Tuesday, October 5, 2010

He Stepped on them Blue Suede Shoes! (And Guess who Excused Himself?)

If you're a Chuck Berry fan you've doubtless found the website http://www.chuckberry.de/.  It's full of information, links, news stories, photos and tour information about Chuck Berry and about a lot of other musicians.  I've never met the author of the site, Wolfgang Guhl, but I've e-mailed him, and I've been happy that he's responded to my e-mails by adding several dates to his list of Chuck Berry shows, including shows in Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, and Puyallup, Washington.  And now I'm even happier-- because Wolfgang did this wonderful GoHeadOn exclusive :) "Interview!"  It's another good one.  Enjoy!

(Below: Wolfgang with Jerry Lee Lewis' bandleader Kenneth Lovelace in Paris, 2004.)

Where do you live and what do you do there?

I am now 27 years old, live in Munich, Germany and work as an accountant. I finished my vocational training as a “Management Assistant in Wholesale and Foreign Trade” in 2006 and am now working on my Bachelor degrees in Educational Science and Psychology beside my job.

Do you remember when you first got interested in Chuck Berry and his music? What was it that got you?

That’s very difficult to say. I remember loving music already as a real small child. I remember checking out my parents’ Vinyl collection. They collected mostly LPs by the likes of The Rolling Stones, and I liked to listen to it. In a way this was Chuck Berry’s music. As soon as I was able to read I checked out the writers’ credits and noticed that many songs were written by a certain “Chuck Berry.”

I wanted to know who this man was. Even at the time I thought it was unbelievable that one man would write such an amount of fantastic songs. I did not understand the lyrics at the time, but the beat, the beat got me. I remember being in the Netherlands on holidays with my parents and us going on a shopping trip. I told them it was about time I got a CD by this mysterious “Chuck Berry”, so we went to a record shop. There were literally tons of albums by The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley, those guys, who played these “Berry songs” but a Chuck Berry album was incredibly hard to find. But eventually we succeeded in getting one. It was a “Best Of”-Album featuring, as the title implies, mainly his greatest hits. The cover picture seemed to show a white man. I am serious they changed the color of his skin for the front cover, which made me assume that Chuck Berry was indeed white. We are talking about a CD here, which was bought in the Netherlands around 1992.

You would not expect racism in such a tolerant place at that time in history. But it goes to show that racism is ever-present even though it is probably not as present as it used to be.

Needless to say I loved the music on the CD.

Next thing I remember was seeing “Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll” a little later on German television. I remember doing all kind of favors to my parents and in return they promised that I would be allowed to watch some Chuck Berry on television. From the first minute I saw this movie I was spellbound. This was the first time I realized he was a black man, but it never mattered to me at all. To me you are either good or bad at something. Not black or white.

Anyway, his charisma seemed to pour out of the television screen and he appeared to have a ball on stage like no other musician I ever saw before or since. His obvious love to the music and incredible showmanship was that got me and still gets me. The silly arguments with Keith Richards, which many like to discuss over and over even today, did not interest me at all. I watched for the music and that’s what this move in essence is all about: MUSIC.

Have you seen him live? How often? Tell us about some of your favorite live performances.

I have travelled to 73 Chuck Berry live shows all Europe from 1997 to 2008. I do not know of anyone, who has travelled to more Chuck Berry concerts than me (except for certain band members). And most of the time I paid for ticket and travel arrangements. It was a massive amount of money, but as Bruce Springsteen states “We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.” I can only second that. Now imagine how much you learn from seeing 73 full concerts! Most of his shows were wonderful, very few were the absolute opposite. The special thing about seeing Chuck Berry live is that this man’s soul seems to flow directly through his fingers to the guitar and out of his mouth. He always performs what he feels like, which makes every show unique. Even though the questions asks after “favorite live performances” I would like to give you two positive and one negative example(s), as Chuck Berry represents both sides, which make him the legend he is and every show an exciting experience.

Munich 1998

The best show I have ever seen Chuck Berry put on was in Munich, Germany 1998. I remember him seeing him for the first time the year before in Essen, Germany (with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard on the same bill). I was so excited about this Essen show I cannot tell. Back then there was no internet and I had no idea the man was still performing. I was a kid and thought 70 which he was at the time was incredibly old. I remember opening the concert magazine “Live in Concert” and it showed an ad of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard performing together. I could not believe it. Tears were streaming down my face (& still do today when I think of it). The legendary Chuck Berry was still performing and on top of that Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard were there, too. The show was titled “Legends of Rock ’n’ Roll” and it was Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven. In Essen, Jerry Lee and Richard put on much stronger shows than Chuck, who was having an off-night (which did not bother me; I was thrilled to see him and my body was shaking due to nervosity).

Then I thought of Chuck as an old man, who just could not do any better, and I expected a similar show the next year in my hometown Munich when he, Jerry Lee and Richard would return. How wrong my assumption was to be.

In Munich, Chuck closed and put on a show like I have never seen again. His guitar was strong, so was the voice. He duckwalked across the stage several times. The intensity of the show was completely out of this world. People in the huge arena were dancing on their seats, many were crying tears of joy.

(Editors note:  Can't find video of the 1998 Munich show, but nine years later-- we find Chuck Berry playing bass in Munich until his guitar gets fixed.  "The show must go on."  Never saw that before! (although we all heard it once on "Memphis.")

Another special show I saw was Lille 2005. I was surrounded by many people even younger than my age (I was 21 by now). They expected to see a legend, but old granddad shuffling on the stage. Well, what can I say? He rocked with the energy of a 20-year old. These guys could not believe what they were seeing. About 25 minutes into the show Chuck fell over a monitor behind him, falling to the ground accidentally. He did not move for a while and I feared something serious could have happened to him. Promoters rushed towards him to see what had happened. While they stood around him (he was playing “Memphis”), all of a sudden I could hear his guitar playing the “Memphis” riff. He played it, laying on the floor, eyes closed. Then he got up as if nothing had happened and proceeded exactly where he was forced to stop before:

“Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennesssee.”

Hmm, all of a sudden I feel like not wanting to report about the bad experiences anymore…

You’ve got a website about the man. When did you start it? What’s your goal with it?

I started www.chuckberry.de in 1999. The first ever website was created by a fan from New Zealand in 1997. It kept it going for only about two months though. Jerry Lee Lewis (by Anders Umegard and Thomas Sobczak) and Little Richard (by Timo Reijola) had great fan respectively semi-official sites at the time, which kept fans up-to-date. A Chuck Berry page of that sort was missing until I filled the gap. I was a fan and consequently knew exactly what fans were looking for. The foundations of the website until today (11 years and around 800,000 visitors later…) are as follows:

- providing the web’s most up-to-date Chuck Berry news

- providing the most up-to-date concert information on Chuck Berry and related artists

- providing information on how to get tickets for Chuck Berry shows

- concert reviews

- the web’s largest Chuck Berry Picture Gallery

Another rule is that unlike other sites of that kind I would publish everything about Berry and allow all considered views on the man, whether good or bad.

Have you met him? Tell us about that.

I would not call it “meeting”, but I have travelled on the same train and plane as him and slept in the same hotels while on tour. I remember once getting out of a elevator at a Denmark hotel. There was a huge man standing in front of it and I stepped on his toes. The funny thing was it was HIM, who apologized (even though I stepped on his toes). I slowly began to realize it was Chuck Berry. In general and unlike his stage shows, he appears to be a very quiet man. I also remember sitting right next to him on a couch at a Luxembourg hotel. I have never seen him talking much to people and I suspect very few people have ever met him if you know what I mean even though he hardly ever use bodyguards and is rather easy to approach.

You seem to follow a lot of other artists—who are some of your favorites?

I have an open ear and heart to everyone, who plays the in a similar spirited way as Chuck Berry, whether this includes his contemporaries like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley or people who were heavily influenced by him like Bruce Springsteen. Every kind of music that comes from the soul is close to my soul.

One of my favorite things on your website is the “tour” information for various artists. I found the Elton John concert that I attended in 1971! But what I appreciate most is that you have added dates to the Chuck Berry lists. Where do you find them?

When it comes to dates pre-1995, I get dates from people like yourself from time to time. But most of all Paul MacPhail and Morten Reff have been a boost to my data collecting operations. Check out these people’s books. You are in for a treat. They got massive archives.

More recent dates are collected from virtually every ticket office, agent, promoter in the world. I am checking hundreds of sources daily to supply y’all with the most updated Concert Information on the net. Few people know that for many years I worked for Pollstar, the music business’ biggest magazine, as the only source they would accept outside of the concert industry (agents, promoters, venues, artist representatives). When it comes to tour dates, I know my way around. Ain’t no fooling ‘ya!

Let’s imagine you had an hour to drive and talk to Mr. Berry—what would you want to talk about?

Now this is very unlikely to ever happen, but if I had the chance, I would ask him what his major goals in life were/are and why.


Peter said...

Thanks, Wolfgang, for the pictures! Peter

Morten Reff said...

Wolfgang does a great job and I must return his favourable comment about me. Wolfgang has helped me a lot with tour dates and musicians during many years. Keep up the goode work!
The first time I saw Berry playing a bass was in Norrkøping 28 October 1984 when he played with Johnnie Johnson for the first time in Europe. Berry broke a string on his Gibson and Jim Marsala handed Berry his bass and I tell you he really made it boogie, actually more than Marsala himself!!
Morten Reff

Peter said...

I used to think I'd seen a lot (10) of Chuck Berry shows. But 77! And I've never seen him play bass, or drums, and I've never stepped on the man's toes! (I hope!) Peter

Anonymous said...

Another Fantastic interview!! Thanks so much Wolfgang and Peter!! Thanks Wolfgang for the pictures and also your site, I check it darn near't daily for Chuck's concert schedule. And I see you have a date for "The Killer" playing the Winter Dance Party at Clear Lake Iowa this coming year!!! You have seen Chuck almost 80 times?? Now that is a list all itself!!!
Let It Rock!!!

CB Forum ID - Busseybootlegger

Anonymous said...

Wolfgang likes perfection...if the date is listed, then it's accurate. I've never met him but we've contacted quite regularly. If I send him tour dates, he knows I've checked and rechecked the sources. I've never met a young man that could find out so much about the originators of rock 'n' roll in such a brief time. Wolfie... you da man! Your pal, Paul MacPhail.

Peter said...

Hmmmm... I could respond to THIS one, but all's well that ends well-- and I'll be in St. Louis on the 20th after all! Peter

Wolfgang Guhl said...

Hey Peter, I think you are referring to the Blueberry Hill October date, which changed as far as I can remember and resulted in you having to re-arrange your travel arrangements. Not my fault, dates get often get changed by promoters and artists at last minute due to other commitments. What I do is post the most up-to-date (usually reliable) information that I could get my hands on. One lesson that I have learned from my many concert-related travels: Never book trains/flights/hotel until the very last minute as concert dates often get cancelled/changed for various reasons (Artist books other commitments, Promoter does not fulfill his contract or is forced to cancel due to poor ticket sales, social-cultural problems in certain areas etc.). I hope this explains this.

Peter said...

Wolfgang-- I was just teasing. I didn't buy a ticket until I saw it on two sources, one of which was Blueberry Hill. But ultimately I got a ticktet to the BBH show anyway, and was able to change every reservation. Believe me-- I'm thrilled.

Anonymous said...

Wolfgang, With your list of concert dates I was able to see Chuck at Harrah's Casino in Council Bluffs Iowa in September of 2008. You do a great job and keep up the hard work - I hope Chuck plays a concert near you soon!!!

CB Forum ID - Busseybootlegger

Anonymous said...

great interview!

Anonymous said...

I was a Chuck's Amsterdam 2008 show, and after the gig Chuck's son told the audience to "Check out Wolfgang Guhl's site, Chuckberry.de". Fantastic to have the official seal of appproval from the stage at a Berry gig!
If it wasn't for ChuckBerry.de I'd have missed out on a few shows over the years.
Wolfie is a rock & roll legend himself!

Richard Harvsy