Chuck wrote history of rock’n’roll music | Letters

Letters: His set of classic rock’n’roll numbers was explosive

In August 1972 I was wondering whether I could afford to go to the London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley. A pantheon of performers had been booked, including Bill Haley, Bo Diddley and the unholy trinity of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry (Obituary, 20 March). Two days before, I was overjoyed to be asked to work as assistant director on the recording of the concert. As the night drew in we became aware of a dispute between a somewhat temperamental Little Richard and a calmer Chuck Berry, sitting alone in his hired Rolls Royce, parked under the stadium. Messages were rushed back and forth.

Eventually it was Chuck Berry who topped the bill. His set of classic rock’n’roll numbers was explosive, and to roars from the crowd he entertained us all, and me on the side of the stage, with his crouching, hopping strut. He was enjoying himself so much that he had to be reminded that the entertainment licence had expired and he had to leave the stage. He refused, to loud applause. The microphones were disconnected while terse negotiations were held. A minute or two afterwards the sound was restored to further cheers and half an hour later he ended an unforgettable day, and for me sealed his position as the king of rock’n’roll.
Gerry Harrison
Ennis, County Clare, Ireland

• On hearing the sad news of the death of Chuck Berry, I was so glad to have seen him live at the Colston Hall, Bristol, in 1995. The show was late starting – there was a technical problem involving the sound system. After about 10 minutes, with the audience getting restless, there was a stirring of the curtains and Chuck’s head appeared. As the audience realised it was him, a great cheer went up and he fully came out to apologise for the hitch.

At first it seemed to be a rather long, rambling apology. It then slowly dawned on us that he was speaking in rhyme. The apology made, the phrases and sentences were being moulded into poetry, without apparent end, telling us a story or a fantasy. It was a philosophy on life and love and beauty. This poem must have lasted 10 minutes or longer; it was captivating and he brought it to an end only when he got the signal that the problem was over. I’ve have often wondered what preparation went into that endless poem. He entertained us and added another side to the rock’n’roll show. Thank you, Chuck, for your music and poetry.
David Garrett

• Chuck Berry was indisputably the first poet of rock’n’roll. His stunning song/poem Nadine is written as though a pursuit in a Dick Tracy strip cartoon. The elusive Nadine makes her escape in “a coffee-coloured Cadillac”, while Chuck chases after her “campaign shouting like a Southern diplomat”. He never wastes a word, and then there’s his wonderful, endlessly imitated barking guitar. His most important contribution to popular music was to write the history of rock’n’roll while it was actually happening. Roll over Beethoven, indeed.
Jeff Cloves
Stroud, Gloucestershire

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