A very lucky encounter to get this gig at the age of 20 or so?
Down below is a blog i originally wrote for FB soon after Chuck Berry passed away. I have since embellished on the story as my memory became clearer. It basically says it all in there regarding my time with him over the three weeks.
Out door theme park in Stockholm playing drums with Chuck Berry as a young 21 year old. This video only came into my possession recently thanks to the internet. The quality is not great but then it was 1980 when mobile phones were not even in anyone's imagination. The Beach boys performed the day before but we did meet them at the same hotel we were staying in.... A Spinal Tap Moment !!!!
Hey peeps, sadly as the father of rock n roll passed away this week I have decided to share my experiences of the three weeks or so I spent with him touring U.K and Europe as a 20 year old back in 1980! This is not a "brag blog" but rather an honest account of my time on the road with him ..... warts and all ! This gig literally fell into my lap. I did not earn the gig or audition for it.I
happened to be in the right place at the right time so naturally I grabbed it and embraced it like anyone would? A few of you expressed interest for some stories about Chuck recently so after some consideration I am going the full hog and including some events even my long time friends don't know about? For those of you that might be interested I hope you enjoy.
At the ripe old age of 18 and growing up in Adelaide and possessing a British passport I decided if I was going to "make it" in the business I would have to relocate to a place where my chances were greater? Growing up in Adelaide I frequently saw bands gigging around the local traps like, The Angels and Cold Chisel. I even remember Chisel playing a cover version of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the water" and a super fast version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode! All this was inspiring but I felt I had to be where the action was so being a "Pom", England was where it had to be for me right?
I booked my one way ticket to the U.K where my stint lasted for 3 years. I gigged, toured and recorded with various projects in that time but towards the later part of my stint I relocated to my birth town of Norwich ( approx 120 miles from London) where I would frequently go to London for auditions etc. It was during that time where I briefly hooked up with a popular local band and did some gigs around the scene. One night drinking in a pub with the band it was mentioned that Chuck Berry was in need of a backing band for his upcoming 1980 U.K/ European tour. The band at that time had a connection with a small London rhythm and blues record label called, "Red Lightening records". It was from them we got the contact to play with Chuck Berry. When asked if we would be interested, obviously it was a no brainer for us so we said YES ! We were also to perform on a few of the Berry concerts a 15 minute support set. We called ourselves the "Red Lightening Boogie band". As I recall there was also talk of us backing B.B King during similar period but that never came to fruition. Six weeks on the tour commenced starting in Spain, Barcelona. I remember it very vividly and yes like all the stories you've heard the promoter introduces me to Chuck back stage behind this big stadium 10 minutes before show time. It was a polite hand shake and acknowledgement. No rehearsal, no setlist no nothing! Fortunately on this tour, Chuck's long time bass player,Jim Marsala ( Jim has been with Chuck right up to his passing) and also Ingrid Berry, Chuck's daughter who would sing a couple of songs as well as play excellent blues harp. Jim briefly coached me backstage like, "Watch Chuck's foot for stops" "Don't hit the snare on "4" when coming in after a pause" etc etc. Jim would also cue the other guys for keys by way of hand gestures onstage when Chuck started the opening riffs. The gig went great, huge stadium crowd and I'll never forget the roar of the audience.I felt great, no nerves in fact I felt it was my place to be up there being a cocky 20 year old ! ...... that mind set would change backwards and forwards throughout the tour however I was soon to discover?
The next 2 nights were in Lisbon, Portugal where the sound was not good onstage that first night. The stadium was not full to capacity as it was mentioned that a Paul McCartney concert was on television that night! The gig wasn't too bad although I remember not feeling as confident and comfortable as the night before? I remember us all going out to a night club after the gig where I'm sure someone slipped something into my drink. I'd only had a couple of drinks which were Pernot and Lemon but soon after that I found myself sitting in a gutter outside of the club on the street with my head spinning and completely out of it. Lucky for me I wasn't taken away by police before the band found me! I vaguely remember going back to the hotel in the van and being violently sick for most of that night.The next nights gig still feeling unwell Chuck decided there would be absolutely no fold back onstage due to the previous nights sound. The gig still went well the house was full and all I had to do was keep my eyes on Chuck!
Our next leg of shows commenced in the U.K starting in Glasgow Scotland. I will never ever forget this gig. I don't know why but this gig was an absolute shocker for me! Don't know if it was the sound or what but I started to lose it and suddenly my confidence was slipping. At one point Chuck came up and walked behind my drum kit furiously stomping his foot beside me so I would keep in time with him. I could feel his anger and snorting behind me. It was a horrible feeling and the last place I wanted to be was on that stage in that moment. I was waiting for that famous call from him,"LEAVE THE STAGE" ! Thankfully that never happened to me on the tour unlike a couple of the others that was to come. I later discovered this gig was to come and bite me on the backside again but more on that later?
The tour progressed through the U.K heading south all the time until that leg concluded in Poole which is very south of England. The next night after Glasgow was at Middlesbrough town hall, north England just south of the border of Scotland. Travelling that day and reminiscing about the terrible night I had before I pondered what the next gig would bring? Well, talk about "chalk and cheese". The gig that night was for me one of the best of the tour! The sound on stage was sublime. I clearly remember the general volume of the gig being low as the acoustics of the venue enhanced this. I sat behind my drum kit and played confidently again. Chuck was on fire and smiling. You just knew from the onset this was going to be a magic gig. I remember Chuck coming up in front of my drum kit and in that moment when I struck a crash cymbal the cymbal arm fell over sending the cymbal crashing to the ground ! Chuck laughed, I laughed and the whole audience laughed. The timing of it was perfect and so here I am and I'm back feeling cocky again !
The gigs from there on were generally good with no major catastrophes. One of the highlights of this leg was the gig in London at the Rainbow theatre where many a big act has performed. It was a great night which "went off" and to add to that apparently Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin was in the audience who came backstage afterwards. Led Zeppelin I was told were going to be using the theatre for rehearsal for their upcoming European tour. John Bonham was still alive then ...... just !
Throughout that U.K leg one night the keyboard player got told by Chuck during the gig to, "Leave the stage". Funnily enough this gig was at West Runton Pavillion near our home town. On the contract a real piano had to be delivered for each gig be it a grand or an upright? On this particular occasion no piano was delivered? Our keyboard player had to dig his D6 Honer clavinet out of the van to use instead. This type of instrument does not deliver a real piano sound but the "Stevie Wonder Superstition sound" if you will, more funky. This piece of apparatus had one volume knob on it which Chuck on two occasions came over and personally turned its volume down presumably not liking its sound? You would think our piano player would take the hint but no. Finally, Chuck in a soft voice I hear him say, "Leave the stage" Piano player looks up and presumably says, "what"? to which he is answered a second time, "Leave the stage". At this point the guy is thinking to himself, " does he actually want me to leave the stage or is this some dualistic crap meaning stay on the stage"? LEAVE THE STAGE" Chuck bellows again. Poor guy leaves the stage sheepishly and proceeds to get stuck into the free booze backstage to drown his sorrows!
Similar thing happened a few nights later to the guitarist because he also wouldn't turn his volume down for usual reasons so after a few chances he got the, "LEAVE THE STAGE" !! Funny thing later in the tour Chuck invites him to "duck walk" with him so you could never really pick it? The tour promoter said to me at some point that normally it's the drummer that gets told to leave the stage. I don't know if that made me feel good or even more fearful ? This was the thing with Chuck, he was very up and down. Some nights it was on and you knew it was going to be magic. Other nights he seemed angry for what ever reason and it would make you question yourself, "is it me"??? The mind is a powerful thing !
There were some good moments with Chuck however. I do recall one night after a gig and back at the hotel the tour manager said to us that Chuck would like to invite us to sit with him and have a drink. We arrived at Chuck's table where he was already seated with a silver tea service and very poshly drinking tea. We more or less gathered around him like his "muses" eagerly awaiting his every spoken word, I mean we were in the presence of a legend right? Another thing we enjoyed were the accolades associated with being on the Chuck entourage. Boarding planes usually being the last on and following Mr Berry down the plane aisle and to see faces looking our way in recognition of Mr Berry and band. There were always people from the press awaiting Mr Berry at airports so this seemed everything I could want at the time?
I guess over the three week period we spent with Chuck there was not a lot of interaction between him and the band ? Chuck liked to keep to himself and let's face it, we were just another one of his many backing bands doing a job for him.
The final leg of shows took part in Scandinavia where it was just myself and the piano player. The rest were left behind but it got interesting. Chuck would always insist on driving himself everywhere and it had to be a Mercedes 280 I believe ? With him would accompany Jim and Ingrid. We were in another car following Chuck everywhere with the tour manager incidentally who was Abba's tour manager at the time. Abba were on a hiatus apparently during that period? The 4 shows we did there including, Sweden, Norway were most memorable. The gig in Stockholm was a big outdoor event in a fun park. At sound check during the afternoon I got to jam on Chucks Gibson guitar trying to emulate his legendary riffs while the tour manager got behind the drums.
Chuck was never at sound checks and I'm sure if Chuck had've known I played his guitar I would've got the proverbial punch in the face as was once prescribed to Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones for touching Chuck's guitar...... what an honour ! It was at that gig we met, The Beach Boys in the lobby of the hotel ( yes a spinal tap moment). They were checking out of the hotel as we were checking in. A few pleasantries were exchanged before they left and we checked into our rooms.They had played the same gig the night before.
Fast track to last night of tour .......... the final gig was in," Kristianopel" in Sweden. The previous night was in Oslo Norway. We had a long way to travel which included taking a ferry across water etc. Chuck was driving in front of us as per usual. We followed close behind but I remember the tour manager getting agitated as we were running late. Chuck would drive slower than he would've liked and as we were running behind schedule this added to the tension. With some distance still to go, Chuck pulls into a restaurant to stop for a meal along with Ingrid and Jim. They get out of the car and walk inside leaving us to ponder what was going on at that time? We never got invited in with them unfortunately as we were hungry ourselves but we had to wait it out. I can't repeat the expletives coming from the tour manager towards Chuck but they were none tookind! Imagine the verbal abuse spoken in English in a Swedish accent ? Approximately an hour later Chuck emerges presumably with a full belly ? ...... meanwhile we are fuming in our car! We finally get to the gig and hurriedly prepare to go onstage.This is my last gig, I'm feeling angry and hungry but from the opening song it's on. I played one of the best gigs of the tour ...... it was my last gig ..... I had nothing to lose !
Chuck would come up to me in front of the drums jamming during a slow blues so we could vibe off each other. This time I looked him straight back in the eye fearless for once and laid it down the way I wanted it. Don't know if he even noticed my aggression, probably not? Next day we flew back to Heathrow airport London where Chuck, Jim and Ingrid would continue their journey back to USA. It was a heartfelt good bye from Jim and Ingrid. Chuck waived goodbye to us both from a distance and off he sailed into the sunset as it were ! Two of the other guys from our band that got left behind on the Scandinavian leg picked us up at the airport to take us home. That's when my heart sank as they were holding a well known national music magazine which out of the whole tour had the one and only concert review of the Chuck Berry tour.....Yes Glasgow Scotland, the one show i would not have wanted reviewed. I believe it's called "murphys law" It was a very scathing review which left " no stone unturned" from some Scottish reviewer obviously trying to make a name for himself. It read along the lines of, "Maybe it's time for Chuck to give it away", his daughter Ingrid looks and sounds like a cheap imitation of Tina Turner! I was not excluded from the review saying, "The drummer would've been better replaced with a clockwork monkey" ! The tour was well and truly over and time for a reality check! Not too long after that I returned home to Australia to start over again.
For the days, weeks and years following this experience it often left me scratching my head thinking, "what happened"? After all is said and done it's an experience I wouldn't trade and always hoped I would get another crack at it sometime in the future but like many other hundreds of musicians that came before and after me it was to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I actually got to play with one of my greatest influences. I was and am a huge Beatles / Stones fan and Chuck Berry played a big part in shaping those two bands along with many others.
Many things have been said about Chuck Berry but his music is great and because of that he is great.
R.I.P Chuck Berry
1980 Tour Dates
May 22 – Barcelona, Spain
May23 – Lisbon, Portugal
May 24 – Lisbon
May 25 – Middleborough, England
May 26 – Day off in Glasgow, Scotland
May 27 – Glasgow
May 28 – Blackburn, England
May 29 – London, England
May 30 – Day off in Paris, France
June 1 – Poole, England
June 2 – Carlyon Bay, England
June 3 – Lund, Sweden
June 4 – Stockholm, Sweden
June 5 – Oslo, Norway
June 6 – Day off – travel to Sweden
June 7-Kristianstad Sweden