RIP Chuck Berry. The Grandfather of Rock ’n’ Roll. Chuck gave us guitar slingers as much of a path forward as anyone. Keith Richards stole all his early riffs from Chuck, as did about 100,000 more of us. I remember working round the clock to learn the intro riff of “Johnny B Goode” for one of my first bands as a kid, Josh Cassily and the Classified Ads. Those bends are murder on your hands as a beginner. That song (and several old Kiss records) were responsible for the calluses that I developed at age 10 and have kept to this day.
The photo with this post (by the wonderful Nick Licata) is us meeting Chuck Berry at his club in St. Lou a few years back. We were his opening band—but we were booked by the club and not by any of Berry’s crew. We loaded in early, set up our merch, had a fantastic sound check, and settled in for a couple of beers before the show started.
Six five and built like he could go bear hunting with a switch, Chuck’s road manager comes over to us right before the show and says, “Look —get on and get off, and don’t say Chuck’s name.”
I started to plead, “But we gotta to pay our respects and…”
He interrupts, “See, you are already confused, son. If you say Chuck’s name, I’m gonna fine you one hundred dollars. Every time. Period.”
Billy and Jesse were laughing and taking bets on how much money we would lose with me this excited on the mic. I tend to get a little lost in the music up there and often get “carried away.” I am proud of this, but it can get us into trouble.
An hour later we take the stage and I find a work around…
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are so honored to be here opening for the legend, the American original, the Grandfather of Rock ’n’ Roll!!!” Then I zipped it. We played, and the crowd asked for an encore. It was a great show, we sold hundreds in T-shirts, signed plenty of new St. Lou folks to the mail list, but we were all a little sad we wouldn’t get to say hi and pay quick respects to Chuck.
I chalked it up to one of my favorite sayings, brought to us by my former manager and beast of a human being, Joe Preckajlo: “Bought and Paid For.”
In this case that would mean that of all the stars who have earned the right to take a night off and not sign anything, it would be Chuck Berry. In his 80s and still playing every single week, he had given us more than enough.
All of sudden, the road manager runs up to us and looks me right in the eyes and yells out, “Well, hell, we didn’t know you motherf$%^^kers could play! You want to meet Chuck?”
We went backstage, and there he was, the grandfather of rock ’n’ roll.
He was sitting in the chair you see in the photo, calm, happy, and shining like a diamond. His purple suit, his skin, his hair, his eyes all just radiating.
We showed him our mascot and keeper of the flame, “Little Red,” and asked if he would take a picture with us and Red, and he was as gracious as could be.
Prince, Bowie, Cohen, Haggard, make room for another legend up there. The musical heavens are sounding good tonight. You are missed down here.
Thanks to Laura Sisul for helping us get that magical night booked.
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