Friday, March 13, 2015

Chuck Berry


 Berry came to Guam when he was 47.  Berry traveled around on the "oldies circuit" alone in that period, just himself and a guitar. He would get a pick-up band that knew his tunes, do the gig, no encore, and move on. Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller performed the backup band function early in their careers. This time a local Guam band called "Friends" would back him up. No rehearsal, no discussion, just hit the stage, do the old tunes, and go to the airport. "Friends" was a very tight group and I think Berry actually appreciated it.

His concert on Guam was on August 17, 1974, Rand Coffman's 27th birthday. Rand produced the concert through a project he created called "Youth Incorporated" and a grant from the American Bicentennial Commission. I was the photographer-cinematographer for the Chuck Berry gig and Frank McGuire shot stills for the local paper.  I don't know what happened to the 16mm color footage I shot.  I was 27 and taking a break from graduate art school at Florida State University. I've been close friends with Rand since high school, some 50 years now. He still lives in Guam, has a radio program called "The Edge of Heaven" about phenomena, renovates yachts, teaches gifted children, and lot's of other interesting things.

Chuck thought I laughed a little too much. He was probably right. Mr. Berry on the other hand, was not very funny.   We picked him up at the airport in a Rolls Royce. The one and only time I've ever been in a Rolls. It belonged to somebody's uncle.  Why was he doing a concert in the George Washington High School stadium such a very long way from St. Louis? I got the feeling he might not have known how far it was to Guam and when he finally got there a bunch of scruffy hippies picked him up in a Rolls. He wasn't too cheerful. To top it off it rained at the concert and he went on early but played anyway.  He did a very good set and got a standing ovation which seemed to cheer him up. Before he could get off,  a bunch of kids jumped up on the stage and started singing and dancing around him. He started laughing. Laughing like a regular guy not a star. He took the microphone, pointed at the audience still applauding, and yelled "you're all my children!"  And we are.

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