I know everyone and his brother has written something about Chuck Berry's passing recently at the age of 90. Chuck Berry was truly the architect of rock and roll. As Jim Derogatis and Greg Kott put it on Sound Opinions, there was music before Chuck Berry, and there was music after Chuck Berry. He influenced multiple generations of bands and musicians ranging from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Band, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, ELO, The Sex Pistols, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, you name it. He was a brilliant showman and a heckuva songwriter.
However, a lot of Berry's album recordings sound pretty tame. It's only when you see him live on stage that you appreciate what he brought to rock and roll. From the late 60's onwards, Berry's tradition was to play with whatever local backing band could be assembled, showing up minutes before the show, plugging in and getting to work. No set list, no rehearsal, no soundcheck, no instructions to the band. It was just "hang on tight, play some Chuck Berry tunes and don't screw up." Luckily every band in the world at that time knew Chuck Berry's music and musicians were honored to play with him.
Luckily filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and his crew were on hand to capture some remarkable footage from a 45 minute set at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in 1969. It's staggering to consider the bands on the bill: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Alice Cooper, Chicago, John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, as well as The Doors. Twelve hours of live music! Not bad for $6 CDN.
Chuck Berry who was 41 at the time, was clearly in the "oldies" category, but he's at the peak of his abilities. He rocks with an intensity that shows the depth and breadth of his talents. He's engaging, warm, his vocals are great and his playing is brilliant. The local Toronto musicians, from two local bands Nucleus and Flapping, were pulled together just 15 minutes before the show and had no idea what was coming next. And despite a couple of cool looks from Berry, the band held their own. It made for a great show.
The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival was famous for several other things. First of all, it was the first concert where the audience lit lighters to illuminate the venue. That was done at emcee Kim Fowley's direction to make John Lennon less nervous at what was essentially the unveiling of the Plastic Ono Band. And finally, this concert was the source of Alice Cooper's infamous "chicken incident."
- Vice: How One of Toronto’s Most Iconic Rock Concerts Almost Never Happened
- Amazon: Chuck Berry Live at Toronto Peace Festival
- Wikipedia: Chuck Berry, Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, D.A. Pennebaker
- SoundOpinions: Remembering Chuck Berry
- New York Times: Chuck Berry, Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer