There were two videos that I wore out when I was a kid – Back to the Future and Crossroads. Pirated from TV, I can tell you now by watching the “unpirated” versions, where the commercials kicked in and where the “tracking” needed adjusting. Oh the wonders of video! Definitely not the most discrete way to loop over a nudie shot as a curious 11 year old.
It was no surprise as an aspiring guitarist, that the video quality turned particularly poor during the scene where Michael J Fox is cutting up his fretboard on stage at “The Enchantment under the Sea Dance” on Johnny B Goode. “Blues riff in B, watch me for the changes and try and keep up okay..” BOOM! My brother and I use to act out that scene in the living room using the couches and my guitar as props. We’d mimic Fox as he turned “Van Halen” on 1955 – rolling around the stage and kicking his amp over. It only heightened my fascination with guitar.
Fast forward to Zurich in 1994. I played a festival called Out in the Green. It was the biggest festival I had ever played. Straight from a tiny San Fran Blues Club called “Blues at Lous”. I don’t know why the bookers of the festival felt that they needed an instrumental blues act to kill time on the main stage after Elton John and before Page and Plant. Either way…I was shitting myself! I’ll pull apart my memories of this festival in more detail at a later time. It left an incredible impression on me.
The next day, we were chilling out back stage when my manager came up to me and said that Chuck Berry would like to have a private lunch. Now, this is one of the many moments where I had little clue as to how big of a deal that was. For a 12 year old, I knew who Pamela Anderson was, but no clue who Led Zeppelin were. I knew who Ugly Kid Joe was, but no idea who Buddy Guy or Otis Rush were. This was almost one of those moments. I did kind of know who Chuck Berry was. Well, at least I thought I knew. I kick myself whenever I reflect on this moment. I’m kicking myself because I didn’t remember the conversation. I remember that they had organised a table for the two of us in the catering area. I distinctly remember he was eating some sort of creamy salad. Like a coleslaw or something because it accompanied his animated mouth during conversation. He was a character and a tonne of vibe. Incredibly smiley and passionate and very curious in me. Whilst I don’t quite remember the details of our conversation outside of music banter, his energy was contagious. After we finished up with much love, I remember walking out thinking, “Wow! I just met the guy who did a cover of Michael J Fox’s “”Johnny B Goode!”.. Ha!
I look back on these moments and wonder whether they would have been as magical if I knew exactly who I was playing/talking with. Don’t get me wrong, I was never ever precocious or disrespectful, I just didn’t know any better. I learned a lot from being like that. I wasn’t blocked by fear or nerves or awe or expectation, just a sponge wanting to soak up as much about music and music lifestyle as possible. Even if it went down the wrong way.
I later watched Chuck Berry rocking out on stage in front of 60,000 people, singing with a smile and in love with every moment that he was on stage. It just proved that you don’t have to be frowning on stage to look cool!