Now, as a movie critic, my two favorite movies featuring Chuck Berry would be “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n Roll.” I only saw it once, and seem to recall Keith Richards got punched out in it.
The other movie would be Pulp Fiction. It put Quentin Tarantino on the map, and it was the resurrection of John Travolta’s career. Who would’ve thought Travolta would get an Oscar nomination in an indie movie, playing a heroin taking hit man? And who would’ve thought he’d say yes to a script that has him dancing yet again? But there he was, with Uma Thurman, in a dance contest twistin’ the night away to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.”
There are some crazy Chuck Berry stories. One of them was his arrest for planting cameras in the bathroom of a restaurant he owned. Not sure what the chargers were, but for a guy that also got into trouble for bringing an underaged girl across state lines (he was married for 68 years, too).
There were domestic violence charges, drug charges, and the typical stuff that has these rockers joining the “27 Club” not living to be 90-years-old.
Here are the three stories of Berry being a class act. My favorite stories don’t even belong to me, but friends of mine.
A buddy was driving to Las Vegas, and his car was overheating. He pulled over on the side of the road. He had his hood open and as the thing was steaming up, a huge RV pulled over. Chuck Berry got out, and walked over with a huge thing of water for him to pour in. He thanked him, and made it to Las Vegas without blowing up his engine.
Another friend went to the Hootenanny music festival in Los Angeles around 2002. When we had gone to the Hootenanny festival in San Diego, we got backstage and got some great signatures. I got a few albums signed by X, one of the most underrated punk bands of all time. I also got the singer of The Clash, Joe Strummer. He would pass away not too long after that.
My friend begged me to go with him to see the show in L.A., telling me we might get Berry’s autograph; but we didn’t have backstage passes, so I wasn’t sure how that would happen.
He drove up, said it was a great show. He went around the side of the stage, and didn’t see Berry anywhere. He brought a guitar for him to sign, and about 10 minutes later, a long white limo was driving away. He ran after it, full speed. Well, as fast as you can go carrying a white Fender strat (and being 100 pounds overweight; sorry if you’re reading this, Doug). The limo slammed on its brakes. Berry rolled down the window, took the guitar, and signed it. He included his signature smiley face with it.
I had gotten a job at a radio station. Everyone was going to see Chuck Berry play a small club in town. The show was obviously sold out. Now, a few months earlier, David Lee Roth played at a small club. It was to try out songs for his new solo record after leaving Van Halen (and he had guitar god Steve Vai with him). Yet I couldn’t get into that show, because I was 20. I told my co-workers that this venue was also 21-and-up and they said, “We work at the radio station. One of our DJs is going to introduce him to the crowd. They’ll let you in.”
A bouncer was polite, but said, “Come on, guys! You know the rules. Even if he isn’t drinking, we could lose our liquor license.”
They took my guitar in, assuring me they’d get him to sign it. I stood outside in the parking lot, with the back door opening, hearing all the classics we know and love. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the stage from my vantage point. Yet after an hour of him duck walking and rocking...they came out, and gave me my guitar. Signed right on the neck (also with the smiley face...but my smiling face lasted the rest of the night).
I like to think he’s up at that big concert venue in the sky, jamming with Buddy Holly and Elvis; and possibly walking up to Hendrix and saying, “If there were no Berry, there’d be no Jimi.”