In the mid Eighties, filmmaker Taylor Hackford asked Robbie Robertson if he would appear in a documentary about one of his musical heroes, Chuck Berry. Robertson quickly said yes and agreed to serve as musical director for the concert portion of what became the 1987 picture, Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. Although Robertson decided he wasn’t a good fit for that role — Chuck Berry was hard to handle, so he passed the reins over to Keith Richards — he still looks back fondly on the time he spent with Berry.
Robertson recently stopped by Rolling Stone, where he sat for an interview for an upcoming installment of our “The First Time” series. While he was in the office, he also recounted some of his experiences during the filming of Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, which was reissued this week as a collector’s edition Blu-ray.
One of the special features on the release is footage of Berry poring over a scrapbook he kept from his life with Robertson. But in the interview above, Robertson revealed there was a lot more to the story, including versions of stories Berry had told the Band guitarist off camera. Robertson also recalled in the Rolling Stone interview how special it was for him to play guitar while Berry read poetry, because he realized that that was part of Berry’s process.
“My admiration for the father of rock & roll just went way up,” Robertson said of learning about the inspiration Berry took from Beat poetry. “Then he’s reciting this poem, and I’m accompanying him on the guitar, and the poem just goes on and on and on, and I hoped it would never end.”