Approximately a year and a half since
the once-in-a-lifetime double-billing of Chuck Berry and James
Brown at the Tokyo International Forum, the King of Rock 'n'
Roll returns for what may prove to be an exhausting three successive
nights of gigs at the midsized Akasaka Blitz.
Berry was 75 the last time he was in Japan, and will be pushing
77 this go 'round (his birthday is October 18). Compared to
Brown, 68 at the time, Berry seemed markedly slowed at the TIF.
The legendary "duck walk" was a shadow of its former
self, and at one point he had to take a break in the middle
of his set for a trip to the toilet (Berry claimed this was
But notwithstanding the humiliations of old age, Berry's humor
and repertory of sly, salacious rhythm-and-blues numbers were
intact. So if you want to hear seminal songs like "Johnny
B. Goode" and "Roll Over Beethoven" sung by the
man who penned them, this is your chance (let's not say last).
The ultimate journeyman rock 'n' roller, Berry will gig anywhere,
and reportedly gets a cool $35,000 per appearance. He only requires
two things: a Lincoln Town Car and a Fender Bassman amp. If
a promoter shows up with a Mercedes, Berry told Rolling Stone,
he responds: "I didn't say better, I said a Lincoln. If
they do not provide, there is a $2,000 fine."
The article also reported that Berry was at work on his first
album of original material in decades, but at this writing nothing
seems to have materialized. Berry, according to Rolling Stone,
explained his reluctance to release a new album, showing a surprisingly
intellectual understanding of his own legacy (Berry is the son
of a schoolteacher).
"For many years," he said, "I've been reluctant
to make new songs. Lots of days I could write songs, but I could
also take my $400 and play the slot machines at the riverfront
casino. In a way I feel it might be ill mannered to try and
top myself. You see, I am not an oldies act. The music I play,
it is a ritual. Something that matters to people in a special
way. I wouldn't want to interfere with that. So, yes, it is
a little risky. Because I have been so educated in the past,
and now it is so far in the future."
Warming up for Berry will be Japanese rock 'n' roll all-star
act O.P. King. The quartet brings together bluesman Yo-King
with the omnipresent Tamio Okuda for a nostalgia-filled tribute
to the early days of rock, and they have just released the self-titled
mini-album on Sony/Ki/oon/King Records to coincide with the
Berry shows and a month-long tour.
Chuck Berry plays Akasaka Blitz on
August 5-7. See concert listings for details.
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