I touched on this story briefly on the show today, and I should probably save it for my book, but I'm feeling generous and inspired today, so I'll tell you about the evening when I thought I might meet my demise at the hands of Rock n Roll Hall of Famer, one of the father's of Rock music, Chuck Berry.
It was the mid 80's and I was working at WWWHB, or HB 107,located in Hampton Bays, Long Island...a big party town in the Summer and a sleepy fishermen's village off-season. At one point the station was owned by singer/songwriter Paul Simon and SNL creator Lorne Michaels. The less said about their abilities as radio station executives the better, although I have TONS of respect for their work in their respective fields.
As is usually the case...I did most of the personal appearances for HB 107, and I was a particular favorite of the two guys who ran Baystreet Nightclub in Sag Harbor, so I was delighted when they asked me to host, as I'd never seen Chuck Berry up close before, only at a Madison Square Garden "Legends of Rock" show. And best of all...they were doing a late and early show...so two doses of Chuck. What could be better right?
First show went off without a hitch...Hit after hit...a tad sloppy as Chuck can be, because he always played with a pick-up band with no rehearsal. Chuck drives himself to the gig, brings his guitar, plugs in and plays. It's up to the hired hands to keep up, in this case two Reggae musicians from the band Moja Nya. It was far from perfect, but it was awesome to introduce a legend, and watch him perform...And yes, we did get a duck walk!
The audience from the first show leaves, and club employees start cleaning up and getting the tables ready for the next show, as I hang out backstage and listen to the dance music pumped in by the club managers/DJ's. About 20 minutes into intermission and a good half hour/ 40 minutes before the 2nd show is scheduled to start...Chuck appears side stage, and tells me to introduce him, and bring him on stage. Mind you, the club is virtually empty, just a few paying customers have arrived for the 2nd show. I explain this to Mr. Berry, and tell him I'll go speak to the managers. When I tell the managers Chuck wants to go on now, they go crazy and tell me "NO WAY...WE CAN'T START FOR ANOTHER HALF HOUR OR WE'LL LOSE A FORTUNE."
And here's where things got tense. I returned to Chuck and told him that we were waiting for the 2nd audience to arrive so he'd have an audience to play for, but he wasn't having it. You see, the club tried to pull a fast one. They paid Chuck to do TWO sets for ONE paying audience...But they were charging separate admission for the 2nd show, and Chuck wasn't getting his cut, and he was pissed. Keep in mind, this is a man who for the better part of 30 years at that point, had been getting ripped off by the "Man," and here it was happening again. And this chicken-shit 25 year old DJ was taking the brunt of the venom from one angry legend. I was so intimidated. I mean, this is one of "THE GUYS." He stared at me with a hateful gaze I'll never forget, and he said to me.....
(Photo: Michael Ochs-Getty Images)
"Boy, you get up on that stage right now and introduce me...or I'm walking out of here." So I reluctantly walked up to the microphone as Chuck loomed behind me, and with the club managers waving at me furiously to stop, I did the only thing I could...I introduced Chuck Berry to the ten or so people in attendance, walked off stage and got in my car and drove home. Didn't bother picking up my talent fee, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
People often ask me my greatest Rock n Roll memory...It isn't the thousands of concerts I've seen, or the bands I've met. It's being called "boy" by the one and only Chuck Berry.