Chuck Berry tears up at all-star tribute concert

2012-10-29T00:05:00Z 2013-10-18T07:36:05Z Chuck Berry tears up at all-star tribute concertBy Kevin C. Johnson kjohnson@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8191 stltoday.com

CLEVELAND • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame president and CEO told the crowd at Saturday night's sold-out tribute concert to Chuck Berry the evening would be a "whole boogaloo of artists coming at you like a freight train."

He couldn't have said any truer words.

Merle Haggard, Ernie Isley, Run-D.M.C.'s Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Ronnie Hawkins, Joe Bonamassa, Vernon Reid of Living Colour and many more were among the artists paying tribute to Berry by way of performing his music during an evening Berry will surely never forget.

And if those names and others weren't enough, the concert was capped by a brief performance from Berry himself, as he and his band performed "Johnny B. Goode" and "Reelin' and Rockin,' " complete with a duck walk from Berry, followed by a sprawling all-star jam session of the most appropriate "Rock and Roll Music."

The concert, at PlayhouseSquare's State Theatre in downtown Cleveland, wrapped up the week-long 17th Annual American Music Masters' "Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry."

Most of the events took place at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum; Berry was its first inductee in 1986. Each year, the American Music Masters series devotes itself to one past Rock Hall inductee.

The near three-hour concert, which featured vintage video clips of Berry in his prime, played out like an old school music revue. Acts, a cool mix of the well-known and the not-so-famous, came on and off the stage in rapid succession, solo or as part of special duos.

But none of the performances could compare to classic clips shown of music legend Berry performing "Oh Baby Doll," "Little Queenie" or "Maybellene."

The house band backing all the acts except for Berry featured band leader Bobby Wood, bassist David Hood, organist Bobby Emmons, keyboardist Shane Keister, guitarist Chris Leuzinger, drummer Milton Sledge and singers Kabanya-Chemise, George Pendergrass and Drea Rhenee.

Before Berry took to the stage at the end of the night, class acts such as Haggard and Hawkins brought a sense of reverence to the proceedings. Haggard did it with "Working Man Blues" and "Memphis," while Hawkins contributed "Thirty Days"/"Roll Over Beethoven." Both had the crowd transfixed.

Another great moment was rapper McDaniels, who merged classic rock and hip-hop with a twist on "School Days," the night's most radical departure complete with some new lyrics that included "Chuck is the king of rock and roll." McDaniels said back in his early battle rapping days, DJs used to play Berry's "My Ding-a-Ling" just to upset the other DJ.

McDaniels was accompanied by his longtime DJ, St. Louis' own Charlie Chan Soprano.

McDaniels and Isley teamed up for "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" featuring Isley in the lead position. Isley, often seen next to his brother Ron Isley, also performed "You Can't Catch Me." "I know we can't catch you, but we can follow," he said, referring to Berry.

Reid was a thrill with drummer Steve Jordan on "Nadine" and "Almost Grown." "One of the first things I learned were Chuck Berry tunes, and I'm still learning them," said Reid.

Kilmister rocked out with "Bye Bye Johnny" and "Let It Rock."

David Johansen, a.k.a. Buster Poindexter, channeled bits of Mick Jagger with guitarist Earl Slick for "Talking About You" and "Back in the U.S.A.," which featured former McCoys singer Rick Derringer, who later returned for "Sweet Little Sixteen" with Jordan.

Duke Robillard and Bonamassa teamed up for "Wee Wee Hours" and "Carol."

Guitarist Malina Moye, fired up a sexually charged performance of "Stop and Listen." "Long live the king," Moye said at the end of her performance, which included a lot of leg action Angelina Jolie-style. The only other woman out front, Rosie Flores, served "No Particular Place to Go" and "You Never Can Tell."

Dave Alvin and Ray Sharpe got things moving early on with "Promised Land" and "No Money Down," respectively, followed by an early highlight from retro-styled singer JD McPherson on "Beautiful Delilah" and "Around and Around."

Other performers included John Fullbright on "Downtown Train" and Chuck Prophet on "Romano Say Yes" and "Tulane."

The man of the evening's quick set brought everyone to their feet immediately as Berry, dressed in all black topped by a captain's cap took the stage with band members Charles Berry Jr. (Berry's son), Ingrid Berry Clay (Berry's daughter), Jim Marsala, Bob Lohr and Keith Robinson.

But the set featured a couple of hiccups beginning when Berry's microphone failed him during the first few lines of "Johnny Be Goode." Berry Clay, a singer and blues harp artist, picked up her father's lines quickly.

"What was the second song?" Berry asked a band member next, who responded with "Reelin' and Rockin.' " Berry wasn't happy with the intro and stopped the song before relaunching it.

Missteps not withstanding, Berry was clearly having a good time, which is all that mattered.

"Good night sweetheart, I'm too old now. We gotta go now. Tears are filling my eyes ladies and gentlemen. I'm 86 years old. I'm glad to be anywhere," he said, as close friend Joe Edwards, hanging in the wings, motioned him off stage as the band played Berry off.

Stewart returned to the stage to read, in part, a proclamation from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. Stewart also presented Berry with the American Music Masters award, which Berry sweetly handed over to his wife of 62 years, Themetta "Toddy" Suggs.

A jam session finale of "Rock and Roll Music," which Berry joined midway through, was just shy of a debacle because of some out of tune playing.

M. Ward, who was slated to perform, canceled because of a "stupid virus" but sent a statement read by Stewart. Alvin was Ward's replacement.

"Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry" also included a conference focusing on Berry's life, a special showing of the documentary "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" and a keynote lecture from writer Greg Tate.

Saturday afternoon, Berry met with reporters at the Rock Hall, where he reflected on his future. He said "I'm wondering about my future...My singing days have passed. My voice is gone. My throat is worn. And my lungs are going fast."

Kevin C. Johnson is the popular music critic and nightlife reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at kevincjohnson and add him on Facebook at kevincjohnsonstl.

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