The annual BBC 4 “Berry Birthday” showing of the 1972 Stanley Dorman-produced ” In Concert- Chuck Berry with Rockin’ Horse” makes me realize why the Beeb has never licensed this performance out to general C.D.
Over the 43 years since we did this performance, it has become critically acclaimed as the best Chuck Berry performance on film ( Hail! Hail ! Rock an’ Roll, notwithstanding }. This was the last show on an extensive European tour in which the promoter had the foresight to engage me, and my colleagues Billy Kinsley, Jimmy Campbell and Dave Harrison ( three fifths of Rockin’ Horse, the studio group}) to be his band on every date, the various T.V. shows included.
As we here hired by the promoter, we never had to deal with Chuck’s sometimes confrontational money issues, so we could just glory in playing with him, and a wonderful rapport was the result.
There was never a set list, the keys were arbitrary from show to show, but we were so tight on his ass, that he couldn’t shake us.
As soon as he copped that , he started to pop out deep cuts, like “Havana Moon” and ” You Never Can Tell” – check, Gotcha ! We stood silent for the live recording of ” My ding-a-ling”, but I sneaked in some piano licks on the similarly acappela ” South Of The Border”, which was the follow-up single on Chess.
We developed the long piece, ” The Blues” during the tour. I usually sat next to him on the plane, or bus, or whatever, and one time I suggested that maybe I could play a Thelonius Monk type solo on this particular tune, as Monk seemed like the blues to me. Chuck, who was deep into Charlie Christian, gave me the slanted smile and said ” Let’s do it”. That became the instrumental centerpiece as the tour progressed. It was all playing, and we did play.
When he was playing serious, he was killer. We used to do ‘ A Train” to sound -check, for Heaven’s sake !
Al these years later, it still seems like a dream !