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'Great Balls of Fire': Rock pioneers grace Hawai'i

by Chris Alcantara


Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneers Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard will be rocking the Neil Blaisdell Arena Oct.25 in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Supershow presented by Tom Moffat Productions.

Chuck Berry
“ To me, Chuck Berry is the epitome of rhythm and blues playing, rock ‘n’ roll playing,” said Keith Richards, guitarist for The Rolling Stones according to “It is beautiful, effortless, and his timing is perfection. He is rhythm supreme.”

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Coming from someone who obviously knows something about rock music, Richard’s words only echoes the greatness of guitar legend Chuck Berry.

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, it didn’t take Berry long to find his calling in life. With musical influences from such performers such as Nat “King” Cole and legendary blues player Muddy Waters, Berry entered a student musical show in his early high school years. He sang a blues tune accompanied by a childhood friend on guitar, and while blues wasn’t thought to be acceptable for such an event at the time, he received a standing ovation. From then on, Berry knew he wanted to be on stage for a living, and he wanted the whole world to see.

Berry soon took up the guitar himself, and he played with several club bands over the next few years. He eventually landed a spot in a band that was getting gigs at the famous Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis, where the audiences began to grow. Berry was getting recognition for his showmanship on stage and for his ability to cater to the audience’s reactions. He soon took that ability to the next level.

Country music was huge at the time, especially with the white population, so Berry decided to take some country riffs on the guitar and infuse them with the rhythm and blues sound he’d been playing for some time. The result was an interesting, unique sound that would change the course of music forever.

The black audience did not know what to think of it, but could not deny its danceable rhythms. The country sound, mixed with Berry’s stage presence, attracted white audiences from all around, and the unthinkable was done. At a time when racial tension was at a boiling point in America, Berry effectively integrated music fans by bringing black and white people together in the name of this new sound, which soon came to be called rock n’ roll.

Berry gained his first official record deal with Chess records in the 1950s and went on to record timeless classics such as “Maybellene,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” and his most widely known single “Johnny B. Goode,” to name a few.

Berry’s uncanny knowledge of the workings of the pop music industry separated him from other artists as did the fact that his sound attracted a whole new breed of music fans. At the height of his career, many times, Berry found himself to be one of the only black faces in a packed crowd of white middle-class teenagers at his shows.

Berry was eternally placed with the greats of music in 1986 when he was elected into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. To this day, at the age of 77, Berry still performs with the same raw talent and feverish guitar playing that garnered the title given to him by many rock greats over the years, “the father of rock n’ roll.”

Jerry Lee Lewis
“ Other people—they practice and they practice…these fingers of mine, they got brains in ‘em. You don’t tell them what to do—they do it. God-given talent,” Jerry Lee Lewis said of himself according to a quote on a fan-dedicated Web site.

Lewis made a name for himself as a cocky, hot-headed piano player in the1950s. Why did people take this self-indulgent attitude with a smile? Well, simply put, he backed it up.

After beginning on the piano at age eight, it wasn’t long before Lewis shot out of Louisiana like a “great ball of fire” catching the ears and eyes of audiences everywhere. When he was 21, his family sold enough eggs from their farm to finance a trip to Memphis, Tenn. so Lewis could perform for record label executives. His style fascinated the right people, and he was soon officially recording singles for radio play. In his early 20s, Lewis recorded one of his biggest hits, “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” In 1957, he performed on national television, and within a few months, the song was number one on the Pop, Country Western, and R&B charts, shooting him into the superstardom of mainstream music.

Also known for such hits as “Great Balls Of Fire” and “Breathless,” Lewis’ fiery piano playing is still raved about today and has secured him a place in the realm of rock legends. A recent concert review on Lewis’ official Web site read, “Jerry Lee Lewis can still rock the house…I could not get over how this man can still get people of all ages rocking in their seats.”

Little Richard
The song title, “Tutti Fruiti, Aw—Rooti,” does much by itself to give insight into the flamboyant personality that is Little Richard. Born in Macon, Ga. as Richard Wayne Penniman, Little Richard was initially noticed in the music world for his blues playing on the piano.

In 1955, while working as a dishwasher, Little Richard cut a demo tape. Unimpressed, record producers did not contact him for almost six months. Even after he started recording songs for a label in New Orleans, he had little success until a fateful night in late 1955. At an empty night club Little Richard was messing around an old piano, singing loudly and playing furiously fast. A producer heard him and was inspired to record that sound; Little Richard’s flashy style was born, and the rest is history.

Little Richard became popular as stories of his outlandish stage performances spread around. A close call in an airplane shook him enough to bring about a vocation to become a Seventh Day Adventist preacher in 1957, and he left rock music at the peak of his career. He returned in 1962 to the open arms of the music industry, bringing with him a young guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. He recorded a few more big hits in the early 1960s, began touring again, and hasn’t looked back .

On a side note, Little Richard announced he will retire after this year. Sure, he’s said this before, but take this chance to see him live as Honolulu could very well be one of his last performances.
These three men are regarded by the music industry as perhaps the three most influential musicians to ever stand on a stage. They rarely played together during their careers, and this may be the last time they ever do play together; so take this once in a lifetime opportunity, and watch history in the making.


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