Since Chuck Berry died yesterday, not too far from where I live, I thought it was a good time to tell my two little stories about Chuck, AND Tina Turner, because I ran into them both, even though it was so briefly, When you bump into a star, the star-dust never fades.
Chuck Berry was, an AMAZING man. It wasn’t just his guitar playing or singing, but the fact that he came onto the stage in America when it was thought that a black man couldn’t appeal to white folks. Chuck broke that barrier by writing songs that every teenager no matter what color they were, loved and wanted to dance to. He basically invented American guitar rock and roll.
All the famous musicians that held the stage after him all said, he was one of the reasons they bought a guitar and got into music. John Lennon, Keith Richards….so many of them, all learned at the knee of Berry.
Every band I was in, played Chuck Berry songs at one time or another…and I guess because I was working myself, I never went to see him play much, mostly because he played here a LOT in a little bar called Blueberry Hill, and you just couldn’t get in. I did see him there once, but the club was so small, and hot, it was hard to stand for more than an hour.
There was one thing about Chuck Berry I noticed right away…he adored being adored. He loved the stage. To put it plainly: He was a big ham.
I met him once at the airport here in St. Louis. My best friend Shelly, was flying back to California one afternoon, and I drove her to the airport. She had just gotten on the plane, a 747. In fact, everyone had gotten on that plane except one man. And that man, came across the empty seats, and sat RIGHT down next to me.
Of course, I thought, “So, Chuck Berry is holding up the whole plane because he’s coming over to flirt? LOL.” Yes, I knew him right away.
He did have a reputation as being a real ladies man, so I was a bit nervous. Nevertheless he WAS the great Chuck Berry, and I’m sure he had no idea that he was sitting next to one of the only girl drummers in St. Louis. I wanted to tell him that I too was a musician, but… I didn’t.
He sat down, looked at me with those big eyes and said. “Hi.”
I said, “Hi” back. And then I said, “Mr. Berry, thank you SO much for all the great music you have given us all.”
And he said, “You’re welcome.”
He was very polite. We talked a bit, about my friend on the plane, and why he was going to California, and then he left.
Okay. I could have said more. I missed my opportunity, but I had known many musicians that had played with him at one time or anther, because he would hire anyone. Nobody ever had to learn his songs, everybody knew them all by heart.
Now, to Tina. Tina Turner got her start here in St. Louis too. And I was there, standing right outside the door of the Imperial Club, when Tina got on stage to sing with Ike’s band.
I was just a kid, and I wasn’t allowed to go into the bar. I was there with my brother, who was there to give something to somebody, but I do remember, seeing this wild haired woman SCREAMING on stage and I thought she was…well…I thought she was damn crazy.
I said something to my brother who said, “That’s Tina Tuner, that’s just how she sings. She’s trying to get in Ike’s band.”
“Trying” is an understatement. Tina Turner was like a F5 tornado on stage.
I don’t know how long ago this video was made, but Tina looks a bit too calm here. I did see Tina years later with the Stones, and she had backup dancers and her dance routines alone made Mick Jagger look …boring. Yes, Tina Tuner blew Mick Jagger off the stage in my opinion.
Mick’s big lips just couldn’t compete with Tina’s big thighs.
Now, watch this video…Chuck forgets the words…and to stay in the spotlight he does all his Chuck Berry ‘moves.’ He just goes on and entertains…and that comes from playing bars every night of the week, six days a week, which is what Berry did. He gave his heart out every night and everyone loved him for it.
St. Louis gave the world two very great entertainers. Both were black, and I’ve NEVER heard a white person anywhere say one thing against either one of them. Never. Ever. Racists that we all are told we are.
Chuck Berry’s American spirits was felt all over the world. And probably somewhere tonight, Chuck’s spirit is whispering into some woman’s ear before he takes that final 747 to the sky….he’s saying, “My ding a ling…” No…just kidding. I’m just kidding. I hate that song.
Anyway…..Roll Over Beethoven. Make room for Chuck. We’re going to miss him.