I confess, I probably wouldn’t have read it had I not seen Bob Dylan reading it backstage. It was Chuck Berry’s new book. I immediately bought it and devoured it. Not long after, Berry played a club in New York City and I was asked to introduce him onstage as part of my DJ duties as “The Rock and Roll Madame” on K-ROCK (WXRK). Hearing of his passing at age 90 brought back memories of one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. When I took out my signed copy of Chuck Berry: The Autobiography I was not expecting to find my notes tucked in the flap.
On women: “I’d take out her garbage every day just to be near her.” “A major monument in my memorial of love.” “(They came to) mold the cast that shaped my heart.” He called not using a condom “wading nude in the nest.”
There was an attractive blonde with him the night I saw him play. There had been no pre-show meet-and-greet, no photo op before I introduced him to the pumped house—though somewhere along the line I thrust his book in front of him and he graciously signed it. The local pick-up band (who never met him) were thrilled, Chuck gave the crowd his all, the blonde gave him a signal and they disappeared.
On the hold-up that put him jail: “I was as nervous as a billy goat on a freeway…my nerves were wrapped around my liver.”
His car was “a place to base for face to face.”
An original voice crackles in memoirs that are written by great artists who are not authors. There’s usually a pro involved to shape it and smooth the rough edges but this one opens with: This book is entirely written, phrase by phrase, by yours truly Chuck Berry.
Berry was famous for getting paid up front in “stacked, packed, greenback dollars.” His motto was “a dollar saved is a dollar made.” I hope he left his widow a wealthy woman after what she must have endured. His Acknowledgements page ends with: “All of the above could not possibly have surfaced without the patience that Themetta has shared with me.” That would be Themetta “Toddy” Suggs who he married in 1948. He was a janitor when they met. They were still married, 68 years later, when he died.
When is her memoir coming out? For great photos of them click HERE.
In addition to listening to his music in his honor, spin a few that he loved to play on a jukebox.
St. Louis Jimmy “Going Down Slow”
Big Maceo “Worried Life Blues”
Lil Green “In the Dark”
Bea Boo “C.C. Rider”
Buddy and Ella Johnson “Please Mr. Johnson”
Ella Fitzgerald “Tisket a Tasket”