Many rockers were greatly influenced by the late great Chuck Berry. One of them is Paul McCartney, who, on March 20, issued a lengthy statement about his love for the man and his music. He said, in part, "From the first minute we heard the great guitar intro to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ we became fans of the great Chuck Berry. His stories were more like poems than lyrics – the likes of ‘Johnny B Goode’ or ‘Maybellene’. To us he was a magician making music that was exotic yet normal at the same time. We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock ‘n’ roll music.”
He also recalled an encounter with Chuck Berry. “I was privileged to meet him in his home town St Louis when I played there on tour and it’s a memory I will cherish forever.”
Berry, who passed away on March 18, was not only a musical artist, but a visual one. He put on quite a show. Here is our selection of his best moments on video. They're not in chronological order, but showcase a bit of Berry from the '50s through the '80s. There are so many good clips, but here are just a few that lit up rock n' roll.
- Nov. 14, 1964: “The TAMI Show”: Chuck Berry was one of the top-billed acts, along with the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, James Brown, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and more. Berry opened the show and alternated with Gerry and the Pacemakers. He opened with “Johnny B. Goode” and “Maybelline” before handing the stage to Gerry and the Pacemakers for their version of his song. After they performed two of their own songs, Berry came back with “Sweet Little Sixteen,” gave the stage to Gerry Marsden once more, then finished up with “Nadine (Is That You)” before Marsden came back for his final song. Berry's trademark duck walk was a showstopper.
Billy J. Kramer, who also appeared on the show, told AXS.com, “I was in awe of Chuck Berry. As a kid growing up in Liverpool, I never thought that I would actually get the chance to work with him. I rarely get star-struck but regarding 'The TAMI Show,' I held him in such high esteem that I didn't know what to say so all I could muster to say to him was to thank him for all the great records. I loved all his records and John Lennon had it right when he said that if you were to give rock and roll another name it would be Chuck Berry. I wish today's kids would listen to Chuck Berry instead of the violent lyrics of today's rappers.”
- 1973 - "American Graffiti": Chuck Berry doesn't appear in this clip, but his recording of “Johnny B. Goode” is played on the soundtrack as Paul LeMat and a young Mackenzie Phillips get revenge on some girls who hit LeMat's car with a water balloon. One of the funniest parts of the movie. Some people believe “American Graffiti” is George Lucas' best film.
February, 1972: “The Mike Douglas Show”: During John Lennon and Yoko Ono's week-long stints as co-hosts, Lennon asked that the show get Chuck Berry to appear with him. Douglas in his book I'll Be Right Back: Memories of TV's Greatest Talk Show, called it “powerful.” He said Lennon told him the appearance was such a big thing to him that he didn't care what happened the rest of the week. John and Chuck Berry sang “Johnny B. Goode” and “Memphis” backed by Lennon's Elephant's Memory Band. “"We could tell how much John idolized Chuck when they met!,” said Gary Van Scyoc, who played bass with Elephant's Memory. “John was so excited! Chuck seemed honored that John invited him on the show. I'd say they hit it off pretty good." Excerpts of the show were released on DVD, but Rhino released the full week on VHS years ago. The shows have not be released on DVD legitimately.
Sept. 13, 1969: Toronto Peace Festival: Most people know this for the premiere appearance by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, but Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard appeared as opening acts. The show was filmed by D.A. Pennebacker and all the individual performances have been released. After leading the crowd in a peace chant, he kicked of a 13-song set with “Rock 'n' Roll Music” and ran through a bunch of familiar hits. The full Berry show is on DVD. Other releases from the show, including the Lennon show, have single songs of Berry but not his entire set. A much cheaper alternative is “The London Rock 'n' Roll Show” DVD with Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
1978 - “American Hot Wax”: Both Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis appear in this great 1978 film about legendary DJ Alan Freed that has yet to be released on legitimate DVD. As Berry is about to make his appearance, after a scorching performance by Jerry Lee Lewis, Freed (played by Tim McIntyre) learns the IRS has frozen the box office receipts and he won't be able to pay the performers. Berry overhears the conversation and says, “Rock 'n' roll has been pretty good to be. I think I'll do this one for rock 'n roll” and does a fantastic medley of “Reelin' and Rockin'” (completely with bawdy lyrics) and “Roll Over Beethoven.”
- October, 1985: No song for Berry was bawdier than “My Ding-A-Ling.” This short version, with Ron Wood, was taped at the at the Bo Diddley 30th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll All Star Jam in Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
- July 18, 1959 - Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show: Berry dances into the audience singing “Back in the USA.”
- 1986: Keith Richards inducts Chuck Berry into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. And in typical Berry fashion, he duck walks to the stage.
- Undated: This clip, from the '50s, has Berry doing his trademark duck walk to “You Can't Catch Me.” How Berry will always be remembered.