Chuck Berry’s affiliation with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame goes back to the very beginning. The enigmatic rock and roll pioneer was the first artist to be inducted into Rock Hall back in 1986 and was ready to duck walk across the stage nine years later when the museum finally opened its doors to paying customers. Backed by none other than The Boss, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Berry delivered a powerhouse performance. It’s a show that has gone down in history as one of the best performances of the event’s long-running history.
Berry has a long history of using pickup bands whenever he is on tour, the hassle-free approach of collecting band members and telling them what to do suited the singer. That said, being a part of the icon’s backing band was never an easy task and one that came with a hefty dose of vitriol from the main man. It was something that Springsteen and his group of talented musicians found out when backing the unstoppable Berry in 1973. A moment Springsteen, a lifelong fan of Berry, remembers all too well.
At the time, Berry was on the same bill as Jerry Lee Lewis and the Greetings From Asbury Park band. It transpired that even with the album a few weeks old, the group were still ready and waiting to help out an icon of rock and provide some tunes for his performance.
Springsteen remembered the moment he first got on stage with his idol very well, “About five minutes before the show was timed to start, the back door opens and he comes up and he’s got a guitar case and that was it,” Springsteen told RS in 1987, keenly remembering the moment. “He just pulled up in his own car and didn’t have anybody with him, or a band. We said, ‘What songs are we going to do?’ He goes, ‘We’re going to do some Chuck Berry songs.’” It was an experience that would put most groups off ever revisiting being Berry’s band but for Springsteen and Co., it was just the taster they needed.
Maybe it was the charm of the ageing rocker that captured their hearts or perhaps they were still in awe of their idol and his perceived rock majesty, but the group again picked up the baton of Berry’s band 22 years later. Below, you can see the moment Berry introduced himself to the event and delivered a sensational performance of his rock and roll anthem, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ with the help of Springsteen & The E Street Band. But a few hours later, Berry would be up to his old tricks and changes things mid-song and causing chaos as he did.
“Somehow, a minute or two [in], he shifts the song in gears and a key without talking to us,” E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren told Ultimate Classic Rock. “We are making these horrible sounds, collectively, in front of a stadium, sold out…At the height of it, when no one has any idea how to fix this, Chuck looks at us all and starts duckwalking off the stage, away from us. He leaves the stage, leaves us all out there playing in six different keys with no band leader, gets in the car and drives away. I don’t think we have ever participated in something that godawful musically since we were probably 13 or 14.”
Berry was maybe having some fun with the group or maybe he was just messing around with new kids on the rock and roll block. However you look at it, the image of Berry duckwalking to the car and then hightailing it out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one we will cherish forever and should rightly be considered for a particularly brilliant scene for whenever someone makes a Chuck Berry biopic.
Sadly, we can’t bring you that imagined footage but we can bring you the moment before all hell broke loose. When Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen perform ‘Johnny B. Goode’ in 1995.