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SoundTRAX: "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"

Chuck Berry surrounded by neon swirls of color.
Geffen Records
Universal Pictures

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

The Chuck Berry concert film and documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll was released on this day 36 years ago.

It was all Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards' idea, one he at times came to regret, as he's quoted at the end of the doc as saying, “He gives me more headaches than Mick Jagger.”

Richards was a massive Chuck Berry fan and thought it would be a great idea to pay tribute to his hero by putting on a 60th birthday tribute concert in Berry's hometown of St. Louis.

Richards put together a stellar lineup of backing musicians, including Chuck Leavell on organ, Bobby Keys on sax, NRBQ's Joey Stampinato on bass, and Steve Jordan, who couldn't have known he would one day replace Charlie Watts in the Stones after Watts passed away in 2021.

Richards also recruited friends like Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Robert Cray, and Julian Lennon to join Berry on some iconic tracks.

Director Taylor Hackford was chosen to not only document the show, but also film insights from Berry and his many admirers.

Does Berry always come off looking good? Oh, good lord, no. He doesn't even try to hide the fact that all of his decisions are motivated by money. He is clearly obsessed with making money, not art.

He's also quick to anger and directs his pettiness at everyone involved, including Keith Richards. When Berry takes it upon himself to perform at a cold, open-air show the day before the tribute concert, blowing out his voice, you just want to give Richards a hug. A lot of Berry's vocals had to be over-dubbed later as a result.

But he's called "The Father of Rock and Roll" for a reason. The guitar solos, his famous "Duck Walk," the dynamic showmanship. His influence can not be denied.

So for the 36th anniversary of the film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, today's SoundTRAX selection is Chuck Berry joined by one of those special guests— the magnificent Etta James— for a rollicking performance of "Rock and Roll Music."

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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