When Hard Rock Cafe first opened its doors on Shaikh Zayed Road in 1998, exactly 19 years ago to the month, Chuck Berry was the opening act.
It was March 5. Berry had scheduled the international tour date between two hometown shows in St. Louis, Missouri. He had long-time bassist Jim Marsala by his side. Ten years later, in 2008, Hard Rock Cafe faced closure. One Gulf News reader by the name of Sue looked back on Berry’s performance.
“The opening night of the Hard Rock Cafe was one I shall never forget. The ‘old rocker’ Chuck Berry, then a sprightly 72-year-old, took to the stage and set us all alight with his special brand of music. It was almost certainly one of the highlights of living in Dubai for 25 years,” she wrote in a comment online.
MUSIC IS MUSIC
Berry’s legacy still lives at Hard Rock Cafe’s new location in Dubai Festival City. A section of the restaurant is named the Chuck Berry Lounge in his honour, and a jacket signed by him is proudly displayed. Berry, a pioneer in the genre, was one of the first inductees into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame.
“You can’t change rock and say,; well this is punk rock and this is acid rock or rockabilly’,” he said in an NBC interview.
“Music is music and I think music people are the [deliverers], the actors. When they put their music out they want to insert their character in it. So they call it such and such so you know how they live so to speak,” he added.
BERRY OR BUST
A master guitarist, Berry had a demonstrable impact on those who came after him. His influence reached far and wide.
“When I was 15, I decided the guitar was the instrument for me,” said Jimi Hendrix in a 1967 interview. “Then I got tired of the guitar and put it aside, but when I heard Chuck Berry, it revived my interest. I learned all the riffs I could.”
The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards inducted Berry into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, saying, “It’s very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry because I’ve lifted every lick he ever played. This is the gentleman who started it all.”
Richards later recalled getting punched by Berry because he couldn’t resist the urge to play a chord on Berry’s guitar backstage.
“[His] guitar was laid out in its case like, ‘Aw, come on, Keith. Just a touch. Just let me give it an E chord.’ He walks in and goes, ‘Nobody touches my guitar!’”
Eric Clapton doubted whether or not Berry knew how many people loved his songs. He noted that Berry regarded himself as a performer and entertainer, perhaps insecure in his songwriting abilities. Nevertheless, if someone wanted to play rock ‘n roll or upbeat music, they would end up playing like Berry, or what they learnt from Berry.
“Because there is very little other choice,” said Clapton. “There’s not a lot of other ways to play rock ‘n roll other than the way Chuck plays it.”
Berry, born to a middle-class family in Missouri, had singular focus and drive. He was amazed to hear people say they wanted to “find out” who they were, he told Esquire. “I always knew who I was. I was going to be famous if it killed me,” he said.
“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” John Lennon once famously said. He also called Berry one of the all-time great poets.
“We all owe a lot to him, including [Bob] Dylan. In the fifties, when people were virtually singing about nothing, Chuck Berry was writing social-comment songs, with incredible metre to his lyrics,” said Lennon.
“[Chuck] was the first one who really told stories,” noted Motorhead guitarist Lemmy Kilmister, who died aged 70 in 2015. “Berry always had humour even though he was going through [expletive] in his life.”