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Your Chuck Berry Story

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by nixdad, Mar 19, 2017.

  1. nixdad


    Aug 15, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    We definitely lost a legend yesterday. It's amazing to think of all of the bands, artists and music that can be tied back to his genius and influence. Thank You, Chuck.

    With the number of years that Chuck was in the industry, and the fact that he used to hire "pick up" bands for many of his shows, I have no doubt that there are many TB members who have either played with him or come into contact with him in some way.

    This is my Chuck Berry Story. It's long, so I apologize in advance. However, there is video.

    Phil Chen contacted me in the fall of 1985 to find out about providing the bass amp backline for a concert he was going to be doing with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Orange County, CA (now known as the Verizon Amphitheater.) I worked at a music store in Pomona, CA, at the time, and we happened to be the top Trace Elliot dealer in the country. Trace Elliot was new to the U.S., and was distributed from So Cal at the time. Because we were selling so much product, I had a great relationship with Alan Morgan who had introduced TE to the U.S. (I was eventually hired as National Sales Manager for Trace Elliot in April '86.) Phil mentioned this concert was going to be a true All Star Jam, and was going to include dozens of musicians from legendary bands. The whole thing was also going to be filmed, so the potential exposure opportunity was big. Alan agreed to provide all of the bass amplification, and I would assist.

    The list of musicians to be involved in this event to back Chuck and Bo was truly impressive:
    Guitar - Ron Wood (Rolling Stones,) Carl Wilson (Beach Boys,) John Hammond & Carmen Grillo (Tower of Power
    Bass - Phil Chen (Rod Stewart/Jeff Beck,) John Lodge (Moody Blues) & Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy/Quiet Riot)
    Keyboards - John Mayall, Bill Champlin (Chicago)
    Drums - Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac,) Kenny Jones (Small Faces/The Who,) Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix) & Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge)
    Horns - Bobby Keys, Phil Kenzie, Lee Thornberg & others.
    Vocals - Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night) & others.
    I can't remember who the MD was for the show. It had to be a challenging gig.

    The event took place on October 25th, with rehearsal on the 24th and the day of the event. The entire first set would be Bo Diddley, and the second set would be Chuck Berry. We brought 4 massive Trace Elliot bass rigs for the show, 3 of which were used by the bassists, and one we set up for Bill Champlin (this one had some additional high end speakers as well...I can't remember all of the model details.) Lots of backlights and fluorescent green.

    Bo Diddley was very involved, and was present the entire first day for the rehearsals (as were all of the other musicians.) Everyone was available and ran through Bo's set and were trying to figure out who would play on what during his set (Bo even embarrassed Kenny Jones when he had to climb on the kit and show him how to play the "Bo Diddley" beat.) Being a big Beach Boys fan, I had the opportunity to meet Carl Wilson which was an absolute thrill for me (and even get a picture taken.) Carl chose to participate in this event because Chuck Berry was his hero, and the reason he began playing guitar in the first place. We heard rumors backstage that the crew had to have the right amps on stage for when Chuck arrived (2 x Fender Twin Reverb's, I think.) Unfortunately, Chuck did not participate in the rehearsals at all, and was nowhere to be found.

    Chuck was a no-show for rehearsals on the 25th. Other musicians provided the vocals so they could loosely get through the tunes in Chuck's absence.

    The gig started on time that night to a packed audience as Bo hit the stage. Still no sign of Chuck. The band was rockin', and all of the musicians seemed to be having fun. I believe there was a brief break after Bo's set. Jim Ladd from KLOS was the MC, and he brought out Ronnie Lane (bassist for The Small Faces & Faces) for a few minutes (I seem to recall Ronnie was in ill health.)

    Chuck did not show up until after his set began, but still did not immediately go out on stage and went into a trailer to meet with production staff. Other musicians were singing his songs. Word got out that there were still issues about money. When Chuck finally did come out to join the band, he did not have his cherry red Gibson. He had no guitar at all. Ron Wood let Chuck play his black Strat, while Ron played a Tele.

    I don't remember which song Chuck played first, but he wasn't on stage for more than just a few tunes. I think this was the first one. You can clearly see Ron Wood's reaction to his song choice:

    His second tune started off rough:

    Chuck left the stage after only a few tunes, and the band played on. The band went into "Rock and Roll Music" with Chuck Negron on lead vocals. Ron Wood went to retrieve him, and was successful in getting him to return a few minutes later. However, this did not go as Ron planned. Ron arrives on stage with Chuck at about 2:35, where he unsuccessfully tries to get Chuck to play guitar:

    Needless to say, this did not turn out to be the event the producers nor the audience was expecting. I'm certain the plans for the documentary of the event were scrapped, however, an extremely edited version did finally show up on video years later:



    It's no secret that Chuck could be a handful and a challenge to work with, and this event was certainly one of those times. I mean no disrespect with this post and have no idea what may have happened from Chuck's POV, as there are always 2 sides to a story. It was memorable nonetheless, and takes nothing away from his contributions and legacy.

    Have a Chuck Berry story? Let's see it!
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2017
    kobass, cdef, Aberdumbie and 2 others like this.
  2. bassdude51

    bassdude51 "You never even called me by my name." Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Even though I am 65 years old and remember hearing those FANTASTIC Chuck Berry songs first hand on the radio back in the day......................my Chuck Berry story is more contemporary.

    Seeing Marty McFly playing Johnny Be Goode on Back To The Future.

    Can't watch it now without tears!

    Jinglesmeowmeow and nixdad like this.
  3. nixdad


    Aug 15, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    Oddly enough, your story is from the same year as mine - 1985!
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