SPECIAL NOTES ON THE INTERVIEWS YOU'RE HEARING...
I'VE HAD THIS INTERVIEW composite in my Audio Archives for many years. I wasn't able to document the origin of it, but I believe it was done for the BBC sometime around the release of "Hail ! Hail ! Rock 'N' Roll" and, Chuck's Induction into the "Hollywood Walk Of Fame" in 1987.
Among the voices you'll hear are Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Johnny Rivers, Johnny Grant (The Honorary Mayor Of Hollywood), and, from an earlier Interview, John Lennon.
HEARING THESE BRITISH SUPERSTARS, along with Johnny Rivers, discuss the impact, the importance, of Chuck Berry on them, their music, and, their song writing...makes for a true Tribute on it's own.
But what Chuck says in his part of the Interview, gives you some real insight into the simple, but honest process he used to write the classics that he did.
AND HIS WORDS AT beginning of the audio "I won't remember how I'm being remembered, so to each his own whatever they think of me." are truly the words of a man who's done it all, had it all, accomplished all that he wanted to, and is so secure in his own life and how he lived it, that he's never worried about what anyone says about him. Because he's at peace with the fact that he's survived everything...and always would.
My Stories, and Memories of Chuck Begin Below...
CHUCK BERRY WAS TRULY A ROCK & ROLL LEGEND. Through the year's much has been written about him documenting his life, his accomplishments, his music, his songs, and his influence on other musicians & writers...and, since his death on March 18, 2017, much more will continue to be written on his behalf. He was that important. A seminal figure who helped define, and create, the words & the music called "Rock & Roll" from it's infancy to today...and, in the process, became a cultural icon known as "The Father Of Rock & Roll".BUT, my Tribute to Chuck Berry won't try to cover what's already been done by those I mentioned in the above paragraphs. What I will focus-on is my personal feelings, my meetings with, my working with, and, my memories of, not only one of my "Rock & Roll Heroes", but the kind, and generous, professional he was to me...and how he touched my life.TO DO THAT, LET'S GO BACK TO THE SUMMER OF 1955...___________________________________________________________________MY MOTHER ALWAYS SAID THAT when I was a baby, she had to put a radio by the side of my crib to get me to sleep...otherwise I wanted to stay up all-night ! Well, that had its effect on me as the music on the radio during my formative year's seeped into my subconscious and gave me a lifelong love of all forms of music.
FAST-FORWARD TO THE SUMMER OF 1955:Like most high school teenagers at that time, I was turned-on, and tuned-into this new music that had hit the airwaves called "Rock & Roll" ! And, growing-up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, we had a choice of three stations that, for the most part, played it: KXOK, KWK, and, WIL...all vying for our attention, and playing Elvis,Bill Haley, The Diamonds, The Crew-Cuts, Johnny Cash, Pat Boone, et al.But, there were a number of us who were in the vanguard of those that also listened to another form of music that we liked called "Rhythm & Blues". We were able to hear that on two stations that specialized in it: KXLW, and, KATZ. Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles, The Penguin's, Ruth Brown, Clyde McPhatter, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Butler & The Impressions, Laverne Baker, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, and so many others !AND SO IT WAS, on one Summer afternoon in August of '55 when I was down in the cool basement of our house working on building a model car from a kit, that I turned on our Emerson portable radio that my folks let me use down there, when I first heard "IT"!
I WAS LISTENING TO KXLW and the disk jockey was "Mr.G." (George Logan), he said "Here's a brand new '45' from one of our own, Chuck Berry, and 'Maybellene' !" What followed was one of the most "electric" sounding, earth-shaking, tunes I had ever heard ! The singer, this Chuck Berry, was using words in this song that no one else would have attempted, and had a voice and an attitude that just-plain grabbed you by the throat and wouldn't let go ! The power & the sound of his guitar, his mastery of the strings on that instrument, that thumping, slapping bass in the background, the solid, hard beat of the drummer...all hit you like a lightning bolt ! It was almost a form of "gut bucket" Rock & Roll. Harsh, raw, unyielding...demanding that you sit-up-and-take-notice ! You had no choice !!
From that monumental, life-changing moment, I was a fan of this Mr. Chuck Berry and followed every song he released. (Two of my early favorites were "Havana Moon" & "Downbound Train"...more on those later.)
I HAD PLAYED DRUMS IN HIGH SCHOOL, and played with various groups after I graduated. The first was "Tom Kirgin & The Renegades", and yes, we played a number of Chuck's tunes. Later, with "Eddie Thomas & The Blue Lights" we also did a few. So getting to play some of those songs of Chuck Berry's that I liked was really cool for this kid at that time !
WHEN I MOVED TO CALIFORNIA in 1963-1964 to study at the Pasadena Playhouse College Of Theatre Arts, Chuck's music was still making it's impact. He had a resurgence with Chart Toppers like "Nadine" & "No Particular Place To Go".
And, later, when I was living in Hollywood, seeing Johnny Rivers at "Whisky'a Go Go" on the Sunset Strip do his hit version's of "Maybellene" & "Memphis" Live, with a solid-packed, standing-room-only crowd at Hollywood's premiere Disco, was unreal !!
But, through all of those year's, I never even came close to meeting Chuck Berry. UNTIL...
IN THE FALL OF 1964 I moved back to St. Louis to join the "Impulse Players" Improv Group that would be performing in St. Louis's "Gaslight Square" entertainment district at the World Famous "Crystal Palace" night club. A fantastic experience that I'll never forget !
That led me to a Spring 1965, meeting with my soon-to-be friend & mentor Don ("Johnny Rabbitt") Pietromonaco...the hottest Air Personality at St Louis' premiere radio station KXOK. We had so much in-common, had both attended the Pasadena Playhouse, were long-time music buffs, and, our love of cars was another contributing factor to our friendship. (The in-depth version of this story can be found in the "Rabbitt Tracks" Section of this Site.)
I HELPED DON at every chance I got, and by the Spring of 1966 we were ready to open one of the greatest "Teen Clubs" St. Louis has ever seen ! It was named after Don's alter-ego, his on-air little buddy, "Bruno J. Grunion", and to take advantage of the then-phenominal "Bat Mania", generated by the "Batman" TV Show, it was called "Bruno's Batcave"...and it was an instant-hit !
(Above: Jonnie King (left) with New York/Las Vegas Club Singing Star Vince Perry at "Bruno's Batcave", Summer, 1966.)
WITH DON'S CONNECTIONS IN THE Record Industry we had no problem getting Recording Artists to perform ! It was a fun, intimate, cool showcase for all of them: B.J. Thomas, Billy Joe Royal, Sam The Sham & The Pharaoh's, Steve Cummings & The Klassmen (Featuring Future Superstar Gayle McCormick), Walter Scott & The Guise, The Blues Magoo's, Patti & The XL's, and many others all showed up and loved it !
Then Don pulled me aside one night and said: "Guess who we've got next Friday Night at the Batcave ? None other than CHUCK BERRY ! " I was floored ! Chuck & Don had met and become friends, now, after all these year's, I'd finally get to meet "The Man", Chuck Berry, himself !! And believe me, it was worth the wait !!!
They told me what time Chuck would arrive, I was at the Main Entrance to the Club to meet him. Exactly on-time, Chuck's Cadillac pulled-up and parked, he got out, grabbed his guitar, and I walked up to him to shake his hand and greet him. It was a sensational experience to say the least.
He couldn't have been nicer. I took him into the Batcave and he just flipped-out at how neat and atmospheric the place was ! Of course, the place was packed ! Chuck gave his all to the crowd, and cemented his "St. Louis Roots" even further, as many had never had a chance to see him "live"...now he had lots of "new" fans to add to those who'd loved his music from the beginning, and the applause almost never stopped !
THE BATCAVE ENDS...CLOUD NYNE BEGINS:
The Batcave had always been successful. But, as the end of its first year was approaching, the building's owner started talking to Rabbitt about increasing the amount of revenue he was getting...which didn't sit-well with Don. So, Don began looking for another property to lease so we could start a new, different, club, with a new theme. He'd call it "CLOUD NYNE".
The place he found had actually been a Post Office Building that was vacant after they had moved into a newer, bigger location. It was on Airport Road in St. Louis County, and Don rented it and we started work on it...before we closed the Batcave. As it turned-out, we opened "Cloud Nyne" on Friday Night, May 26th, 1967, and, closed "Bruno's Batcave", Saturday Night, May 27th, 1967.
The building that we had for Cloud Nyne couldn't have been any different than the Batcave if we'd planned it ! It was huge, was almost all "dance floor", did not have the "intimate vibe" that the Batcave had, and, even when we had a crowd, the place almost never looked full.
Don was a great photographer, so he'd put-together about a zillion photos and loaded them in a photo carousel that we'd project onto a screen on the back of the stage. Along with that we created a Psychedelic Light Show that also ran throughout the club. Both of these were on for the entire evening. (Remember: 1967 was the year that the Psychedelic Movement took-hold, took-off, and was sweeping the country...and, it would stay that way for a few year's.)
Again, we didn't have any trouble getting Record Execs & Managers to get artists to perform at our new venue: The Chambers Brothers, Ronnie Dove, Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs, and, others were there. But, we still weren't drawing the crowds that we had at the Batcave, so Rabbitt once again gave Chuck Berry a call.
Chuck was more than happy to help us out. His appearance was set for Sunday Night, July 16th,1967. I met him at the front door of Cloud Nyne as he pulled-up, we shook hands, he got his guitar, and, I showed him into our new digs. The light show was on; the photos on our carousel projector were flickering on the back screen, and Chuck took it all in and said "Man ! Ain't this somethin' !" Of course, a crowd showed-up to see Chuck and that helped. But overall, Cloud Nyne just wasn't the Batcave, and only lasted for a few more months before Don closed it.
I LEFT ST. LOUIS TO START my career in Broadcasting and began on KLID Radio in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. That was September 10th, 1967. By April 21st of 1969, I had been hired at Clear Channel, 50,000 Watt KAAY in Little Rock, Arkansas, owned by Lin Broadcasting, a major company, with stations that had signals that reached just about all-over the U.S.A., and, beaming North & South at night, could be heard from Canada to Cuba, and in many, many, Foreign Countries around-the-world.
I manned the 6pm-11pm air shift, and was also Music Director. We had a great team at the "Big K" , and, my ratings were always the highest for my time period...thus, I was hired to do lots of remote broadcasts, and emceed many concerts.
One day when I was in my MD Office, one of the stations sales people came in to talk to me. He said, "You're from St. Louis, right ?" I said, "Yes, of course". To which he asked, "When you were there did you ever meet Chuck Berry...'cause that's his hometown too." "Sure ! I met him and worked with him on two occasions when I was working with "Johnny Rabbitt", and helping to manage his teen clubs. Why ?" Well, that's when he told me that the main promoter in Little Rock, Dan Garner who owned Carrousel Attractions, was bringing Chuck into town to do a show with our "local-boys" Jim Dandy & Black Oak Arkansas, and had asked him if he could call me about emceeing that concert ! I told him to have Dan call me as soon as possible...I'd love to do it for him !!
Well, Danny, who I knew, called me the next day. I told him how cool it was to work with Chuck, and that I'd be more that glad to emcee the Concert, all he had to do was to give me the date & time, and I'd take care of everything from my end at that point. I also told him that nobody in L.R. knew more about Chuck than I did, because I had followed his music & career since 1955 ! He got a great laugh out of that and said, "Jonnie, I listen to you every night ! I know how meticulous you are about your show, and the info you give your audience. SO, I knew when it came to Chuck Berry, I wouldn't contact anybody in L.R. to work with him on this show but you !!"
The Concert was set to happen on Friday Night, December 10th, 1971, to help kick-off the Holiday Season, and it also coincided with our KAAY "Toys For Tots" Marathon Broadcast that we did every year with the local branch of the U.S. Marines.
Barton Coliseum was the biggest venue in L.R. at that time. I had previously done shows there with Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, and, B.J. Thomas...so I knew the facility very well. So, that afternoon after my appearance, and Interviewing the Mayor of Little Rock at the "Toys For Tots" Marathon Broadcast that we did from our KAAY "Funmobile" Studio/Trailer, I headed back to my apartment to change clothes and head on out to Barton Coliseum.
(Above: Jonnie King backstage with Black Oak Arkansas before their Barton Coliseum Concert. 12-10-1971)
WHEN I GOT TO THE COLISEUM, I was met by the Stage Manager, and asked him to take me to the dressing room area to talk to Jim Dandy and the Black Oak crew. Nice guys everyone...and they loved the fact that we were playing some of their hits on both my show at night, and on our all-night show "Beaker Street". (That's all of us in the photo you see here. I'm the third from the left, and Jim "Dandy" Mangrum is in the white outfit to my right. )
About 15 minutes later, Danny Garner came in to greet me, and told me that they had sent a Limo to pick-up Chuck from the Airport, and they should be arriving in a few minutes. I said that I wanted to meet Chuck when he arrived, and Dan told me that he told Chuck he "had a surprise for him" when he got there...the "surprise" was ME !
Sure enough, when the Limo pulled-up, I could see Chuck in the back seat, looking out the window, and when he saw me standing there he had a big smile on his face and waved !
(ABOVE: Chuck Berry & Jonnie King going over the list of songs Chuck will do at the Barton Coliseum Concert. 12-10-1971)
WHEN CHUCK GOT OUT OF the Limo, I walked-up to him to shake his hand and he gave me a big hug and I said "Welcome to Little Rock Chuck, it's so great to see you again...and by the way, I'M the "surprise" Dan told you about !" He said "Man ! Last time I saw you, you were working with the Rabbitt ! He called me and told me you were here a few weeks ago when I found out about this gig."
Chuck grabbed his guitar, and Danny & I took him back to his dressing room. Then, Dan left so that Chuck & I could catch-up. It was like "old home week". We hadn't seen each other since 1967, and he told me he was so glad that now I was the MD at KAAY with 50,000 Watts of Rock & Roll and playing his Oldies, for, as he put it: "...the World to hear from 'Jonnie B. Goode King' on the Mighty 1090 !" (The pic shown up above is Chuck and myself going over his Introduction for that night, and the list of songs. in the order he was going to play them at the show.)
(Above: Chuck Berry & Jonnie King saying some fond "Goodbye's" after the Barton Colessium Concert. 12-10-1971)
NEEDLESS TO SAY, BOTH CHUCK, and, Jim Dandy & Black Oak Arkansas, got standing ovations that night ! Chuck did everything perfectly ! He brought his "A-Game": played his guitar like it was "on fire", did his patented "duck walk", and, just-plain made the rafters of the Barton Coliseum shake !!
That's us in the photo above after the show saying "Goodbye". Wish the pic would show that big smile Chuck had as we were shaking hands. He wished me luck, again said how happy he was for me, and promised to tell the Rabbitt what a great job I did taking care of the emcee chores during the Concert. As he started to leave, he turned around, looked at me and said "You are a real Pro ! Don't ever forget that, Mr. King !"
I was humbled, and, honored by that visit with Chuck. And those kind, encouraging words, from a man who had been one of my R&R Music Heroes since I was a kid, touched me more than I could ever tell you. It's something I'll never forget. Nor will I ever forget the date: December 10th, 1971.
I LEFT LITTLE ROCK In September of 1972 to work for the Bartell Radio Group at WDRQ-FM in Detroit. But in the Summer of 1973 I had a chance to return to St. Louis to work at WDRQ's sister station here, KSLQ-FM (now Y98). Being in the Market for all these year's I also had worked at, and Programed KADI FM/AM, from 1975-1976.
After a few year's back at the "Q", in 1986 the owner of KADI, Richard Miller, asked me to come back to the station to do the Mid-Day Show. Things were great there, I loved it, and with an Adult-Based Format, we did very well.
While there, one day in January of 1987 an old high school pal of mine, Bob Clark, called and said he had something he'd like to discuss...it was about a show that was coming up that February. A show starring Chuck Berry & his Daughter, Ingrid !
When Bob came by the station he said that there would actually be two shows on the night of February 26th, and the event would take place at the Stegton Banquet Center in St. Charles, Missouri. It was slated as a fund raiser for Grace Nichols who was running for Mayor of St. Charles. He had thought of me, because he knew me, listened to me, and that I was the only one he'd consider to emcee the shows. That's when I told him I had worked with Chuck on three other occasions and would be happy to do it again !
CHUCK AND MRS. NICHOLS were friends, and Chuck was more than happy to do the shows for her, along with his Daughter, Ingrid, and her band. The first show was set for 6:45 P.M., the second for 9:00 P.M. I got there about 5:45 P.M., Bob Clark was there to welcome me, and took me in to meet Chuck. Chuck was sitting in a chair in front of the stage, they had been doing a sound-check with Ingrid, and everything was fine.
When I walked-up to Chuck, he looked up at me from his chair, smiled and said "I know you !" We shook hands and I said "Yes, you do, but the last time we saw each other in was 1971, in Little Rock, when I was at KAAY !" Then I took the envelope that I was carrying with me, and said "Here are a couple of pix of us from that concert at Barton Coliseum." And I showed him the photos that you've seen in the Section above. He smiled, cracked-up with a good laugh, looked at the pix he was holding again, and said "Jonnie ! Look at us ! Weren't we YOUNG !"
After that, we shared some memories about Don (the "Rabbitt"), and I met Ingrid, her husband, and the band...which included Chuck's long-time piano player Johnnie Johnson.
THEN WE PUT TOGETHER the "short list" of how the shows that night would run...I actually wrote it down on the back of a ticket stub as you can see here. Both shows were packed ! Chuck was superb, as was Ingrid and her band !!
FOLLOWING THE "Time Line' here: Chuck was truly "on a roll" then ! He was the first Inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on January 23, 1986; Chuck had celebrated his 60th Birthday by having the movie "Hail ! Hail ! Rock 'N' Roll" filmed in St. Louis on October 16, 1986 ; He would be given his Star on the "Hollywood Walk Of Fame" October 8th, 1987; "Hail ! Hail ! Rock 'N' Roll" would be released on October 9th, 1987...and that on the night of February 26th, 1987, Chuck & Ingrid would give everyone at those shows at the Stegton something to talk about for year's to come !
After the shows, Chuck, Ingrid, and, Mrs. Nichols, thanked me for the job I had done that night...and I thanked them, as it was an honor to be a part of that event...and to work with Chuck once more after all those years, was something I wouldn't have missed ! (BTW: Grace Nichols won her race for Mayor of St. Charles. She was the first woman elected to that office and served as Mayor from 1987 to 1995.)
NOTE: IN THE PREFACE OF THIS Tribute, I mentioned two of my favorite Chuck Berry songs "Havana Moon" & "Downbound Train. Well, when we were talking before the show, I mentioned those songs to Chuck, and said I'd sure like to hear one of 'em if he had time to put it in. He said he was surprised because they were among his earliest tunes, and, most DJ's just stuck with "Rock & Roll Music", "Sweet Little Sixteen", "Johnny B. Goode", and the rest of his Hit Catalog.
SO, I was completely blown-away during his first set that night, when he said "This next little number is a true "Oldie But Goodie" ! And it goes out to the man who requested it, our emcee for the night, KADI's Jonnie King ! Jonnie, here's 'Havana Moon' for ya !"
ON JUNE 25TH, 1989, Chuck Berry was the 1st Inductee into the St. Louis Walk Of Fame. This Walk Of Fame was created by Joe Edwards, a longtime friend of Chuck's, the owner of Blueberry Hill located in University City, Missouri, because he wanted to honor those from this area who had contributed to the arts & culture of our country in various fields.
Vincent Price, Dick Gregory, Agnes Moorehead, Stan Musial, Leonard Slatkin, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Hart Benton, Miles Davis, Betty Grable, Archie Moore, Josephine Baker...are just a few who've been Inducted since 1989. It's a worthy, and much-needed part of the History of St. Louis, and Joe is to be complimented for his efforts to make this a viable addition to our city. In fact, if you'd like to visit the SLWF Website simply Click-On-This-Link.
A FEW FINAL WORDS...
CHUCK BERRY WAS A pleasure to know, and work with each-and-every time. On stage he was a consummate showman, spot-on perfect at those times in his life. He was kind to me, always friendly, always smiling, a professional of the highest caliber. In being with him, I got to see the person he really was, and, in so doing he gave a part of himself to me and truly touched my life and made it better because of that.
IT'S SOMETIMES SAID that you shouldn't meet your Heroes because you may be disappointed. In-Person, they may not be who you think they are, and you might not like them anymore. Chuck Berry didn't disappoint me at all. In fact, my opinion of him was raised to the highest levels I could imagine, and I hope after reading this Tribute Page devoted to him, you'll understand my true stories about him, and why he's called "The Father Of Rock & Roll"...he was that, and much more.
R.I.P. Chuck...thanks for the memories, and for being kind to that young guy who was one of your biggest fans from the very beginning,
Jonnie King (4-8-2017)
[NOTE: Most images/photos on this page are from my personal collection. All others courtesy of their original owners/copyright holders...with sincere thanks !]