How strangely a matter of fate it is that the first album recorded live in San Francisco should be at the Fillmore Auditorium, that it should be of Chuck Berry who created this all and that he should be backed up by a group of musicians who have learned it from him, grown up and migrated to San Francisco to breathe new life into what Berry and all of them laid down so many years ago.
The promotion man laid a slightly defective copy of it on us, so we can’t hear all of Bill Graham’s spoken introduction, but, then, that’s fate too. Facts: the album was done over a six-day period this summer. The personnel of the Miller Band at that time included Curly Jim Cooke who has since left the group. Chuck Berry: do you really know all about him?
Unfortunately this album does not tell us much. Berry has already recorded one re-make of his great hits and it was poor. If you’re looking for the Chuck Berry standards, the album you must get is a two record set with 24 songs Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,.
Berry was wise not to attempt a live re-creation of his standards. Since his limited return to show-biz, though, he has not come up with any singularly new material. What he did was great, but since that time the generation that he raised has learned well and, as he would no doubt applaud, moved far ahead. Consequently, what is new on the record is not interesting as material; the style is familiar but old, and since Berry — one of the most original guitarists of his time — never was and still isn’t a very good technician, the guitar playing is just not very interesting.
On this record Berry pretty much sticks to Chicago style blues. The most interesting cuts are the instrumentals where Berry applies his rock guitar to Chicago blues and the Steve Miller Band comes into the foreground.
“Driftin’ Blues,” is a Paul Butterfield Band-type number, and not badly done here. “It Hurts Me Too,” a duet with Steve, is the most successful of the tracks, although Steve seems to be pushing into the foreground. The closing track is a gas; the French goodbye which flashes into “Johnny B. Good” is so much a part of Berry’s ever-present beauty — the elegance, the aura, his own self-confidence and Johnny B. Good who is, in fact, Chuck Berry himself.
The main interest of the recording is in the backing and as a curiosity. If you judge the album on the basis of what’s happening today, the judgment isn’t favorable.