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27th March 2017

Q: In your opinion, was he the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll?


BP: Well if not the father then at least one of the people that was at Ground Zero. Everything really came out of Memphis, St. Louis or Chicago. In Memphis you had Sam Phillips and Sun Records and in Chicago you had Chess Records. And in the mid-western states at that time you had radio, which was pretty close to its apex, and the population in that area is being blasted with black R& B stations and white C & W stations. Kids didn’t care if it was black or white – the parents did but the kids didn’t –and if you take those two things and mix them up you get Chuck Berry. He deliberately tried to sing in a smoother voice than a lot of his black contemporaries such as Big Joe Turner or Little Richard. If you listen to those guys and compare it to Chuck’s voice, you can hear exactly what Chuck is saying whereas with some of those others, you can’t. Nat King Cole was one of Chuck’s heroes and his voice influenced him. Chuck, like any great innovator, wasn’t unique. All he did was take all of these things from different places and put them together in a new package.


Q: Such as the intro to Roll Over Beethoven.


CB: Chuck took that from Carl Hogan, who was Louis Jordan’s guitar player but Chuck played it on two strings instead of a single string, which he learnt from T. Bone Walker and, to a greater extent, Goree Carter who was a Texas R & B guitar player. He also got the distortion from Goree Carter, too. What you have to remember about all of that is that up until Chuck, the guitar was not a prominent instrument in pop music. You had people like Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian who were playing jazz, and they would play solos in songs but they were all played on one string. Generally a guitar couldn’t compete with a horn section, which could be ten pieces, so you had to wait until at least the late forties and the advent of electrified instruments for the guitar to become significant. Then you had Ike Turner who punched a whole in a speaker to create distortion and a few others cottoned on to that. What Chuck did was bring it all together into one package. That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll in my opinion.


Q: So if not the Father of Rock ‘n Roll, the Father of Rock Guitar.


BP: That I would not argue with one jot, and I don’t think anybody else would either. He gave the guitar a vocabulary, which other guitarists went on and extended, but he invented that.


Q: He had a reputation for being difficult to work with. The stories of the band hired to play his songs and not being given a set list, etc…why was that?


BP: It really starts off with him being a black musician playing in the south of America in the 1950s. He had a couple of guys that managed him for a very brief amount of time and he caught them ripping him off. They would get a head-count at the theatre or wherever he was playing and tell Chuck they were under the head-count and pay him a lot less than his guarantee. He fired them and went out on his own after that and once you do that, you are incredibly vulnerable. As a performer, you stand on a stage and you get a good sense of how many people are out there—50, 75, 100, whatever—and you do a quick head-count and multiply that by what the owner is charging on the door and you come up with a figure. Chuck was very good at maths so at the end of the show he knew that he wasn’t getting his fair share. Add that to the indignities of a black musician playing in the south. Chuck used to over-expose his publicity photos deliberately so that promoters thought they were booking a white act which pissed people off. He got humiliated by crowds; if he made eye contact with a white woman he could get chased out of town. Gradually he learnt to put a mask on and that mask was to be an ornery bastard. Later on he got a bit more savvy about that a developed performance contracts that had very stringent riders. He stipulated exactly what amp he wanted on stage, how long the performance was going to be, and even if the promoter wanted an encore, the promoter would have to pay extra. All of those things were there for his protection and once the word is out to the industry that you are difficult to work with, people approach you differently. Then when he went to jail in 1961 on which was essentially a trumped-up charge, he comes out and Carl Perkins made the famous quote of ‘I’ve never seen a man so changed.’ I personally don’t think it was jail that changed him; I think it was just one more thing. The straw that broke the camel’s back so-to-speak. Don’t forget that when Elvis played, he had an entourage to walk in with; Chuck didn’t even have a band! I can’t imagine how vulnerable he must have felt although we do know that he travelled with a loaded handgun I his car.


Q: You met him – how was he to you?


BP: Well I was just a fan back then. The first time I met him I wasn’t writing the biography but the second time I was and he was very, very aloof because he knew what I was doing. He refused to look into the camera when I had a photograph taken [which is the photo you see here]. I reached out to him a few times, talked to his son, got his sister Lucy out of the shower with a phone call — she was not pleased — they all shut me out of the whole project but I expected that. Chuck didn’t want anybody to enter his world unless it was on his terms.


Q: You have since received praised from him for your book though haven’t you?


BP: He himself didn’t say that but I interviewed a number of people that are incredibly close to him. For example, I talked to Billy Peek, who went on to become Rod Stewart’s guitarist, and he liked it, and Joe Edwards, who owns Blueberry Hill restaurant in St. Louis and knew Chuck, well said it was about as close as anyone was ever going to get. 


Q: How’s Chuck’s autobiography?


BP: Brilliant! Take it with a grain of salt, as you should with every autobiography, but it’s not so much what he wrote but the way he wrote it. It’s 250 pages of “Johnny B. Goode” – written the way he writes a song. He’s fairly forthcoming in it, but of course he only tells you what he wants you to know. And it was written in 1986, before all the tempestuous stuff in the 90s and Johnnie Johnson suing Chuck in 2000.


Q: Was “Johnny B. Goode” written for Johnnie Johnson?


BP: I don’t think so. I think it was written about Chuck. The phrase “Johnnie B. Goode” comes from the time he was on the road with Johnnie and Johnnie was quite a drinker in his day and would show up for gigs pissed and Chuck would say “Come on Johnnie, be good.”But something I uncovered in my research was that Langston Hughes, one of the great Black writers in the 30s/40s/50s, had a column in the Chicago Tribune called “Jesse B. Simple,” which centered around a black everyman who spoke about the black experience. I think that’s what “Johnny B. Goode” was really about – the fact that you can be a black kid from a black neighborhood in St. Louis and rise to the top.


Q: “School Days” and “No Particular Place To Go” are rather similar: was he the first guy to copy himself?


BP: Ha ha! Well Chuck’s songs are all really simple, and he never really wanted to stretch himself. He never got to the level where he could do a Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds or Tommy – that was just beyond his limit. When he came out of prison in 1963, he just grafted the lyrics he had written in there onto existing songs. That was just his way of doing it. His lyrics from ‘64/’65 were just incredible: “Nadine,”“No Particular Place To Go,”“Promised Land,”“C’est La Vie” were all just brilliant songs.


Q: Probably his finest lyrically.


BP: I wouldn’t disagree with that.


Q: Did he have a guitar in prison?


BP: I don’t know, but I can tell you one thing about his time in prison which is in his autobiography. He was writing the lyrics to “Promised Land” and he went to the prison library and asked if he could see a map of the USA to make sure the journey he describes in the song was accurate. And the guards refused to let him see one, because they thought he was going to break out and make a run for it! (laughs)


Q: Bruce, thanks very much for this


BP: My pleasure mate. Speak soon.


Further reading:



ブルース・ペグ インタビュー





Q:「Roll Over Beethoven」のイントロのような、ね。
















BP:素晴らしいよ!すべての自伝には、眉唾なところもあるのが普通なんだけど、チャックのは、書いてある内容じゃなくて、書き方が素晴らしいんだよ。「Johnny B. Goode」のことで250ページもあるんだ。まるで曲を書くかのように、溢れ出てきている感じなんだ。彼という人は社交的だったけど、でももちろん書きたいことしか書いていない。1986年に書かれたものだから、90年代のゴタゴタや2000年にジョニー・ジョンソンがチャックを訴えたことなんかは書かれていないんだ。


Q:「Johnny B. Goode」は、ジョニー・ジョンソンのことを書いたのですか?

BP:いや、そうは思わないね。あれは自分自身のことを書いたんだと思う。「Johnnie B. Goode」という言い回しは、彼がジョニーとツアーしている時に生まれたんだ。ジョニーが一日中酒ばかり飲んでいて、ステージに上がると小便を漏らしていたんだ。それでチャックが、「おい、ジョニー。しっかりしろよ。」って。僕が調査したところでは、ラングストン・ヒューズという30年代から50年代に活躍した立派な黒人記者がいたんだけど、彼がシカゴ・トリビューン紙にコラム欄を持っていて、黒人社会の中心人物だったジェシ・B.シンプルを呼んで、黒人ならではの体験を聞いたんだ。「Johnny B. Goode」 もそんな話だと思うんだ。セントルイスの黒人貧民街に生まれた黒人のガキがのし上がっていく、という話だよ。


Q:「School Days」や「No Particular Place To Go」も同じような感じです。彼自身、自分の作品を使い回していたのでしょうか?

BP:ははは・・!チャックの曲はどれもシンプルで、曲を進化させようなんて思ってもいなかった。彼には「サージェント・ペパー」も「ペット・サウンズ」も「トミー」も作れなかったんだ。彼の限界以上のことだからね。1963年に刑務所から出てきた時、既存の曲の歌詞を書き換えた、それが彼のやり方さ。64年、65年頃の彼の歌詞は素晴らしい。 「Nadine」、「No Particular Place To Go」、「Promised Land」、「C’est La Vie」なんて素晴らしいとしか言いようがないね。






BP:確信はないんだけど、彼の自伝に書いてある刑務所時代の話なんだが、「Promised Land」の歌詞のヒントにはなったそうだ。刑務所の図書館に行って、アメリカ地図を貸してくれと頼んだそうなんだけど、スタッフに断られたんだ。彼らはチャックが地図を破って逃げ去ると思ったそうだよ!(笑)




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