My memories with Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry,... Was without a doubt one of the greatest iconic singer-songwriter guitarists and performers from the 1950’s Rhythm ‘n’ Blues / Rock ‘n’ Roll era that ever lived, and I feel very priviliged to have worked with him and to be able to say a few kind words about the man himself is also a great privilige for me.

It was way back in 1977 when I was playing with the band Matchbox, when our agent called us up to say that he had booked the band to play at the Lochem International Rock Festival in Holland to back the legendary Chuck Berry,... This really was a wonderful moment for the band and a dream come true for us all. We arrived at the open air festival on a very hot May afternoon where thousands of people were gathering for the start of the show, and the atmostphere was truly electric. There were so many fans there that day and the roads were blocked with traffic, so Chuck was delayed which meant we would only have a few moments with him before we went on stage. Eventually a classic cadillac and a top of the range mercedes pulled up, and out stepped the man himself wearing a stunning white suite who was then flanked by security officials,... It really was a sight to see as he strolled up to greet us back stage,... He really was the coolest person I had ever seen!!


Chuck Berry with Bob Burgos on drums (Lochem, Holland, with 22.000 Fans, 1977)

Because of all the delays our first meeting with him was very brief, but I did have a very friendly chat with him just before we hit the stage about some of his fellow musician friends namely Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed who I have also admired very much,... But the clock was ticking and the crowds outside were chanting his name over and over again,... It was time to go on!!

We walked on stage to an unbelievable reception from 22.000 screaming fans as Chuck ripped up the stage with his duck walk, dynamic guitar riffs and his blistering rhythm that rocked like a steam train, and the crowds went crazy, and I can honestly say that it was the Rockinest gig I had ever played in my life,... Chuck just tore the place apart, and left everybody in a frenzy,... It was the gig of all gigs that dreams are made from, and in my book they will never get any better than that!!

Throughout the mid to late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I was also playing drums on coast to coast tours around Europe for Screaming Lord Sutch and the Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee band, and I often used to meet up with Chuck and his very talented & lovely daughter Ingrid, together with his longtime bass player Jim Marsala who would be headlining at the same shows as we were playing on, and we always got on very well together, and again I would get a call from agents asking me to play drums for Chuck when he next visited Europe that included England, France, Spain and Holland, so there were many different shows that I was booked to support and back Chuck on drums, and on every gig that Chuck played, he always went down a storm,... He really was a master performer in all that he did and was second to none.


Chuck Berry with Bob Burgos on drums TV Studios, Paris (1993)

I've got so many wonderful memories on and off stage with Chuck, he really was a unique unassuming character in so many ways that I guess made him who he was, and knowing him was also very special. I remember on one occasion when I flew into Paris to meet him and the band,... And there he was in the airport car park with his head and hands underneath the bonnet checking out the engine of a brand new mercedes,... It was the last thing I expected to see him do, and also insisting that he drove us all to the hotel, that he often did on later trips when he was in Europe. I know it couldn’t have been easy for Chuck with all the stories we hear of him being ripped-off by promoters etc when he first started out on the road, and I’ve often come to the conclusion that he was always wary of not getting paid in full, which I can understand. Yes,... It was true that Chuck was always paid-up front in his hotel room before he went anywhere near a stage, ‘cause I can still visualise and remember the security guys with Chucks wages stashed into black briefcases and hand cuffed to their wrists entering the hotel reception asking to see the man.


Chuck Berry with Bob Burgos on drums TV Studios, Paris (1993)

Chuck was constantly in demand by the media, press, photographers, radio interviewers and of course many fans too who all wanted a piece of him, and before we knew it the band were all driven to the TV Studios in Paris travelling in two top of the range mercedes for a live performance from him that would be viewed to more than 20 million. They were truly hectic but very enjoyable days working alongside Chuck and it was an experience of a lifetime working on shows that also included other legendary artists like Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Cliff Richard to name a few, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.


Chuck Berry with Bob Burgos & TV Bosses & Promoters, Paris (1993)

On our exit from the TV Studios we would be greeted and swamped by Chucks fans who all wanted autographs and photos with him, and although it was an effort for him to get through the crowds, he was always happy to oblige with a smile before being escorted to his car. So then it was back to the hotel for a short while before leaving again for a show at the famous ‘Palais De Chaillot Theatre’ for a concert that evening to a packed house full of his fans, where he tore the place apart with another stunning performance that I shall never forget,... He even invited guys and gals to get up on stage to boogie with him, and this really did blow the roof off as they never wanted us to leave the stage.


Chuck Berry with Bob Burgos on drums at The 'Palais De Chaillot Theatre, Paris (1993)

Chucks performances usually ended with a frenzied Rhythm-Rockin’ Johnny B. Goode that only he could deliver in the true style that he was so famously known for. Another memorable and wonderful show had passed, and we said our goodbyes as we always did. I could honestly write pages about my times with Chuck, and the many wonderful memories I had playing for him,... He wasn’t only a tremendous inspiration throughout my Rock ‘n’ Roll life-style and career as a musician , he was also a good friend to me and I count that as a sincere privilege. If I could name one person who first turned me on in the first place to Rhythm ‘n’ Blues & Rock ‘n’ Roll,... It would have to be Chuck Berry, and I’m going to miss him dearly. It’s unbelievable to think that he also had a seven-decade career before his passing, but I know he will always be remembered as probably one of the Greatest Rockers of them all.. They say that all good things in life come to an end,... But Chuck Berrys music will live on forever !!!!

R.I.P Chuck,... It was an honour Rockin’ with you !!

Wild Bob Burgos (March 2017)

 
 

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