Keith Richards worked like a dog to get Chuck Berry’s 60th-birthday concert right and Berry treated him like one.
Taylor Hackford’s 1987 documentary about Chuck Berry ‘Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is a fascinating window into Berry’s talent – influence – history and personality.
The film revolves around rehearsals for a celebratory star-studded concert for Berry’s 60th birthday at St. Louis’ Fox Theater — a theater that Berry had not been allowed to enter as a child due to Jim Crow laws — and successfully manages to capture the event.
The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards – probably the ultimate Berry acolyte, was recruited as a musical director.
Richards and Berry had worked together before.
After being exasperated for years by Berry’s habit of working with whatever local musicians could be assembled to back him up Richards vowed that this time it would be different and pulled together a worthy group of talented musicians.
The film intersperses various interviews with Berry – his family – collaborators – peers and those influenced by him – along with lengthy rehearsal footage and plenty of songs from the main celebration itself.
The interviews are illuminating if not always flattering.
Family members share small stories and anecdotes.
Hackford gets Berry on camera to ask about his prison sentences – which Berry shuts down.