Chuck Berry RIP

One of the greats that I did get to see, Peterborough City Council and Hereward Radio thought it would be a good idea to hold a “Rock ‘n’ Roll” evening on September 3rd, 1983, the day after their annual Country Music Festival. Chuck was the main attraction at the Wirrina stadium (a former rolling skate arena) and I blagged a way in with the sound crew, “carry this mic lead Al, and look as if you know what you’re doing”. Most of the evening was pretty unremarkable and I was prepared to be disappointed, “never meet your heroes” as they warn you.

Rumours that he was threatening to walk away if he didn’t get on stage at the scheduled time and that he be paid in cash up front all turned out to be true. So who ever was due on before him didn’t play and on came the great man on the stroke of 9pm. He was sensational, his set included: Schooldays, Sweet Little Sixteen, Roll over Beethoven, Every Day I Have the Blues, Memphis Slim, Bio, Maybellene/Mountain Dew, Let It Rock, Carol/Little Queenie, Key to the Highway, Got My Mojo Working, Reelin’ and Rockin’ and Johnny B. Goode, he was joined on some songs by his (?) daughter Ingrid Berry.

How do I know? Well it turns out that the set was recorded and had a limited CD release, but is still available as a download on Amazon

Chuck’s songs, usually played by other people particularly the Beatles, the Rolling Stones (their first single was a Berry cover), then ELO, and especially Dave Edmunds, woke me up to the “rock and roll end” of pop music. A great stylist, fantastic guitarist but above all a wonderful songwriter who inspired several generations to pick up a plank and spank it. 

My favourite song of his is Promised Land, my favourite version is a Cajun tinged arrangement by Johnnie Allan closely followed by the great Welsh rocker Dave Edmunds below.

Can there ever be a better couple of verses than these:

“Swing low chariot come down easy, taxi to the terminal zone, cut your engines and cool your wings, let me make it to the telephone.
Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia, Tidewater four ten o nine, tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling and the poor boy is on the line.


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