Thursday, November 1, 2012

Like a Fading Memory, Let's Roll the Microfilm!

If you follow this blog you probably know that I first saw Chuck Berry at a sad, poorly promoted show at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California.  I was never sure exactly when that show was until I contacted an archivist for the City of Sacramento a few years ago.  She sent me this e-mail. 

Dear Peter:

I did find that Chuck Berry played Memorial Auditorium on February 13, 1971. Also on November 24th 1971 there was a “50s Rock & Roll Revival” but the listing doesn’t mention who played. I can also tell you that 800 people attended the Berry concert and over 4,000 attended the rock & roll revival.
I knew who played-- a local group called Slo Loris, and a kid named Little Dion, who's show was sort of like The Jackson One.  You can read all about that show HERE, in Chapter Three of a book I wrote about Chuck Berry and my own personal madness.
Well, yesterday I was in Sacramento for business, so at the end of my stay I went to the downtown branch of the Sacramento library and asked for microfilm of the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union for those months.  Because what you have to understand about this blog is that, while it might say a lot about Chuck Berry, it's real focus is ME. 

I'm not sure other people have the same problem as me-- the feeling that all memory is suspect.  Every moment I've ever known in life is "like a fading memory."  So I take comfort in corraboration.  I like to see that what I remember is true.  So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across the following page of microfilm.

Although I mistrust memory, I trust mine enough to wonder if The Bantams actually performed.  We walked out during Little Dion's performance, so if they did it was after that.  (I would have remembered these guys If I'd have seen them.  They might actually have been younger than Dion!)

As for Little Dion, he's evidently now a pretty big Dion, and providing good times out there somewhere.  The man can still dance.

The rest of it all reeks of the Sacramento of my teen years.  Adult movies.  Vienna Choir Boys.  Perry Boys' Smorgy.  (Check the price there!  All you want for $1.75!  They even gave you a little bible with your fried chicken and spaghetti.  We ate there several times.) 

If you've read the story of that first Chuck Berry show you'll know two things: that we arrived late, figuring Chuck Berry was the headliner and would play last; and that when we arrived, he was already playing, first!

We figured this was because he took a look into the empty auditorium and said "Get me the #*%* out of this town."  But check out the ad more closely.  It says, albeit a bit vaguely, that Chuck Berry, the author of "Sweet Little 1," would appear at 8:00 p.m.  So maybe the promoter was telling the truth-- maybe Chuck Berry really was double booked that night, with a show later in Los Angeles.  But of course, I never saw this ad.  I learned about the show from my mother, who actually read the paper, and who'd probably heard the same stuff I had about Chuck Berry from my brother Stevo.

This ad is from a paper called The Sacramento Bee.  They didn't review much rock and roll in those days, but The Bee actually had an article about Chuck's appearance, on a page with stock market listings, news of an Illinois earthquake, vital statistics, and funeral announcements.  You can read it here.

The other paper, The Sacramento Union, didn't even mention Chuck Berry.  Maybe it's because the promoter didn't run an ad in The Union.  Maybe it's because The Union, once an employer of Mark Twain, was jealous of America's greatest poet.  Whatever the reason, The Union had a much better entertainment section than The Bee (even if one lengthy entertainment article was entitled "Why Men Cheat.")  Check out the blues listings in that day's Sacramento Union.  Lightning Hopkins and B. B. King!

As for the November show, I didn't find much-- just an ad.  This ad I probably saw.  By then I'd seen Chuck Berry again at Lake Tahoe, and I was on the hunt.  I remember the bad art, and the lineup.

Here the mushiness of my memory becomes a little more problematic, because I have always believed I saw two of these shows.  It's possible that I saw the second one years later, in 1975-- but my memory is that I saw it at about the same time as this one, and that there were a few small differences in the lineup.  The problem for me is that I don't have a clear memory of who was with me or where I was sitting for two different shows.  I remember being stage right, about ten rows back.  I don't remember seeing the show from any other location.  Or at least I don't think I do.  As I write this, I begin to see from a new perspective, closer in, more central. 

Which is why I'll have to search again someday.  Cause a fading memory can be a bluesy thing indeed.


Anonymous said...

That man isn't LIttle Dion...however, Dion is alive and well and STILL perfoming. As for the Bantams...not only did they perform...but Chuck's band was late in arriving and they backed him on a few tunes. Thanks for the clipping....just love stumbling across these.

Peter said...

Anonymous-- Are you one of The Bantams? Were you there? Amazing! If The Bantams backed Chuck on a few tunes, we missed it, because we got there after Chuck had already started. He was singing a blues when we pushed open the door, backed by the Sacramento group Slo Loris. We probably saw him play for 30 minutes. But wow, changed my life.

Anonymous said...

2013 Adjusted for inflation: Perry Boys' Smorgy at 1.75 will now cost 10.07usd using CPI inflation.

Found this posting because I was looking for Perry Boys' Smorgy. I ate there in Modesto, CA. on McHenry Ave. during '66-'71 but have been in Sacramento since 1986. It was great to find this history about Memorial Auditorium (which I fought to save).

Peter, I understand your need for confirmation of dates: I had to look up a Bill Graham concert I attended in SF at Winterland which had Hot Tuna, Canned Heat, Country Joe McDonald in the early '70s

Thanks for your Blog posting

Peter said...

Anonymous- thanks for reading and for saving the Memorial Auditorium. You probably know that there's a great website about the Modesto (well, maybe Merced! Oops!) 60s rock scene that you'd enjoy. Check it out for more memories.