Friday, August 24, 2012

Chuck Berry in London - 1972

This is a very unusual and clear clip of Chuck Berry in London sometime in 1972. I believe it was filmed for the BBC special. It’s surprisingly crisp sound is what attracted me to this video. Up until Keith Richards made “Hail, Hail, Rock and Rock” in 1987, Chuck Berry usually played with local pickup bands, often not even bothering to rehearse before the show. Sometimes he never met the other musicians until about 5 minutes before show time. When Bruce Springsteen’s band was selected to back him in New Jersey in the early 1970’s, he met Mr. Berry moments before the concert was set to begin, asking him “What kind of music are we going to play?” It was a stupid question, and Mr. Berry answered, “Chuck Berry music, boy!” Springsteen tells that story in the 1987 film.

While this type of arrangement was quick and easy for Mr. Berry, it was hard on the audience, as the band was not always in tune with the star. But, somehow, he always managed to play just loud enough to cover the bands mistakes.
If you have seen “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”, then you are familiar with the story of how Keith Richards persuaded Chuck Berry to make the film. To accomplish that goal he would have to re-unite Mr. Berry with his old piano player, Johnnie Johnson. Mr. Johnson had founded the band that became known as The Chuck Berry Band, and ultimately just Chuck Berry.

Most of Chuck’s songs were really written on the piano by Johnnie Johnson, and then transposed to guitar by Mr. Berry. In the film “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”, Keith Richards does an excellent job of explaining the difference in writing songs on guitar and piano, crediting Mr. Johnson with being the spark which gave full bloom to the sound of rock and roll. In other words, without Johnnie, there may not have been a Chuck Berry as we have come to know him.
Johnnie Johnson filed suit in 2001 for back royalties on songs which were co-written by him with Mr. Berry. A very gentle and well-loved man, he passed away in 2005. But for the efforts of Keith Richards, his role in Rock and Roll history would not have been secured.

This second clip is taken from the film “Hail, Hail Rock and Roll”, and unlike the clip above, this one features Johnnie Johnson on piano, where he belongs. You’ll also recognize several other musicians, including Jesse Ed Davis and Keith Richards. Play it loud and enjoy the music!

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