This documentary about Chuck Berry‘s 60th-birthday musical performance and tribute was surprisingly enjoyable, considering that I only ever want to hear four straight-up rock ‘n’ roll songs in a row. His songs all tend to chug along the same way, but his willingness to dismantle his own songs with economical scratchy stabbing solos is impressive; Keith Richards is far better and yet less compelling. A bunch of other famous musicians play in the concert, but the stand-out is his modest piano player Johnnie Johnson. More than the concert, I love his relaxed rehearsal takes on standards like “A Cottage for Sale” and the movie ends with him playing some wistful pedal steel, alone.
Chuck Berry precisely talks about his life, his music, and his money, yet he’s a cipher. He knows where he came from.
They say “That’s a Chuck Berry song because it’s Ba-du-ba-dada [scat-sings a Roll Over Beethoven riff].” Well, the first time I heard in that was in one of Carl Hogan’s riffs in Louis Jordan’s band. We have T-Bone Walker, I love T-Bone Walker’s slurs and his blueses; so put a little Carl Hogan, a little T-Bone Walker and a little Charlie Christian, the guitarist in Tommy Dorsey’s band, together, look what a span of people that you will please. And that’s what I did in Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven — And making it simple is another important fact, I think, that resulted in a lot of the artists understanding, and being able to play, my music. If you can call it my music, but there’s nothing new under the sun.