“The film director Taylor Hackford was directing this great documentary called Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. The film, which chronicled two gigs at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, celebrated the great Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday. At the gigs, guest musicians such as Eric Clapton, Etta James and Linda Ronstadt performed. It was a great honour being there, Berry was a hero, but the real thrill was being able to take photos behind the scenes.
“Chuck Berry was notorious for being a bit difficult to work with. He’s a genius, no doubt about it, and the man had been working non-stop since the late 1940s. Plus he had personal problems bad enough to make any head spin. But he was happiest when he was with musicians and he had a guitar in his hands. During those moments, there was no stress, no tension, no anger—it was just the man and the music.
“It was Chuck Berry and others of that incredible ’50s rock/blues era who inspired many of the musicians of the 1960s—notably The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. The Rolling Stones even opened for Chuck Berry way back in 1963—long before The Stones were household names.
“During those rehearsals, Berry was happiest when he was on stage; as long as Berry was running the show. I remember witnessing a few arguments between Berry and Keith Richards and the guest musicians. Most notably, I clearly remember Berry bickering at Richards over who was going to play rhythm and who was going to play lead.
“By the way, Berry is the lead. Always was, always will be.”