What you’re looking at in the accompanying pictures are my own personal copies of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” 45, and the Rockin’ Berries cardboard bound EP.
I got these both signed around 1990. We (Del-Lords) opened for him at what had been Studio 54, and was now the home of the Ritz. We were in our dressing room when there was a knock on the door. Lo and behold, it was Chuck Berry himself! Chuck had on a wife-beater (God, i hate that term!!) t-shirt and a towel around his neck. He said the hot water in his dressing room was not working, and would it be ok if he used ours. Well, we were completely speechless, and blown back around 100 yards, but i managed to say, “Well, you’re Chuck Berry, and that means, absolutely, of course you can, sir!”. He smiled and came on in. We all looked at each other in disbelief, grinning ear-to-ear. When Chuck came out of the bathroom, he just sat down on the couch, and started asking us about who we are, what kind of music we played, and this and that. We told him that he loomed very large in our music, indeed, and was a lifelong hero and influence. Which, of course, he is!
I know how hard it seems to be for him to ever acknowledge the supernatural artistry of his music and his writing and his playing, as he usually just throws out something to the effect of, “Well, it’s what the kids wanted to hear”. As if that was all there was to it. But, i took a shot anyway. First i asked him about the Country influence in his songs. To me, that influence is more than obvious, but i have had this argument before. He said how much he loved Hank Williams, and what a gigantic influence he was on his own writing, and how all anyone had to do was listen to Maybelline, or Nadine, and that bass line is pretty much a Country music cliche. I was very satisfied with his answer, and couldn’t wait to tell those who argued that Country had nothing to do with Chuck’s music.
We talked about BB King, Lonnie Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Keith Richards, Charlie Patton, and plenty more, and he seemed satisfied that we knew our shit, and that made him relax even more. He was almost horizontal from leaning so far back in the big couch. He hung around for about twenty minutes or so, but before he left i whipped these two records out. I had brought them just in case i could get him to sign them. I expected nothing but instead i got this! I have never been shy about asking for autographs, and have a small but very prestigious (if i do say so myself) autographed LP collection. This seemed like a now or never moment for me, and i grabbed it. He could not have been sweeter, or more gracious. He was funny, too, and came off like your next door neighbor – if your neighbor was a raving guitar playing genius who changed popular music by inventing an entire genre, and was just this side of God. Just your average Holy Man ready to ply his trade one more time.
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner is a founding member of the Dictators and the Del-Lords.