Chuck Berry Glared at me.

Chuck Berry glared at me with a sneer on his 44 year old handsome face, and said,
“You don’t know what the fuck’s goin’ on, do ya?”
I had thrown him a real curve.This was our first gig together, in the Miami Sportatorium. Christian, the great Brahmin jazz pianist was on Wurlitzer electric piano and a Miami Beach Jazz legend on bass. I was feeling ornery which I did a lot. It was no doubt some sort of behavioral malfunction; maybe Tourettes. But the point was, I was messing with Chuck right out of the gate and he didn’t think it was funny.
We started out with Maybeline, his first hit, which is a gospel/country groove if you want to do it that way. He had made a lot of money doing it that way. But instead I cut the groove in half- sort of what the Allman Brothers would do with Whipping Post. Maybeline is usually double time, but I was playing halftime against Chuck’s busy guitar rhythm, changing away on two and four. I was playing only half the up tempo backbeat and it flipped him out. He turned around and stalked over to the side of my drum kit and yelled at me. I thought it was funny, but I switched over to the uptempo country gospel groove and he stopped sending me daggers. Then Christian caught his ear.
“Huh?” Chuck said as he stalked over to the inscrutable Christian Ghandi who was as cool as a cucumber and pretty much ignoring Chuck as Jazz piano players are want to do.. “What was that chord you just played!” Chuck yelled over the band at Christian. Chuck leaned over the keyboard barely playing his own guitar and studied Christian’s chord. Chuck stretched his fingers out and found the jazz chord- no doubt reminding him of Johny Johnson, his original and greatest piano player from St. Louis. From there we were on tour with Chuck up through Florida and into Tampa, where Jim, the old bass player from the Bethlehem Asylum, jumped up on stage before Chuck came out and played a very bad version of Johnny B. Good which really pissed Chuck off. I denied I knew who Jim was. The last I saw of Jim, he was falling off of the stage down into a pile of road cases.
“I’m Okay!” He yelled, but nobody really cared after upstaging Chuck like that.
I spent some time riding around with Chuck and watching him work the crowd in the clubs. He did not tolerate bullshit of any sort. But at the same time he had a gracious, regal air about him which shined forth grace, confidence, inspiration, insight. Genius. And a good sense of humor. He was one of the best poets America has ever churned out. If he could have gotten paid one dollar for every guitar lick stolen from him, he would be richer than Bill Gates and all them sons of bitches.

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