BACKSTAGE STORIES – CHUCK BERRY

Long live Rock ’n Roll! It’s one thing to lose Prince, David Bowie and other rock icons, but it’s quite another thing to lose the founder of rock ’n roll, the man who started it all – Chuck Berry. A sad day indeed.

I saw Chuck Berry perform several times, and once had the honour of booking him for a show I produced at the Port Dover Summer Garden. I was managing a band at the time, Powerhouse from Ottaw,, & used them as the back-up band for Chuck. When Chuck arrived for the gig, Powerhouse was ready for a rehearsal. Chuck simply said “We don’t need a rehearsal. I’m sure you guys know all my songs”. They went on stage without even a minute of rehearsal and performed one of the most memorable performances of their career.

It was a pleasure spending time with Chuck Berry that day. He was an intelligent, well-spoken man with a lot of great stories. I did, however, experience some of the quirky things he had in his Contract Rider including payment is US cash only, no cheques and no encore unless you paid him extra. You had to supply 2 unaltered Fender Dual Showman Reverb amplifiers or pay a $500 cash penalty. These were very rare amps and almost impossible to find. As I found out later, Chuck really wanted the $500 cash which he used as undeclared income to live on.

Ground transportation – This is something he used to do for his own enjoyment to freak out the Promoters. His Rider requested a limo to pick him up at the airport. The day of show the Promoter would get a call from the limo driver waiting at the airport who couldn’t find Mr. Berry. Remember, these were the days prior to cell phones and e-mails. The Promoter would be in a panic. A few hours before showtime Chuck would show up at the gig driving a Hertz rental car. At that time he had a deal with Hertz to get free car rentals.Thank-you so much Chuck Berry for “Johnny B. Goode”, probably the greatest rock ’n roll song ever.

It’s impossible to listen to this song without smiling from ear to ear, and singing along with the chorus. In this time of reminiscing, my favorite version of this song was done by a local Ontario band from Kitchener called Major Hoople’s Boarding House. They performed the first verse as a slow melodic ballad before blasting into full speed with the most iconic guitar solo in rock history.

Hail, Hail Rock’n Roll.
Elwood Saracuse

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