Sunday, January 02, 2011

Chuck Berry Falls Ill During Chicago Show

The brown-eyed handsome man may finally be winding down.

About an hour into a New year's Eve show at the Congress Theater in Chicago,Chuck Berry had to be helped off stage after he simply ran out of gas and collapsed over his accompanist's piano.

He apparently signed a release and declined to be hospitalized. The last report is that he's resting comfortably at his St. Louis home.

Chuck Berry at 84 is in semi-retirement these days, but he still plays out regularly and had just finished two shows in New York City the night before. That legendary vitality of his may finally be wearing down.

I hope not..almost all of the old rockn'rollers have passed on to that Great Concert in the Sky, and when they're gone something unique will have gone with them.There's always been an ageless quality to Berry, something about that old spine and leg catharsis that still seems young, powerful and ageless.

Two personal memories of Chuck Berry...two sides of the same coin.

A hot, humid summer night on the road, checking into a hotel in the Midwest, the name and exact place lost in the memory banks. Not a roach hole or a five star, but the sort of moderately priced place you stay at if you're on tour and trying to keep the costs down.

And who should I see checking out and headed towards the door with a guitar case and a small, black, travel bag in hand than Chuck Berry.

I walked over, ascertained that it really was him, introduced myself politely, told him what band I was playing with and made a remark about how much I loved his music. The response? "Thanks, kid" and then out the smile, no chit chat, no handshake, no nuthin'. It was as if I had insulted him somehow, it was that detached and frigid.

I shrugged, and went back to the hotel desk.

Take two...a night at the Aquarius theater in Hollywood, at a filming of the old TV show, 'In Concert'. I was there courtesy of a backstage pass from the manager one of the eminently forgettable bands set to be filmed that night, some of them with actual records on the radio and in the charts.

Loads of roadies and plenty of heavy duty equipment, Marshall stacks, huge drumsets, big hair, flashpots and pyrotechnics, nubile young ladies checking out the bulges in the spandex, a slight smell of marijuana in the air, schmoozing and those little white lines laid out backstage...a typical concert scene for the times.

One by one, the bands came on, did their shtick, and all got a nice, enthusiastic response from the crowd.

And then out walked a fifty-ish Chuck small Fender Twin amp, one guitar, and an obvious pickup band consisting of a bass player and a drummer, probably hired for scale from the local union for that night's show.

What happened next was sheer magic.

Chuck checked his tuning..and then he did one of those metallic signature intros to 'Johnny B. Goode', and the left foot came down.

Within ten minutes, he had the whole theater shaking, literally.

Most of that night's audience were probably still in diapers when most of the songs he played that night first came out, but there was something magically seminal about it that just connected.

Security tried to keep people from crowding the stage and dancing in the aisles, but it was a losing battle and they just gave up after awhile. And me, I just stood in the wings and marveled.

This was the true, anarchistic spirit of rock 'n roll unleashed and it didn't sound like an oldies show in the sounded new, wild and untamed, and I could catch a glimpse of how it must have hit the teenyboppers at places like the old Brooklyn Paramount right between the eyes back when Chuck, Jerry Lee, Buddy and Elvis laid it on them in the fifties.

One guy, a guitar, an amp and a two man rhythm section. It was perfect.

The band that appeared after Chuck finished with the crowd looked positively ill by comparison, and seemed glad to just get the whole ordeal over with. A real, actual case of the rockin' pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu perhaps, and I betcha it wasn't the first time Chuck Berry gave that particular version of the disease to somebody scheduled to follow him on stage.

I have a soundboard tape of what went down that night, and it's one of the things I still listen to when I want to remember what real live rockn'roll sounds like.

Get well soon, Mr. Berry.

please helps me write more gooder!

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