Greetings From the Road...

APRIL 29, 2005

Photo: Daniel Wills

Hello Friends,

We're here in McAllen, Texas after a long night's drive from Beaumont. It was a perfect opportunity for us all to get a full night's sleep in our cocoons. You can't imagine how restful the bus is, once you get over the idea of being in a dark little box being driven through the night by someone you just met. It's so deep you have a hard time coming out of it.

Once we started making our exit, grabbing bottles of water, our keys, pieces of fruit and room lists, I tried successfully to play the video of Chuck Berry's "Hail, Hail Rock & Roll" I had received from before I left for Texas. It's not available on DVD yet so I got it old school style. Buses are such current animals that video is kind of like the cassette player in your car. Only there for the hold-out and really on the downhill side of a transitional curve.

Ricky was waiting for Lawrence to wake up so that he could get his cell phone which had slipped through the crack between the bed and the wall and fallen into Lawrence's bunk in the middle of the night and we were having a cup of "Rocket Sauce" a la Gowan's recipe (one heaping spoonful per cup and one for the pot). The smell of the coffee, or our chattiness may have been what aroused him from his bunk, but soon the three of us were deeply immersed in the video documentary.

We'd all seen this monumental thesis on the genre before, but not since meeting and getting to know the late great Johnnie Johnson. Before I put the tape on, Ricky was telling me the story of how Berry fired him and two other well known musicians while on stage with him in Japan. This was after dismissing several other legendary guitarists who misunderstood as Chuck was asking other musicians to take the stage (he meant "Get me a new back-up band!"). It was bizarre, but not if you know much about this enigmatic pioneer of Rock Music.

Now we were watching Chuck and Keith Richards get into it as Keith pushes to give Chuck what he intended and that was a great backing band for the finale concert at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. Just as Ricky had been telling us in his story, Chuck referred to himself in third person when pressed. Richards even told, in a separate on camera interview, about how Berry once cold cocked him and that this was the only time he didn't hit back in a fight. He just blew it off as something Berry needed to get off his chest. Can you imagine?

What is most incredible about this film is the subtext. It is a constant throughout, but only if you already know what's going on. It's ever present in everyone's eyes, everyone but Keith Richards who, God bless him, has the free-flowing, unedited eloquent voice of reason, based in his love and admiration for Chuck and for music in general. He comes off as a bigger legend than he already is perceived as. And his sole purpose was to raise awareness of Chuck Berry and his contributions to music.

I promised myself I'd get out of my room today, but between a slew of telephone interviews from Hawaii to Alice Cooper in Phoenix via New York, to somewhere in Germany, my afternoon is slipping away. I am not even sure exactly where we are on the map. McAllen feels like a coastal town and I want to see for myself just how close to the coast we are, if we are, so I'm abandoning this piece now.

See you tonight!


Previously published on on or about the date mentioned.