Charles E. Berry; Super-Genius
From rehearsals for Chuck Berry's 60th birthday concert, recorded for the film HAIL! HAIL! ROCK AND ROLL, here's a moment of Berry's life almost seems like it was controlled by Chuck Jones: Special guest Eric Clapton had wanted to perform "It Don't Take But a Few Minutes," a deep, deep-cut from Berry's second LP, ONE DOZEN BERRYS. It's a fun song with a clever guitar riff, a sing-songy almost ethnic timbre, a two-step country gait and lyrics that seem to be pulled directly out of the singer's ass but come out so fully realized that's it's difficult to improve them.
Having spent 30 years on the road performing live on cruise control, playing more or less the same set of his most popular songs every night, Berry had almost no idea how this much lesser-known song he wrote went. To compound his confusion, or perhaps because Chuck Berry is too bullheaded to accept help from anyone to sing a Chuck Berry song that Chuck Berry wrote, or perhaps both, Berry doesn't have a lyric sheet in front of him to perform like Clapton and musical director Keith Richards do.
The truly glorious, hilarious moment in this clip, which unfortunately is probably not sharp enough to show it in all its unwitting brilliance, is the priceless look on Berry's face toward the end of the song when Clapton sings an entire verse that he doesn't recognize at all. Looking very much like Wile E. Coyote, Berry slinks over to Clapton's lyric sheet to confirm that those lyrics really are there with only his perturbed, glassy eyes visible just above the music stand. [For the concert, Clapton played "Wee Wee Hours," one of Berry's best blues songs and the B-side of his first record, "Maybellene."]
Now, I can easily imagine, 10 years from now, when Paul Westerberg is rehearsing with the Hold Steady guys for Paul's 60th Birthday bash, someone like John Whatshisname from the Goo Goo Dolls wanting to play "They're Blind" from DON'T TELL A SOUL and Paul having a similar out-of-body-of-work experience.
ps. I would literally chop Clapton's hands off to get that guitar he's playing -- a stock 1956 Gibson ES-350T, the same model Berry is assumed to have used for the bulk of his prime Chess recordings. P-90s pickups, thin body and one of the shortest-scale necks Gibson ever made. I'm just kidding about cutting off Clapton's hands for the guitar; I'd cut them off for free. But that's one sweet guitar.