Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday concert and the drama surrounding it were captured in Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, one of the greatest music films of all time. But Berry’s life has never been covered onscreen. That changes with Chuck Berry, a film directed and produced by Jon Brewer, which will premiere October 4th at the Nashville Film Festival.
In a new trailer released today, several rock & roll legends reflect on what Berry meant to them: “He was the most important guitarist in rock history,” George Thorogood says. Nile Rodgers talks about how Berry “turned the guitar into a percussive instrument.” “You could almost say that Chuck Berry invented the teenager,” says Steven Van Zandt.
In a statement, Jason Padgitt, the executive director of Nashville Film Festival, said, “Chuck Berry is an icon who uniquely combined his genius, style and attitude to inspire, diversify and excite the world while redefining modern popular music. In that spirit, we are thrilled to host the world premiere of Chuck Berry during the Nashville Film Festival’s 50th anniversary in Music City, where we proudly celebrate the best of film, music, and culture in one of the world’s longest running film festivals.”
The film also features interviews with some of Berry’s more reclusive family members. “When he came home, he was the guy I married,” says Themetta Suggs, Berry’s wife of 68 years, in her first interview ever.
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“The family members really gave a profound insight into the man behind the music,” Brewer tells Rolling Stone. “Also we talk to his lawyer about the truth behind some of these charges levied against Berry… and that’s a film in itself.” Berry spent nearly two years in jail in the early Sixties after he was accused and found guilty of transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines for the purpose of prostitution. In 1990, several women filed a lawsuit against Berry, claiming he videotaped them in the ladies’ room of his St. Louis restaurant (the musician settled out of court).
Brewer also tells Rolling Stone that in making the film, he was interested in exploring “How a black artist crossed over to white radio in those days.” In sifting through archival material, he learned “there is so much on record that is simply not how things truly were. A small example would be how we learned that, although Berry was widely known for his steely and calculated approach to business and finance, there was a damn good reason, which emanated from a history of being cheated by producers and promoters — but only once.”
Brewer continues, “He used to say, ‘never let the same dog bite you twice,’ so he made sure he was paid before going on stage, and people always talk about how hard he was in this regard, but rarely do they discuss the actual reasons. Also interesting to learn, he was an avid carpenter, he leaned from his father, and ended up with an impressive real estate portfolio built up over the years as an very capable entrepreneur.”