days if I planned my trip right, but I could "only" make two shows. The Blueberry Hill and The Peagant (where I actually meet Themetta Berry, she is a very charming, nice lady, very much like Ingrid). My trip was very good. As always I feel very comfortable with the American hospitality. My friends are caring and taking their time with me and we usually go to see different gigs and happenings, but mostly we go guitar hunting.
I have met Keith and Bob a couple of times at Blueberry Hill, and have had the pleasure to help them doing sound checks. They have a level of musicianship that you couldn´t ask for more.
They are brilliant and open minded and catch every curved fastball that Chuck Berry throws at them.
Charles "Butch" Berry, on the other hand has developed so much skills in guitar playing in short time it is just stunning me. Imagine that he started up playing at age of 38. As I have learned he is a monster on knowing facts about almost everything. And he is a GREAT fellow and a great, supportive friend.
Jim Marsala is the bandleader and a good friend of mine. I consider him as one of the most important sidemen in Rock & Roll business of all time. He has always taken his time with all Chuck´s fans, and has a heart of gold.
Did you visit any other music shrines during your trips? Did you get to sit in anywhere?
I have seen some local St. Louis musicians around the “Soulard” area and was very impressed, but I have never sat in, but witnessed Jim Marsala sit in a couple of times, just for the fun of it.
Your band Bad Sign played at Blueberry Hill a few years ago. How did that happen, and what was it like for you guys?
My band Bad Sign started up in 1989 with some blues, some country, and-- you guessed it-- some Chuck Berry!! We are more into funky blues now but we are still in the same bag with some good old rock and roll. We finished a CD rcording in 2006 where we did let many of our musician friends appear, for example our music teacher, Inge Palm is laying some tenor saxophone fills.
But most important is that Jim Marsala appears on one track of the Bad Sign´s recording,
He told Joe Edwards about us, and Butch supported the idea of bringing us to play. In June 2009 Joe Edwards did let Bad Sign perform as a support act for Chuck Berry. That was an hilarious experience.
I asked Butch to introduce us because I was afraid that no one would care if we played. Just seconds before show time I told my guitarist from the very beginning, Mikael- "now we are very far from your parents chicken house", were we started rehearsals some 20 years ago. Of course I was wrong-- the enthusiastic St.Louis crowd carried us through the whole set !
I recently saw a picture of you doing a sound check in Europe with Chuck’s wine red Gibson. Tell us about that experience. How did it happen? How’d you like the guitar?
My helping hand with sound checks started with a backstage appearance in Hamburg 2006 when they needed someone to crank up Chuck Berry´s guitar and play something. And I volunteered.
To be trusted playing a guitar owned by Chuck Berry is such a great thing. This is the Holy Grail. I remember I held it as hard as possible, scared of dropping it. That guitar is very light and worn, but comfortable and has some great action, and through two sets of Fender Dual Showman amps, it can blow ANYTHING of stage.A Gibson 355 just cant sound any better through any other amp- believe me, and -Chuck has known it since the 60´s.
That might be why he argued with Keith Richards in the movie about it, during the rehearsals. (“Dont touch my amp....”)
|Thomas, second from left, holding "grail" at sound check in Denmark.|
Photo by Peter K.
I have never played on stage with Chuck, but I have shared stage with him once in Stockholm in 1989, taking pictures (without permission) during a show. The security caught me and lifted me up and wanted to throw me in the sea, which is just behind the stage. When they sat me down, I ran like hell, cared about my camera, and I got away with it, and got some good pics on the back of the pianoplayer and Chuck too. HA ! (Editor's note: he has now!)
Do you have any favorite Chuck Berry moments—shows or portions of shows that stand out for you?
One of the moments that I think is most powerful about a Chuck Berry show is just before and when he hits the stage. I always feel the presence of something magic, and it still makes my few hairs stand and gives me goose bumps, too.
Once in Bognor Regis, England in 1994 I was sitting at the same seat two nights on a row. At the second night Chuck Berry noticed it, and asked me about it from the stage !!! FUN !
During the Scandinavian Tour in 1989 Johan Hasselberg and I followed Chuck Berry. The promoter in Gotland didn´t have money enough to receive the promoting posters for the gig. Johan and I did what we could and entered the local radio station to try to push the listeners a little to go buy tickets. The radiohost tried to make an angle about me and Johan following our hero during the tour, but as a radio reporter and journalist, Johan took over the show and of course put Chuck Berry and his music in focus, not us.
When Johan and I arrived at the afternoon at the arena, Kneipbyn and the promotor didn´t show up. He had a hard time bringing the money to Chuck Berry´s fee and even rented an aeroplane flying around with a banner saying Chuck Berry tonight.
It was a very hot day and the tour manager Jörgen Wiking, Johan Hasselberg and I were soaked in sweat. The bass player of the gig was Peter Jezewski, a very good singer and player of a famous Swedish Doo Wop band, The Boppers. He had listened closely to Chuck´s original recordings and was self confident until I told him to forget them. That’s when he started to sweat too. Then I showed him a little paper that I brought with the songs Chuck Berry used during the period of 1987-88 and the tempo, keys, but most important- how to play like Jim Marsala !!
Chuck Berry wanted to quit the tour without any money (understandable) and go home and things began to get very complicated for everyone. The promoter had to trade his very nice house to Chuck Berry and then he went bankrupt.
There were 800 people in the crowd, and a charming, house-owning Chuck Berry started out with Roll Over Beethoven and at the fist bars the nevous bass player played like the original recordings. Chuck immediately stared at him and showed him what he wanted -The Jim Marsala Beat !!
Of course Peter picked it up real fast and got a nice comment from Chuck-You got a fast eye !!
My passion for music starts with Rock & Roll and ends with Chuck Berry. He is my greatest music inspiration. I studied all his live stuff since I was ten and learned a lot when I started playing guitar in my teens. I was a Chuck Berry nerd, I realized that when my older sister could remember and sing Chuck Berry´s lyrics better than me....
Chuck has fans all over, but I’d swear he has more per capita in Sweden than just about anywhere else. What’s going on there?
The Swedish people love everything of America. From the fifties we picked up the good life of having a nice car to cruise with. That created a new teenage culture named "raggare"=cruisers.
They also picked up the American music of the fifties listening to Radio Luxemburg during the nights. The Swedish radio then was monopoly, strict deciding what people should hear, and was far away from letting rock & roll go. Not very many people in Sweden did know of Chuck Berry in the fifties, Elvis Presley was well known, having good distribution, but in the late fifties/early sixties some Chuck Berry recordings found their way, and at that time NOTHING could be more cool than having a guitar and playing some rock & roll.The young people of Sweden found their favorites in Elvis, Jerry Lee, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino but the guy with all the fast songs and a guitar sounding like a ringing a bell was the MAN !
In the sixties almost every guy wanted to have a guitar, playing in the front of a band in Sweden. Some learned his stuff from the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, but many searched for the roots and there he was, the man who started it all, everyone's hero- the MIGHTY CHUCK BERRY, doing it so much better than his followers.
The Swedish press has always been rough on Chuck. (90 percent of the reporters are lousy musicians who can’t understand why people don´t love to hear them!) That makes Chuck Berry even bigger in the people’s eyes and he´s always been popular among his loyal fans. Especially among musicians and US.car lovers-- and they are many.
If you had a single topic you could talk to Chuck Berry about for a time, what would it be?
If I could talk about anything with Chuck Berry I think it would be his inspirations in music. The guy is so smart and multitalented and picked up so much in short time it is almost unbelievable. To this day he is wise and sharp as an knife, (and still can teach a promoter how to keep a contract....).