Hail, Hail This Documentary! It is the Best!
Perry Celestino | Tahmoor, NSW Australia | 06/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary-concert-behind-the-scenes look at Rock and Roll's original lyrical master is back. I have been waiting for its release to DVD for ten years and here it is with a four disc set! How good is that! I had the original movie when it was released in 1987 on VHS and have been playing it ever since.
There are many, many highlights and you will see them all over and over when you get this show. Some of them are:
1) Chuck talking about his meeting with Leonard Chess and his reluctance to play in front of him.
2) How Chuck shows up at a gig alone and always used local bands to back him up. Bruce Springsteen tells the delightful story of his band doing backup when he opened for Chuck and Jerry Lee Lewis early in his career. Chuck comes to the show late out of nowhere ignores the band goes out onstage and starts playing. The band was in a panic, "What song is it?" "What key?", "What arrangement?"...Chuck just comes over and says "Play for that money boys" and Bruce says he didn't know we were doing it for free!! The whole story about going to the bass player for the key was priceless! I know its true-I've seen him do it! 1-2-3 go--that's Chuck Berry!
3) How Chuck got paid in cash (had lots of IRS problems). Here in Australia I saw Chuck in 1975 and he was caught at Sydney Airport with $50000 AUD in an attache case. We still have currency restrictions due to this famous incident!!
4) His reluctance to talk publically about his time in jail (it ruined his career-he was going to be much bigger but that stopped him until the British rediscovered him in 1964!!).
5) His playing steel guitar at the end- a nice country touch, and rare, by himself in his Clubhouse at Berry Park.
You can hear more of this on the rare track "Deep Feeling" released on his "Blues" CD.
6) My highlight is his rehearsal with Keith Richards and the band doing "Carol" or "Oh, Carol" and Chuck correcting him even though the Stones had sold millions of this tune on their first LP. It is priceless I have watched that (and Keith's lovely 1960's Stratocaster) hundreds and hundreds of times and it's so fantastic! And a previous reviewer is right: the arrangements were different. Keith also plays the same solo he did in 1964!
7) Great footage of the late, great Johnnie Johnson. His piano playing made Chuck Berry's records (just imagine "Sweet Little Sixteen" without it!"). Check out his great solo in "Wee Wee Hours", he was a great Blues Pianist in the style of Roosevelt Sykes and in the Kansas City tradition of Jay "Hootie" McShann.
He added so much to Chuck's music and never got any credit, in fact, Chuck took over HIS band in the beginning. It's also telling that, unlike all other Rockers who play in guitar keys of E,A and D, because of Johnson's influence, all of Chuck's tunes are in Jazz and Piano keys like Bb, F, Eb and so on. I remember trying to play "Johnny B. Goode" on my first electric guitar about 1965-I couldn't understand why it wasn't in A!! (It's in Bb! And we had no books, DVD's or Tabs!! just records and sheet music). This is a further insight into why Jimi Hendrix tuned down his guitar a half step--lots of explanations have been given (helped singing, fuller sound for a power trio and so on!), but this gave him guitar key access to a jazzier sound! I am glad Johnnie got to play with Chuck again and get some of the recognition he deserved.
8) The Opening of the concert in St Louis for Chuck's 60th birthday (I'm 60 in 3 years yikes!!!). We see Chuck doing "Roll Over Beethoven" and going to Keith and saying "Let's change the key to Bb from C". Keith says "no" and what follows is classic. Chuck is the original "wing it" musician!
9) Highlights of the actual concert are Eric Clapton's version of "Wee Wee Hours". It's just about his best Blues playing on film, his phrasing is great and he uses both upper and lower registers. Compare this with his "Concert in Hyde Park" (5 Long Years) and the "Cream Reunion Concert" (Stormy Monday). This playing on a ES-350T Gibson (this guitar had been given to Chuck by Keith Richards, but he didn't want it, he liked his ES-355 as it was more "modern"-Eric still plays this guitar today, watch him do "Reptile" on the "One More Road" DVD)in the style of early Rock and Chuck Berry is fantastic!
10) Other great tunes are "Almost Grown", "Little Queenie" (best ever version of this classic!)and "Too Much Monkey Business" which have Keith Richard's best solos. "Memphis, Tennessee", a great version very delicate and Chuck's best solo on the night. Also really good is "No Particular Place To Go" Chuck's big come back hit when he was rediscovered and started to record again in the mid-sixties. The interplay between Chuck and Keith is very good on this tune with them exchanging leads. There is plenty of great music in this concert! Robert Cray's version of "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" is also very good!
The four disc set is definately the way to go unless you have only a casual interest in this topic. The extra three discs have hours and hours of very interesting items:
Disc 2 has the rehearsal and we wish there was a lot more than the 50 odd minutes. The "guitar jam" is really great, however, the actual best playing are the organ and piano solos.The whole segment on Etta James("I sang backup on 3 or 4 of Chuck's tunes at Chess with Minnie Riperton!!") is very interesting and is the best (albeit casual) performance I have ever heard from her. You hear Johnnie Johnson's piano the whole time on this section and he is great! On the blues "Mean Old World" (T-Bone Walker) we hear Eric Clapton and others, but disappointingly, no Keith Richards blues solo!
The whole mini-documentary on the making of the film is also fascinating. Chuck comes across as a money hungry tax cheat, but you still have a soft spot for him, especially after what he went through growing up and then being ripped off so much (but so was Dylan). Actually I believe he was probably a lot worse than the producers made him out!!!
The big insight in this "making of" film is that he did a gig in Ohio before the big 60th concert to make a few bucks, blew his voice out and had to do the concert we see twice (also charged the producers twice!) and then had to overdub the vocals in LA (which he also charged extra for--I always suspected that the concert was "Too Good" to be live Chuck Berry in 1987!!). Very interesting!
Disc 3 has three parts; The interview with Chuck, Bo Diddley and Little Richard is very good. It opens one's eye's to the racism and discrimination these artists had to go through in the early days. Bo's story of the Georgia State Police is shocking! Little Richard's description of R&B as "Real Black" music has them all in stitches! We also see Chuck playing boogie woogie piano with Little Richard, another insight!
The other two parts deal with Robbie Robertson from the Band going through an old scrapbook, which had been in a fire, and bascially interviewing him. He touches gently on Berry's prison experience (which he had done 3 different stints)and the final section "Chuckisms" is, as previous reviews have said-very interesting and moving with Robertson's gentle guitar backround.
Disc 4 has three-and-a-half hours of historical interviews with the founders of Rock and Roll, modern pop music and the recording industry. All fascinating and compelling viewing. The sound on all these discs is superb, the editing great and the colour is magnificent.
This film was made by Taylor Hackford, who introduces each section of each disc in an interesting way that makes you want to view it, is a great documentary filmmaker. He goes back to the 1960s and many documentary specials on US TV. His latest film "Ray" of course got him the recognition he deserves. Get this DVD and get the 4 discs pay the little extra money and get hours more enjoyment from a film about an American institution. This is probably the music release of 2006!
I've seen and heard this new DVD - INCREDIBLE!!!
bass boy | Arkansas | 05/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a wonderful restoration of the great 1987 film that celebrated Chuck Berry's 60th birthday, as well as his past and his massive, yet-underappreciated influence on rock and pop music. There is still some grain to be seen, but it's the age of the film. The colors, like on George Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" DVD reissue, are amazing. They jump out at you, and the sound is great.
And for those of you who don't know Berry's immense gift for words, check out the extra on disc 3 (or 4?) where he and former Band guitarist Robbie Robertson thumb through Berry's scapbook. The scene where Robertson is softly strumming an acoustic guitar while Berry miraculously recites his own poetry - and this is POETRY that none of us have heard, and they're mini-stories that are even better than his great song lyrics from the 1950s and 1960s - is mezmerizing beyond belief. If there was an award for Best Actor for A Musician in a DVD Deleted Scene Categroy at the Academy Awards, Berry would win without a doubt. It's simply arresting, so much as the usually talkative Robertson is speechless while the usually tough, evasive Berry pours out his soul in front of the camera.
Five stars for a terrific concert film/birthday celebration packed to the gills with hours of extras! Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry!
Oh, and the scene where Berry tries to get Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, the film and concert's band director, to switch keys from C down to B-flat in the beginning of a song (Richards boldly frowns and tells his hero, "No!") near the beginning of the concert finale is awesome. I guess it's payback since Berry was the only man who ever punched Keith Richards and got away with it.
Great for all who like rock (and roll) music
Robin C. Smith | Westchester County, NY, United States | 06/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a lovely account of Chuck Berry as told by himself and many other famous musicians (Keith Richards, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen etc. etc.) as they prepare for a concert with a Keith Richards-organized band. What I think is unusual about it and what makes it one of the best "rock films" is that it clearly also presents Chuck as the often-difficult character he clearly is instead of being a hagiography. In fact, knowing this and seeing his humanity, makes the music all the more powerful. Keith Richards (as so often) is priceless, his musical contribution is superb. Chuck "correcting" Keith on his intro to "O Carol" is wonderful. Can you hear the difference between his and Chuck's rendition? The final concert is superb with all the guest stars appearing and keeping a lowish profile. The stars are Berry and, even though he tries very hard not to overshadow the man, Richards who shows us (once again) that there is no one who plays Chuck Berry better than Keith.I recommend it to any one who likes rock music. Berry is a giant and here he is with other giants. Of course now it needs to be on DVD...."
A fun, in-depth documentary of a huge cultural force
Blues for Breakfast | New York | 03/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sure you could buy the soundtrack, but in the movie there's more, besides the amazing visual element. A lot of the fun of the movie is in the rehearsal and interview parts. A great moment comes in a rehearsal where the band is playing the standard "I'm through with Love," which doesn't appear on the soundtrack. Keith Richards offers the most soulful guitar perhaps of his career on the track, after which Berry looks at him and says "you sure play some pretty chords for a rock and roller." Keith appears genuinely humbled by the praise from Berry, whom he reveres. Berry continues with the ultimate compliment: "You shoulda been a jazz musician Jack." Richards, still sheepish but more composed, replies with a sharp smile: "There's no money in it Chuck, there's no money in it." In addition to the beautiful chords, this scene vividly demonstrates the artists' mutual respect and common vernacular, and signifies in a small way the true passing of a musical tradition across years, races, and continents."