When I was seven-years old I had a Kool-Aid stand and with my profits bought my very first album -- The Beatles' Second Album. I remember walking the several blocks to the Acme store and praying that they still had a copy in the album rack. They did. I couldn't wait to get home and play it on my portable record player. I carefully placed the needle on the very first track on side one of that magnificent album and... my life would forever be devoted to music in some shape or form. On that beloved album, the very first track was my favorite song -- "Roll Over Beethoven" -- by one Mr. Chuck Berry. At the time, I had no idea who wrote the song nor much cared. It was all about The Beatles. But as almost everyone knows, Chuck Berry wrote and recorded it years earlier. And it would take me several years and thousands of hours of listening to rock music later to understand how important Chuck Berry was to the genre. In fact, I would better understand his place in music history from the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. And while I always liked the Dead's version of "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck's original is still tops. Believe it or not, decades later I actually would meet him in person. And what a meeting it was.
Fast forward to 1985... I lived across the street from the rock legend in the Loz Feliz neighborhood of West Hollywood on Hollyridge Drive. Chuck had this sprawling Mediterranean-style mansion with an unused, near-perfect tennis court. I was a young television variety agent at William Morris in Beverly Hills. And I was playing tennis a few times a week, when my busy schedule afforded me any free time. I heard through the neighborhood grapevine that he didn't even play tennis. Moreover, as far as I could tell, Mr. Berry was never home. I wanted to play on his court, but I knew that it would not have been kosher to play on Chuck Berry's court without his consent. He was Chuck Berry, dammit. But I knew I had an in with him. One day at the office I asked music agent Dick Allen, who use to book him in the '60s, if he would ask him or his manager for me. (That was pretty ballsy, right?) Dick told me just look for his RV/camper, because sooner or later it would show up, and ask him yourself. Chuck didn't like to fly, preferred the RV/camper as his primary mode of transportation between his home in St. Louis and his place in LA. As fate would dictate, one sunny Saturday I spied the RV parked in the driveway, so I stroll over around noon, knock on the door, and... a few minute later, Chuck looking dapper in his silk PJs answers the door flanked by two beautiful young ladies (twins) on either arm and asks we what I wanted. I introduce myself as his neighbor and a William Morris agent, friends with Dick Allen, and an avid tennis player. "Might I use your court when you're not home? I'll take excellent care of it." "No problem. Use it now," says Mr. Berry. I was gobsmacked. I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. So was he, And so were the two young ladies with him. I thanked him, he nodded and closed the door. All hail, rock 'n' roll!
Mr. Berry, your music, style and legacy live on. You started a revolution with you electric guitar playing and timeless tunes. RIP. And don't forget to tell Tchaikovsky the news.