'Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll' Director Remembers Chuck Berry - Rolling Stone
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‘Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Director Remembers ‘Diabolical’ Chuck Berry

“Chuck was more difficult than any movie star I’ve ever worked with,” Taylor Hackford writes, “At the same time, I totally loved him”


Filmmaker Taylor Hackford, who directed Chuck Berry's classic 1987 documentary 'Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll,' penned a tribute to the rock legend.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection

Filmmaker Taylor Hackford, who directed Chuck Berry‘s classic 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, penned a tribute to Berry following the rock legend’s death Saturday.

“He was the most important figure in rock ‘n’ roll. Every rock ‘n’ roll guy starts by playing Chuck Berry songs,” Hackford wrote for the Hollywood Reporter.

In the remembrance, Hackford reminisces about the “difficult” shoot for Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll and how Berry would often conspire against his own documentary.

“Chuck was more difficult than any movie star I’ve ever worked with,” Hackford wrote. “More complicated, more difficult, more diabolical. Diabolical is a fitting term. At the same time, I totally loved him.”

Hackford reaffirmed the story about how – despite Universal giving Berry $500,000 for the rights to his music in the documentary – the guitarist refused to partake in the first day of shooting unless the producer physically came up with more money, which was delivered to him in a brown bag.

“I love Chuck Berry, but every day was a negotiation. It is not an exaggeration to say he was the most difficult star I have ever known, as complicated and talented as anybody I’ve ever met. He let me inside his life — up to a point,” Hackford added. The director would later helm another film about a music legend, the Ray Charles biopic Ray.

The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and the Beatles’ Ringo Starr were among those to pay tribute to Berry following his death Saturday.

“Chuck Berry defined rock ‘n roll guitar, he was a fantastic performer, but more importantly, he was the first great rock ‘n roll songwriter,” Hackford added. “All of them — the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Prince — they’ve all said they wouldn’t be there without Chuck Berry. And he did it over and over again.”

On Sunday, Hackford also remembered Berry in a statement:

“Chuck Berry was the greatest creative force in the birth of Rock & Roll – that’s a fact. That’s why we all came together in 1986 to celebrate him in my film, Hail, Hail, Rock & Roll: Keith Richards (Music Director), Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt, Julian Lennon, Etta James, Robbie Robertson and Bruce Springsteen. But Chuck was complicated – in fact, he was the most difficult ‘movie star’ I’ve even worked with. It was like trying to ride a Brahma Bull – you can try to ride him, but he’s going to buck you off. Keith Richards and I soon learned that we would have to ‘wing-it,’ if we wanted to get anything on screen. But still, I loved Chuck, because he was the ‘real deal, an original genius who created a true American Art Form – why shouldn’t he be difficult. Not only did he invent the most famous guitar licks in Rock & Roll history, he could also sing in a totally unique style everything from Blues, to Country to Jazz. (A friend told me that the first time he heard Memphis on the radio, he thought Chuck Berry was a white country singer.) But what made Chuck the greatest of all other 50s Rock & Roll Artists was his talent as a Songwriter – his compositions were miles above anything else written in that decade. Of course, I’m not the first to say that – John Lennon, Jagger & Richards, Bob Dylan all said that they wouldn’t have here without CB. A few years ago Prince told me the same thing. What I’m most happy about is that we were able to capture Chuck when he still had all pistons firing – an auto allusion that’s perfect, because no one could write a song about America’s love the automobile better than Chuck – or a song about the sexiness of a 16-year-old girl, or a love song about a Havana Moon.” 

In This Article: Chuck Berry


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