Rock ‘n’ roll greats owe a debt of gratitude to their father, Chuck Berry, who invented nearly every guitar lick they know. Many of these legends weighed-in in the aftermath of the legend’s death on March 18.
Shortly after Berry’s passing, Dave Edmunds, the Welsh-born singer, songwriter and musician, posted his own remembrance on his Facebook page of two occasions when their paths crossed. One was a bit serendipitous; the other was planned. Both are brilliant. Here is Edmunds’ story…
Sometimes you have great gigs, and sometimes you don’t. This gig was in St Louis, Missouri, and it was the best of the tour. Great audience, great monitor sound, great band (with the renowned Jamie Oldaker on drums). The kind of gig that whatever you do, whatever you sing, whatever you say, and whatever you play – is right! We did three encores, came off sweating and settled into after-gig drinks in the dressing room. We were towelling off and congratulating ourselves when Steve, my tour manager, burst breathlessly into the room spluttering something about Chuck Berry. “Calm down, Steve!…What’s up?”
“Chuck Berry is in the audience sitting with two girls – he’s seen the whole show and he wants to get up and do a few songs with you!” Whoa! This is no time for practical jokes. “What did you say?” “Chuck Berry is in the audience sitting with two girls – he’s seen the whole show and he wants to get up and do a few songs with you!”
I explained to Steve that if he was pissing around and we went back out on stage (the audience was still chanting for more), we have no more songs to do and it could get embarrassing. He swore on everything dear to him that Chuck Berry was ready to climb onstage if we would just go back out. He grabbed my spare (black) Gibson 335 and pushed us back out onstage and, sure enough, Chuck clambered up, strapped on my spare, and started into “Roll Over Beethoven,” moving on through “Memphis, Tennessee,” towards “The Promised Land.”
A first printing of the poster from the concert is available at WolfgangsVault.com
I wondered if he remembered me from his sixtieth birthday gig in the Felt Forum, Madison Square Gardens, NY, in 1986. I don’t remember how this came about, but my then-manager, John Scher, arranged for me to put a band together for the gig – an opportunity from heaven. I called in my dear friend and colleague, Chuck Leavell (keyboard player with The Rolling Stones), then John Entwistle (The Who), and Terry Williams (Rockpile/Dire Straits).
Came the night, with no rehearsal whatsoever or any prior discussions with Chuck, we gravitated from our hotel bar across the road to the Felt Forum. There was no one backstage to introduce us to Chuck, so we just sort of gathered side-stage and waited.
A couple of minutes before showtime, Chuck ambled up to us and sat down with his guitar hanging around his neck. We nervously introduced ourselves to him, but I am convinced he had absolutely no idea who we were. He gave no indication. I dared to ask if there would be a set-list. “Nooo, I always start my songs with this guitar riff” (and he plays it! – as if no one knows, already), “and then I stamp my foot when to end the song.” “Oh, and no drum fills.” And that was it!
Listen to two of the evening’s songs, courtesy of Terry Williams…
I was fifteen years of age when I first heard “Johnny B. Goode” on Radio Luxembourg. I was also fifteen when I got my first guitar. I was determined to learn the opening guitar riff and the solo. I also learned the “knack” of playing Chuck’s “raka-rack” rhythm style on the lower strings while singing. Many accomplished guitar players find this uncomfortable or impossible to do without sounding “stilted.” His songs, his lyrics, his guitar solos, the style and the keys – I’ve pondered, puzzled, practised and learnt over the years, eventually incorporating them into many of my records.
That night, I don’t know if Chuck recognised I was copping his licks, or whether he was just feeling lazy, but he had me play all the guitar solos – to every song. (Except “My Ding-a-Ling” when we left the stage). At the end of the final song he grabbed my arm and hauled me centre-stage; he held my hand aloft with his and shouted into the microphone to the screaming audience: “Who said the white man can’t play the blues?” It was my proudest moment.
Incidentally, the performance came two days after the taping of the Berry celebration concerts in St. Louis that are commemorated in the documentary film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. Here’s the setlist from that October 18, 1986 night at the Felt Forum–which happened to be Berry’s actual 60th birthday–via the terrific website Setlist.fm.
1. Roll Over Beethoven
2. Wee Wee Hours
3. Sweet Little Sixteen
4. No Particular Place to Go
6. Still Got the Blues
9. Memphis, Tennessee
10. My Ding-a-Ling
12. Little Queenie
13. Key to the Highway
14. Johnny B. Goode
15. Reelin’ and Rockin’
Edmunds famously teamed with Nick Lowe to form Rockpile in 1976 with Billy Bremner and Terry Williams. Though they only have one official album – 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure – in fact, the four released many recordings together. Edmunds was signed to the U.S. on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label via Atlantic in the U.S. Lowe was signed to Columbia.
Edmunds’ 1978 album Tracks on Wax 4 – which featured such songs as “Trouble Boys” and “Deborah” – and Lowe’s 1979 Labour of Lust with the pop hit “Cruel To Be Kind,” were essentially Rockpile albums though credited to the two as solo artists. They recorded Berry’s “Oh What a Thrill” on Seconds of Pleasure.