When I heard the news that the godfather of rock and roll, Chuck Berry, was playing Pala Casino with the one-and-only, Chubby Checker, I was immediately ready to make the trek down to San Diego for some legendary music. I was a bit surprised that more than 90 percent of the attendees were old folk baby boomers, in the likes of my parents. I understand that this is the music of their generation but considering we live in an age where being into music is now the “cool” and “popular” thing, I thought there would be a lot more 20-somethings. Thankfully all the indie posers slept on this one and it’s probably because most of them don’t know their history when it comes to rock and roll, otherwise I’m sure most would have jumped for the opportunity to see Chuck Berry live.
Kicking off the grey haired extravaganza was the “twist” king, Chubby Checker. Growing up with a Father that was a huge fan of rock and roll (especially Chubby Checker), it was so much fun to actually experience a smidgen of what a real ’60s Chubby show may have looked and sounded like. Chubby looked absolutely stunning on stage. At 69 years of age the man was quite fit (certainly not Chubby) sporting some butt tight denims! The ladies were literally throwing themselves at him as they attempted to rush the stage for a quick photo of Chubby. Some of the women even proceeded to dance like sexy groupies as they got out of their seats and made their way towards him. There was definitely an infectious vibe of happiness in the air. He conveyed to the excited crowd before him, his great emotion and excitement to share the stage with Chuck Berry. It was very cute and endearing for a rock legend of his status to admit such admiration.
Amongst numerous thrilling songs, Chubby performed his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard’s R&B hit “The Twist” as though it were debuting. As he shimmied across the stage in his signature checkered boots the crowd went bonkers! I saw a couple probably in their early 70s busting out the Twist like it was nobody else’s business. Thank goodness no one threw out their hip. These old folk definitely could teach us a thing or two when it comes to dancing at shows. Other hit songs such as the “The Hucklebuck” and “Limbo Rock” really got the crowd riled up. But what most got the ladies hot and heavy was “Let’s Do the Freddie.” Not only a catchy song but something that also became a dance craze, Chubby scouted out one lucky lady to join him on stage to do the Freddie. Of the many blushing women jumping in front of the stage to be chosen, Chubby picked a great contender that threw down a mean Freddie (see the photos below).
Chubby Checker put on an outstanding performance full of that raw energy and delight of the 60s. I wish we could report the same from our godfather of rock and roll, Chuck Berry, but that was not the case with this legend.
We had caught an amazing Chuck Berry performance almost a year ago at the annual Hootenanny in Irvine. We were hoping to get the same great experience at this show, but poor Chuck just wasn’t feeling it. Needless to say, at 84 years of age he still rocked it the best he could and it was a most memorable experience. Taking the stage in his token Captain’s hat, a thin Chuck Berry enamored the crowd with his iconic status and funny charm. He played a variety of early rock and roll favorites such as “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven, “You Never Can Tell” and “Johnny B. Goode.” In fact, Berry played Johnny B. Goode three times. When you’re that old and have been doing it that long, you can’t help but forget what song you already played. Regardless, it was a blast and once he realized he already played the song, his sense of humor really won our hearts. I just wanted to give him a big hug. Thankfully his bass player kept him on course for the most part as he repeatedly told Berry what song they would be playing next.
On the down side of things, Berry kept stopping his performance and yelling out at the Pala Casino videographers. He yelled to them, “Video is not in my contract! You need to stop that or I’m not going to play anymore.” He didn’t realize until a few minutes later that the video was actually for the big screens so that fans in the far back could see him perform. After charmingly allowing the camera men to video again, about three songs later he yelled at them again for videoing and that it was not in his contract … oh Chuck, we still love you.
Toward the end of his set, we got a bit of his signature “duckwalk” but I think old age is really taking its toll with the great Berry. When I last saw him last at the Hootenanny, he completed a duckwalk across the stage. But I think it was just too much for the legend this time around as he gave us a few hops before calling it quits. The show ended with some freestyling guitar as 20 ladies of all shapes, sizes and age groups rushed the stage to dance with Chuck Berry. It was an awesome experience to see him live again but I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes a relaxing hiatus after this show.
Words & Photography: Sandra Burciaga