January 2, 2011

Chuck Berry — who is 84 but still plays "Sweet Little 16" in concert — collapsed on stage last night.

It was a packed house in Chicago:
The show had started promisingly. Taking the stage in a red sequined shirt, black slacks and a white sailor hat, Berry began with "Roll Over Beethoven"...

Although Berry played this and following songs - "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "School Days" -- at slower tempos than the original recordings, he filled them with his classic guitar riffs and sang them with weathered authority....

Things then quickly began going off the rails. Berry played snippets of blues songs and an unsteady version of " Memphis Tennessee," before taking an extended pause to try to retune his guitar, complaining that it was out of key with the piano. He made several unsuccessful attempts at "Let It Rock," in part seated at the piano, and performed disjointed bits of "Carol" and "Johnny B. Goode."

Berry revived to lead the crowd in a sing-along of "My Ding-a-Ling" and acknowledged things weren't going well, telling the crowd he'd try to do better at entertaining them. It was not to be. After a version of "Reelin' and Rockin'" they found the band gamely following his inconsistent tempo, Berry made his way to the piano, where the show came to an end completely at odds with the joy in his music.
He tried to resume playing, but paramedics arrived, and he was taken off for examination. The fans waited, and he came back again, thanked the people and left — "using a bit of his signature 'duck walk.'"



Chuck Berry.

57 comments:

Joe said...

Thought he was already dead.

Bob_R said...

The man invented rock and roll guitar (from bits and pieces he copped from Charlie Christian and T-Bone Wlaker).

Peano said...

You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em ...

E.M. Davis said...

In related news, Joe Paterno called a fake punt from his opponents 2 yard line. On first down, his team losing by 6.

E.M. Davis said...

Scratch that, a fake punt in that situation might be the best call.

Trooper York said...

Hey don't do that. We don't call it a "fake punt." It's called trans gendered.

Sharpen up.

The Crack Emcee said...

This is what's bound to happen as you insist on keeping your childhood heroes on the market without promoting a healthy field of newcomers.

Trooper York said...

Chuck Berry is Rock and Roll.

Trooper York said...

Unlike that douchenozzle Dylan.

Bob_R said...

Yeah, but Chuck is two months older than Joe...and those fourteen year old girls can age you fast.

Bob_R said...

What do you suggest Crack? Affirmative action for bad musicians?

Biff said...

I saw Berry play in NYC just before New Year's Eve in 2008. When I was invited to the show, I admit that, like the first commenter, my first thought was, "Wait - he's still alive?"

He played a short set, just about an hour long, but it was a rollicking good show, and the whole place was hopping. He did all of his signature moves, and I can only hope that I will be half as energetic at that age as he was. I'm half his age, and I'm not sure that I'll be able to duck-walk across a stage in forty years. Then again, the average male lifespan in the US is around 75 years, so I'm not sure I'll still be able to breathe, either.

Trooper York said...

Bob_R said...
What do you suggest Crack? Affirmative action for bad musicians?

Dude we already have that. It's called "rap." Just sayn'

Trooper York said...

Even though he is a rock and roll legend I do agree that there comes a time you need to hang it up.

I think he is now in violation of the
"You the Man" act.

chickelit said...

Keith Richards painted a rather unflattering portrait of Chuck Berry in his autobiography.

edutcher said...

One of the best. I grew up listening to him and Fats Domino and Buddy Holly. When rock 'n' roll became rock, it lost the dynamism they created.

Hope he's OK.

Trooper York said...

You can be a great musician and a total scumbag.

See: Turner, Ike.

virgil xenophon said...

Chuck's particular genius as a black man in the 50s was his ahead-of-his-time writing/performing songs almost exclusively for the huge demographic of white teenagers who drove their own cars in a day when the much smaller black teenage cohort mostly didn't. He knew where the money was..screw the "art" and all the soul-brothers (soon shortened to just "the brothers"--as in "The Brother From Another Planet"-a lol fave of mine) in "the hood." (although it wasn't called that "back in the day", either.)

alan markus said...

Hope he recovers - I'm sure he needs to mow the lawn on his estate - as I recall, he has two commercial grade Toro riders. Awhile back Rolling Stone interviewed him - wish I would have saved that issue. Was a very interesting read - a classic.

Chip Ahoy said...

This story made me very sad.

KenK said...

That's the problem with rock & roll. The genre doesn't really fit well as you age. The "hope I die before I get old" generation is now old. Watching rockers in their seventh and eighth decades of life jumping around on stage like a kid just seems fake. Just like Hugh Hefner's and his Viagra inspired octogenarian studliness. Maybe they need the money or they need the fame but either way it demeans them.

Kensington said...

That poor man. I hope he recovers.

SteveR said...

Regardless of the need to find something wrong with him, the truth is he's amongst the greats in "Rock n Roll". For some, however, that's just not enough.

If you think he's too old to be performing, don't pay to go see him.

shoutingthomas said...

Chuck Berry wasn't just a rock and roller.

He was one of the great bluesmen in the history of the genre.

If he wants to be carried off the stage on a stretcher in his last moments on this earth, well by God, good for him.

edutcher said...

Right on!!!!

Don't know if he needed the money or he just loves performing (I'll bet more than a little of the second, whether the first is true or not), but shout is right.

As a great American crime fighter once said, "Baby sis, I was born game and I intend to go out the same way".

shoutingthomas said...

And, fuck it, I'm an EMT.

I hope I get the call when Chuck buys the farm.

We'll carry him off the stage in style!

Fernandinande said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K103P3TTpxI

William said...

He had that final metamorphosis when he went from has been to legend.....Special attention should be paid to his pioneering work in the field of sexual perversion. Many rock stars have been charged, like he, with Mann Act violations, but he was the first rock star to videotape women going to the bathroom. He owned a restaurant and installed hidden video cameras in the ladies' room. He had to settle a class action lawsuit with his female employees for 1.2 million dollars. Not just a pervert, but on such a scale as to require a class action lawsuit. No wonder the man is a legend.

PaulV said...

At least Jerry Lee lewis was not there to burn the piano and inspire a Viking funeral

AST said...

Johnny B. Goode is probably the perfect Rock and Roll song. It will never die.

Nobody has forgotten Berry, like they have the Everly Brothers.

Michael said...

Arrested on charges of unemployment,
he was sitting in the witness stand
The judge's wife called up the district attorney
Said you free that brown eyed man
You want your job you better free that brown eyed man

Flying across the desert in a TWA,
I saw a woman walking across the sand
She been a walkin' thirty miles en route to Bombay
To get a brown eyed handsome man
Her destination was a brown eyed handsome man

Way back in history three thousand years
In fact every since the world began
There's been a whole lot of good women sheddin' tears
For a brown eyed handsome man
It's a lot of trouble was brown eyed handsome man

Beautiful daughter couldn't make up her mind
Between a doctor and a lawyer man
Her mother told her darlin' go out and find yourself
A brown eyed handsome man
Just like your daddy, he's a brown eyed handsome man

Milo Venus was a beautiful lass
She had the world in the palm of her hand
But she lost both her arms in a wrestling match
To get brown eyed handsome man
She fought and won herself a brown eyed handsome man

Two, three count with nobody on
He hit a high fly into the stand
Rounding third he was headed for home
It was a brown eyed handsome man
That won the game; it was a brown eyed handsome man

AST said...

I just remembered that he wrote Surfin' Safari for the Beach Boys. His songs are about youth and life and they apply country-wide. None of this moaning the existential problems of the modern world.

Just feel the beat and dance.

shoutingthomas said...

Chuck Berry was never a has been. Nor will he ever be.

Every guitar player I've ever known reveres Berry, including me.

If you play guitar, you owe a debt of gratitude to Berry, because you're playing lines he invented.

I cannot think of a person, other than my late wife, who brought more joy into my life than Chuck Berry. He was and is a marvel.

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Penny said...

"Given his diet, it's a wonder he is still alive."

So maybe a "bad diet" doesn't matter so much when you're a hard workin' man?

Penny said...

Hail! Hail! Rock 'n Roll!

sonicfrog said...

Chip Ahot said:

This story made me very sad.

Yeah, me too. Despite his failings as a human being, he's one of the greatest of Rock-n-Roll greats. And lets face it, most artists, be it art, music, or stage, are pretty ef'd up people. I kind of wonder if that isn't the personality trait trade-of inherent in humanity: Great Artist = Crappy Person!

I know it's not a hard and fast rule... But you just see it so often.

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Cate said...

A friend of mine at a C.B. show several years ago, against his better instincts, tried to saddle up to Chuck at the bar and carry on about how great he was, etc. etc.

Chuck turned to my friend, expressionless, and said "Eat ... shit." then returned to nursing his Budweiser beer. End of conversation.

Not without reason, Chuck considers himself to have been totally fucked over by the music industry. He signed away the rights to his recordings years ago; he gets no money from them. (He does receive songwriting royalties).

He drives himself to his shows, gets paid in advance, in cash, and shares it with no one, not even the pick-up musicians who back him up from town to town. A total perv? Yeah, probably, but it's a pretty heavy burden being the man who invented rock'n'roll.

David said...

chickelit said...
"Keith Richards painted a rather unflattering portrait of Chuck Berry in his autobiography."

I can assure you that Chuck Berry does not give a flying fuck what Keith Richards thinks.

Harry said...

AST said... I just remembered that he wrote Surfin' Safari for the Beach Boys.

They swiped the melody and ultimately had to pay him royalties, but Brian Wilson wrote the lyrics.

I saw him in 1969 (IIRC) with Jefferson Airplane at the New Haven Arena. Damn, he seemed old then! Put on a helluva show, though.

Methadras said...

Trooper York said...

Chuck Berry is Rock and Roll.


Nuh-uh, didn't you know that Michael J. Fox started it all at the Enchantment Under the Sea prom? Geez, don't you watch movies? :D

William said...

It's no diminution of his showmanship and talent to say that he is a flawed human being. I'm sure that he got screwed around by the music industry, but his pianist Johnnie Johnson claims that he co-wrote several of Berry's greatest hits. Beware the excluded middle. Just because Berry got screwed doesn't eliminate the possibility that he himself screwed others in turn.....Berry is in that same sweet place as Charley Sheehan. All the scandals just seem to add lustre to his reputation. He is perhaps the only know coprophiliac to give a White House performance. I wonder how long it will take after the death of Phil Spector for his contributions to music to again be acknowledged. It's good to see, however, that even the Rolling Stone crowd draws the line at murder--although they did give William S. Burroughs a pass.

KenK said...

Okay baby boomers. How about if Jimmy Carter were made president again too? Should Muhammad Ali box again? As Dirty Harry said in movie once, "a man has to know his limitations." It would be like having Jerry Brown be governor again. No, wait, what?

traditionalguy said...

"Maybelline why can't you be true? You done started doing the things you used to do." What a great line. Chuck Berry understood people. His entertainment was an outlet for a man's energy then and now.

The Crack Emcee said...

Bob R,

What do you suggest Crack? Affirmative action for bad musicians?

No, let the good ones in. I'm in the business and too much of it is based on how you look (GaGa) what politics you hold (Kanye West) or anything else that has nothing to do with music.

I did a post this morning that mentions a song I did is better than all the "hits" Gawker mentioned in their "Best Of" column, but I can't catch a break because I'm an evil black Republican - the worst kind of conservative there is.

Troop,

Lay off the Rap. It's a genre, not a I.Q. test. And Ike Turner caught a bad rap from that Tina Turner movie. (They used to come to our neighborhood all the time and Ike was cool.) We all made "Be like Ike" t-shirts after that movie came out, in protest, because Tina's a NewAge liar.

KenK,

That's the problem with rock & roll. The genre doesn't really fit well as you age.

Sure it does, but you've also got to mature. Chuck's still singing "Sweet Little 16" - that's never going to look good.

William,

Yep - he liked to film the stinky - not the women in the bathroom but what they left in the stool! Incredible. Which makes me wonder, when everyone's bowing before MLK's memory, why nobody mentions him cheating on his wife with the white girls. People are willing to overlook anything to worship a false legend. It's really confusing sometimes.

Sixty Grit,

My foster Mom lived to a ripe old age on KFC and Taco Bell.

Penny, perhaps you have no idea what Chuck likes to eat. It is not for the squeamish, and is related to his video perversion.

ROTFLMAO! You win, Homie!

Trooper York said...

Hey I like Ike. A whole lot. In fact I base my mangerial efforts on Ike's body of work.

A car atenna is a wonderful incentive package. Just sayn.

The Crack Emcee said...

Will Cate,

Chuck considers himself to have been totally fucked over by the music industry. He signed away the rights to his recordings years ago; he gets no money from them. (He does receive songwriting royalties).

He drives himself to his shows, gets paid in advance, in cash, and shares it with no one, not even the pick-up musicians who back him up from town to town.


Yea, he's old-old school. Check out the movie Cadillac Records for more on that attitude. Those rappers Troop hates learned from that experience, that's why so many are independent (and rich).

The Crack Emcee said...

Methadras,

Didn't you know that Michael J. Fox started it all at the Enchantment Under the Sea prom? Geez, don't you watch movies? :D

"Back To The Future" came out when I was still caught up in racialism and I walked out of the theatre, seething with anger. Man, I was pissed! It seemed like it was one of the biggest, unwarranted, slaps to the face I had taken in a movie theatre. I really couldn't believe it.

I still wonder why'd they go there today. I'm sure - 100% positive - it's one of the things that fuels Chuck Berry's anger.

Penny said...

Learned a new big word today.

One that is likely to be remembered without using it three times in a sentence.

Trooper York said...

Crack baby I don't hate rappers.

I just think they are talentless whores who steal...I mean sample better musicians stuff..they are just plagerists.

You know like Doris Kearns Goodwin.

And you know how much I love me some Doris. I have all of her books.

Trooper York said...

2 Live Crew is one of my favorite acts of all time. Just sayn'

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amba said...

Sounds like it could've been a stroke. Perv or not, I hope he's OK.

The Crack Emcee said...

Troop,

Crack baby I don't hate rappers.

I just think they are talentless whores who steal...I mean sample better musicians stuff..


Stealing? Oh - you mean like this?

Everybody's always done that.

The Crack Emcee said...

Hey, Troop - you're in New York, aren't you?

Do you know about this guy?

jr565 said...

True guitar hero of his day, and one of the best rock songwriters in rock and pop. Artistes wish they could come up with words that were this simple yet which told stories as efficiently as Chuck Berry's songs.
Flawed human being, but a true rock icon.