Saturday, March 18, 2017

Goodbye Chuck Berry

An early Disaster Amnesiac Rock 'n Roll memory: age six-seven. I am standing in front of my father's stereo. Dad has at some earlier point shown me how to put vinyl onto the turntable. He has also explained to me that this LP with the black cover and white lettering contains music by Chuck Berry, who is the best Rock 'n Roll singer ever. I put the needle on the record and stand enthralled by its sound.
A later Disaster Amnesiac Rock 'n Roll memory. I am at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California. It is 2002 or 2003. Little Richard and Chuck Berry are co-headlining an evening concert. Little Richard's band is tight and incredibly well rehearsed. Even his off the cuff monologues sound memorized. Mid-way through the show, he has ushers hand out slim paperbacks with Bible verses in them. After Richard's set, I see a Cadillac driving up to the backstage area of the concert venue. I see a tall, slim man with a white cap get out of the Cadillac and move towards the trunk. I see this man then carry a guitar case into the backstage area; a minute or so later, he's on the stage, greeting the backing musicians that have been waiting for him to arrive. I swear to this day that the bass player was Billy Cox, friend of Jimi Hendrix. The group begins to play, and are ramshackle at best. There are tuning issues, timing issues, and nothing sounds like those classic records did. They're playing those same songs, but....something....is........different.
After thirty minutes or so, Berry tries to get the tony Silicon Valley crowd to sing about ding-a-lings. It's strangely uncomfortable. This crowd does not seem to want to do this, and the response is, at best, lackluster. Chuck jokes around, forgives the audience for their lack of willingly open crudeness, and the band plays a bit longer. Maybe they finally "got it together", I don't know.
Driving home from the show, Disaster Amnesiac came to fully realize the brilliance of Chuck Berry's willful rawness, his unending long middle finger to all things elite and "serious". In that, Chuck Berry truly was the Best Rock 'n Roll Singer Of All Time.
The man seemingly never went soft, and, presumably, was on edge to the bitter end. The failed music biz person in me admires the stories of his pistol packin' demands for the FUCKING CASH NOW. The historically aware American marvels at his success in the face of ignorant segregated St. Louis harshness.
The Rock 'n Roll fan in me still dances a jig to pretty much any one of his songs whenever I hear one.
Chuck Berry truly did things his way. With him, you probably never could tell. Sounds like Rock 'n Roll to me.

2 comments:

Pig State Recon said...

I know he gave us the duckwalk, but was he also the first to popularise that spread-legs playing stance? Billy Zoom oughta be paying him royalties.

Mark Pino said...

Good point Row! I just really admire his willfully fucked up nonchalance in performance. What an amazing dude.