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Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't you play with his ding-a-ling

Inspired by our story of a John Lennon New York City encounter 40 years ago, a reader writes of his own brush with rock greatness in the big city:

One night in the autumn of 1979, my buddy Gerry and I went to the Ritz nightclub, then located somewhere just off Broadway between the Strand Bookstore and Union Square, to see Chuck Berry perform. Gerry and I were pretty reckless and canny punk era stage door Johnnies who did what we could to get backstage anywhere to encounter almost anybody. "No Fear" was pretty much the battle cry.

Anyway, the Ritz had an elevated horseshoe-shaped balcony with the dressing room doors at either end just above the stage. Second floor dressing rooms were an odd arrangement (they were typically below stage level) but it was a configuration that definitely made it easier for goofballs like Gerry and I to breach security, particularly since at the Ritz you only had to pass through one door and you were in. No gauntlet of black T-shirt heavies to run.

Just before the show started, Gerry and I were casing the balcony trying to figure the best way into the inner sanctum when we spotted Keith Richards and his girlfriend, "supermodel" Patti Hansen, sucking cocaine off a balcony table. Keith Richards on blow! In our world, it didn't get much better than than that and were on them like white on rice.

Now Keith is a guy with a sense of humor and he seemed amused by our pluck. Big smile, big handshake, but what really got my attention was Patti licking all around her lips and gums in that reflex that defined the cocaine era. As Gerry yucked it up with Keith, I asked Patti with the effrontery of which only a drunken 18 year old is capable, "Do you have a kiss for me, pretty girl?" Boy did she, with that sweet, numb tongue! And boy did Keith get a laugh out of that one! Gerry and I cut out before we got pesty, thinking that we had just reach the pinnacle of "near brushes." Little did we know what was in store.

The show came off beautifully, Chuck rocked the socks off the house, and Gerry and I made our play for backstage. Needless to say, we got through the door into an uncomfortably small room in which an obviously irritated Chuck Berry was standing against the back wall. Gerry and I couldn't tell what was up, but the vibe was uncool and we flattened ourselves against a side wall and kept our traps shut. After a couple of minutes the door opened again and, what do know, in walked our new buddies Keith and Patti, hand in hand, with his other one wrapped around the neck of a bottle of Old No.7. Chuck saw them right away and suddenly pushed aside the people standing in front of him, strode across the room with a look of stone fury on his face and COLD COCKED KEITH RICHARDS FOUR FEET IN FRONT OF ME!! I instantly knew the weightless rush of standing in the middle of history in the making, and knowing it.

Matters transpired quickly from there. Keith fell against the wall while the heavies surrounded Chuck and hustled him out of his own dressing room. With signature aplomb, Keith, who never lost his grip on Old Jack, shot a stupid grin around the room and announced to nobody in particular,"Well that was a right proper shot, wudn't it?"

In the thick tension that not even Keith could dispel, Gerry and I suddenly became very visible, and the heavies handled us with grievous dispatch. We staggered, stunned, back into the New York City night wondering just WTF had happened. Well, word got back through the groupie grapevine that about two weeks before Chuck's show in New York, a very drunken Keith had climbed on stage at a Chuck performance at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in LA and, in a glorious demonstration of indiscreet Oedipal one-up-manship, had upstaged his mentor. Chuck did not take kindly to the slight and had almost thrown Keith right off the stage. But apparently "it wasn't over" as Gerry and I witnessed in New York. Ah, Rock...and so in the Big Bad Apple did we roll.

Comments (9)


Strand Book Store remains a fiercely independent family business with Fred and his daughter, Nancy Bass Wyden, at the helm. With over 200 employees, ...

Nancy, her fours kids and husband live in NYC.

love it , I am listening to the great one James Brown , so here is my story , In the old DC Sheraton , I was trying to leave thru the revolving door after champagne brunch , and when my turn to jump into the door came
the guy coming into the building did not get off the revolving door as I got on , so the 2 of us were wedged into the slot , and I was pissed off at the idiot , who reeked of booze , so I shoved us thru and out , to be greeted by 2 of the most immense bodyguards
ever seen , who were not happy with me... but they grabbed him , and said 'this way mr.Brown , and that was my close [too close] encounter with James Brown!

Halfway through the story I thought, this isn't the time Chuck punched Keith, is it? And all these years I've wondered why. Thanks - that was awesome.
Okay, it's around 5 a.m. in Orly Airport in Paris, late summer of either 1970 or 71 or maybe 72. I could figure it out but it would take too long.
Anyway, I'm traveling back to school in the States with the drummer from my rock band when we pass someone we recognize. He was a tiny person, really skinny but he had a face we had seen on some of our favorite albums. Ladies and gentlemen...Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones! He was wearing one of those Moroccan sheep jackets with a nice design on the outside while the inside looked like two goats sewn together. This was probably during the "Exile on Main Street" era when they lived in France.
The woman he was with was a world class fox - also in authentic garb for the times. She was half a foot taller than he was and was just crazy beautiful.
The thing that impressed us even more than that was this silver-haired executive type who was walking along while leaning in and asking Wyman questions, hanging on his every word. The older man - over twice Wyman's age appeared serious like the fate of the world hung on him hearing what this skinny little rock star said next. Oh, and the silver-haired guy was also carrying Bill's bags. As youngsters locked in a generational struggle, that really cracked us up.
Did we talk with Bill Wyman? No. Us hassle one of the Rolling Stones? Please. We were way too cool for that. He was merely doing a cameo in our movie back then - not the other way around.

Okay, here's one of my stories. I was a huge fan of Queen BEFORE they became commercially successful. Queen II, to this day, remains one of my all-time-top-five-albums. Their first, Queen I is also very good. But after their success with "Killer Queen" they nose-dived--IMHO.

Anyway, it was during a concert at the Paramount that I remembered seeing Freddie Mercury lean down over the stage and hand roses to a group of girls in the front row. I later found out that the group consisted of a former (and at that time still sometime) girlfriend and her friends! I had turned my girlfriend on to Queen II a year or so before, and she had become one of Portland's clique of "famous band admirers," shall we say. Well, the band asked the ladies out for the evening and they had a truly fun time in Portland, Oregon, hosted by the lovely ladies. (Side note- only the drummer was interested in, ahem, sampling the local fare - and not with my friend. So she said anyway.)

Long story short, I was envious having heard the stories and having seen the polaroids. After all, I was the one who was the huge Queen fan - especially of Brian May, the phenomenal guitarist. But apparently my friend told them about my admiration. And the following year they called her up to announce that they were preparing to come to the U.S. for another tour! They wanted to get together again -- and this time, they definitely wanted to meet the friend (me) who they had talked about, and be sure to invite him to their rehearsals in Portland! I couldn't believe my good fortune when my girlfriend told me I was going to get to hang out with Brian May during their rehearsals in Portland!

Unfortunately, it never happened. The band did rehearse in Portland prior to kicking off their U.S tour. But it was Portland, Maine... Alas, a little geographical confusion...

In the early 90s my band got to open for Chuck Berry. He did two sets. After the first set, there was a huge line backstage to meet Berry with people holding various items to get autographed. I was lucky. He signed my snare drum head [with a smiley face even] then was done. The dude behind me? Not so lucky. "No more autographs," said Berry. The guy said "I understand, Chuck." And Berry quipped, "You BETTER f*cking understand."

Chuck then went out to his rental car in the parking lot, had a drink, smoked a cig and rolled up the windows before his next set.

I also remember the bad-ass promoter telling us beforehand not to play any Chuck Berry songs [we did a couple in our set] or even songs that SOUNDED like Berry [we had a couple in our set] because he'd personally go up on stage and kick our asses. Then Chuck would. We stuck to songs that sounded nothing like Chuck Berry songs.

I had a feeling that there would be a little tid bit of Bill McDonald awesomeness in this thread. Having grown up as a teen in the era of Reganomics and "just say no" you guys keep reminding me that I was born 10 years too late.

Maybe I should write about the time I went hitchhiking with Bob Dylan. Or how about when John Lennon and I went for a weekend at the Mustang Ranch. One time I kicked the crap out of Paul Simon for being such a pussey! Hmm... maybe I should write my memoirs...

why can't i vote for bill mcdonald for something? life ain't fair!

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