On Saturday, Rock and Roll pioneer and legend Chuck Berry died in St. Louis at the age of 90.
As tributes to the songwriter behind the likes of “Johnny B. Goode,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” Too Much Monkey Business” and many others poured in from rock luminaries, one with a Swallow Hill Music connection caught our eye.
On Facebook, our very own harmonica instructor Clay Kirkland shared his memories of jumping onstage with Berry at a festival in August 1970.
In his post, Clay remembers the Youth International Party (Yippies) festival at the Chuck Berry’s amusement park in Wentzville, MO, not far from St. Louis. Clay’s first band – which also included Swallow Hill instructor Neil Haverstick – was on the bill for that day’s musical entertainment. As they were a blues band, Clay worked with the promoter to see if they could back up Berry. Berry agreed – but only to playing with the band’s drummer and bass player.
Clay and Neil watched Berry’s set from the side of the stage, when, according to Clay:
Chuck starts a blues, I jump onstage and grab a mic. Chuck hollers, “where is that harmonica player, get up here.” He gives me a solo. I had just learned my first high, fast lick and I’m reaming it for all it’s worth. Chuck Berry has an arm around my shoulders hollering, “Get it, get it!” The crowd is cheering, the cameras are flashing. Life as it should be.
“My jumping onstage was spontaneous and certainly not protocol,” Clay recalled further in an email. “I could have been kicked off by the stage hands.”
Clay admits “I would not be so audacious these days” to jump onstage, however, he also admits “I am really glad I did jump up and glad Chuck was so generous to me.”
To this day Clay is still “bummed” that Neil was not able to join him in playing with the legend. But overall, “That was a cool moment, with Neil and (friend and pianist) Bob Lohr and me standing there together adulating Chuck Berry, young and green as we could be, still learning how to play, and now to see where our hard work led us.”
Here is the full-text of Clay’s post recounting playing with Chuck Berry.
In honor of the late Chuck Berry here is my story. August, 1970, Youth International Party (Yippies) festival, Chuck Berry Amusement Park, Wentzville MO. My first band is on the bill. The promoter says since we are a blues band he and I are going up to talk to Chuck to see if he will play a set with us backing him up. Chuck says yes, but all he needs of our band is bass and drums. Standing by the stage watching them play are me, our guitarist, Neil Haverstick, and our pianist friend Bob Lohr. Chuck starts a blues, I jump onstage and grab a mic. Chuck hollers, “where is that harmonica player, get up here”. He gives me a solo. I had just learned my first high, fast lick and I’m reaming it for all it’s worth. Chuck Berry has an arm around my shoulders hollering, “Get it, get it!” The crowd is cheering, the cameras are flashing. Life as it should be. Bob Lohr, years later, becomes pianist for Chuck Berry for 18 years. Neil Haverstick has earned awards from Guitar Player Magazine and rave reviews from Downbeat. What a blessing to have such great memories of when we were just starting our careers. What a blessing to have such a great inspiration as Chuck Berry.
Unfortunately no recordings exist from that day. So we’ll leave you with some live video clips of Chuck Berry showing the world how it’s done. Hail! Hail Rock and Roll!
Posted by Swallow Hill Music Marketing Manager Barry Osborne