Chuck Berry - Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll
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The unforgettable life and music of pioneering legend Chuck Berry are celebrated in this landmark feature film, capturing a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of rock and roll's finest! In 1986, Keith Richards invited a roster of great musicians to honor Chuck Berry for an evening of music to commemorate Berry's 60th birthday, including performances by Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Linda Rondstadt, Etta James and Julian Lennon, along with archival footage of an unforgettable duet by Chuck and John Lennon! Also featuring insightful interviews with many of the original creators of rock and roll: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley, The Everly Bros, and Willie Dixon. This dynamite crowd pleaser from director Taylor Hackford (Ray) will keep your toes tapping and your soul rocking all night long! DISC ONE: The feature film, presented in a new anamorphic widescreen transfer with spectacular new DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, plus the original Dolby Stereo theatrical mix with a new introduction to the film by director Taylor Hackford and two theatrical trailers. DISC TWO: 54 minutes of never-before-seen Chuck Berry rehearsals in DTS and 5.1 audio: "Guitar Jam" (with Keith Richards and Eric Clapton), "Mean Old World" (with solos by Eric Clapton, Johnnie Johnson, and Chuck Lavell), "Understand Each Other" (with Eric Clapton), "Hoochie Coochie Gal" (with Etta James), and "Standards Medley" (with Johnnie Johnson)! Plus ... "The Reluctant Movie Star," a one-hour documentary covering the making of the film.
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
What makes this work so worthwhile is that its four discs cover a great deal of territory. Disc # 1 is the concert film. Disc # 2 features some rehearsals plus a video on the "making of the concert," with illuminating glimpses of the complex person who is Chuck Berry. Discs # 3 and # 4 feature reflections by some of the founders of rock and roll (Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, for instance), a conversation between Robbie Robertson and Berry, and so on.
The first disc is the concert film. It opens with some background on Chuck Berry, including a rendering of his early singing at the "Cosmo" in East St. Louis, with Berry actually singing in the wreck of the old building that remained. He retained his work as a carpenter and painter until the money from singing made it safe to give up those trades. Nice bits include: Bo Diddley and Little Richard talking about Berry's and their role in early rock and roll; Bruce Springsteen talking of the one time when he and his band backed Berry in a concert. Keith Richards was the musical director of this effort, culminating in a concert at the Fox Theatre. The disc amply portrays the sometime tension between Richards and Berry and the sometimes bond between them. There is also a nice bit, with Eric Clapton wondering about the forces leading to Berry's mercurial behavior. There are also nice interviews with Willie Dixon (who sometimes backed Berry on recordings) and Berry's family and Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison..
The concert itself? It includes nice versions of many of Berry's greatest hits (although it must be noted that he had little voice left, after having blown his voice out in a gig just before the concert itself; he rerecorded his singing later on, so that the concert as recorded does not give us his singing at the concert itself--but a later recording). Some of the songs: "Roll over Beethoven," "Back in the USA" (sung by Linda Ronstadt), "Sweet Little Sixteen," Johnny B. Goode" (sung by Julian Lennon), "Rock and Roll Music" (rollickingly sung by Etta James), and so on.
As a concert film, it is top notch, well worth exploring (despite the need to have Berry rerecord his singing at a later date to be dubbed into the film).
Disc # 2 is also exemplary. It begins with several rehearsal cuts. There is a guitar jam to start, with Richards, Clapton, and Berry taking turns at guitar licks. There is a bit that is very nice where Johnnie Johnson (one of Berry's original band mates when he was starting out) starts vamping on piano; Clapton and others join in; Berry returns to the stage from the audience and sings a great blues turn. Finally, Etta James does a wonderful job in "Hootchie Cootchie Gal."
There follows a film about the making of the concert. One gets a much clearer picture of Berry-the-person, warts and all. His mania for money is well portrayed. The difficulties in preparing for the concert and in filming aspects of the concert film are worth viewing. There is a nice discussion of the alpha male conflict between Richards and Berry. There is measured discussion of Berry's times in prison. All in all, an illuminating disc.
This review is already too long, so Discs # 3 and # 4 are not covered. But they, too, add heft to the understanding of Chuck Berry and the origins of rock and roll.
A very well done opus.
If you don't already have this 2007 Re-Issue of this great film then do yourself a favor.
The film is spectacular as is the Chuck Berry interviews and also interviews with Bo Didley and Little Richard.
I can't emphasize how good this is as a music concert, documentary and artifact of real rock and roll.
The 2nd DVD contains a wealth of out-takes and further revealing interviews.
I wanted to add, I bought the "deluxe" version which has a separate disc including about the making of the documentary. Interesting stuff if you would like a closer look at how Chuck Berry is, and what a challenge he was for these folks to work with. I love the scenes that show him sitting by himself quietly playing jazz standards.
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