Edinburgh is one of Chuck Berry‘s two British stop-offs on his new tour. and he is also imminent on page and screen. in his autobiography and a new film. John Dundas profiles the old rocker and, in an extract from his new book. Berry speaks for himself about
SWEET LITTLE ROCK ’N’ ROLLER
There are two automatic reactions when one is confronted with the name of Chuck Berry. The first opens the gates to the reservoir of the past to bring back in a brief instant, and all at once, snatches of Berry-penned classics: the first verse of ‘Bock And Roll Music' collides with the unforgettable opening riff of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, the almost nursery rhyme chorus of ‘No Particular Place To Go' and the low, grunting forward motion of ‘Memphis, Tennessee’, all uniting in the memory as one glorious burst of the best rock ‘n' roll. Chuck Berry, atterall, has greater claim than anyone else living to have invented the damn thing in the first place.
The second reaction is the disquieting memory of the man’s colourful and well-publicised private life. Three jail terms (for hold-ups, ridiculous and over-dramatised ‘white slavery’ charges and tax evasion, in that order), his alleged surliness, the multiplicity of women: combined with his unerring abllty to learn from his mistakes and turn failure into success, CB was seen by many as the uppity nigger on the make, too successful for his own good, and the perfect target to bring down.
Bight enough, especially in the segregated South, CB was the kind of rock 'n' roll bogeyman that could have come straight out of a concerned mother’s nightmares. That greasy trucker Elvis Presley and wildman Jerry Lee Lewis were bad enough, but this handsome sharp-dressed negro personified all that they feared. Slick and seductive in a way no vetted press photo could ever disguise, both Berry's looks and music screamed sex. It's less well-known that CB is intelligent, shaming and well-spoken and can express himself as well through a
typewriter as a guitar now, preferring to take on the responsibility oi representing himself than leaving it to journalists, as our extract explains. Still, his unflaggineg-excellent autobiography (just published by Faber) will not disappoint the shamelessly curious: the book is chock-full of names, dates and near enough times and precise duration of encounters with women who were quite happy to ‘wade nude in the nest' (ie, before guitar straps came with condom pockets as standard) with the star. Medical tests confirm that the old rocker is still in astonishing shape at sixty (halfway through his life, CB reckons, and he’s a hell of a lot easier on the eye than Jimmy Saville). His only real vice is, he confesses, a pack of Kools a day. Alcohol and drugs, in fact anything that could come between
himself and the ladies, have never appealed, and nothing short of death itself could dampen his ardour for the opposite sex. So many conquests are recounted in the book, and with such poetic fondness, that the patience and understanding of his still apparently devoted wife Themetta (Toddy)is a constant source of wonder. One can only gasp at the words; ‘lam also sure that my autobiography would have been much more complex had the time and attitude of the public been right for the exposure of truly explicit information about my personal adventures. But it shall come as time goesby!
Phew! Really reelin' and rockin'! (John Dundas)
Chuck Berry will be performing live at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Saturday 13 Feb. See Rock listings for details.
Above: Berry's autobiography published on 8 Feb at £9.95. Bight: Chuck Berry caught in action during his 60th birthday concert in St Louison the film ‘Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Boll'.
In the early years of my career. I used to tell everything in interviews. When I started being interviewed after my first hits in the fifties, I took it for granted that I would be quoted exactly as I had spoken. ln answering a question I gave information freely. while staying with the facts. Seeing the results later I soon learned that interviewers would add an opinion or description that would give the quote an entirely different meaning. They would alter my remarks by creating new phrases that changed my meaning or they would insert comments that would imply another slant on what I said.
My desire to be interviewed dwindled over the years as I would read back what I was supposed to have said to reporters. The changes and alterations I detected in reviewing the articles were sometimes better than I could have said it and other times worse.
sometimes with a southern dialect. Francine has several extensive interviews printed by magazines like Rolling Stone. Gallery. and The Village Voice. that have all chosen to insert quotes that have yet to be said by me. Also. some ofthe quotes I did say were rendered in dialect to stereotype black speech. Yet in another part of the same piece would be a mention of my distinct diction!
Who is who?
Then I thought it smart to let journalists record what I would say so that it couldn‘t be mistaken in the article. But a few of these recordings started coming back edited. sometimes with the interviewer inserting questions unlike the original ones I answered. I‘ve heard radio interviews. which I had simultaneously recorded with my pocket recorder. replayed after
8The List 5 — 18 February 1988