When Chuck Berry ran away from a Kiwi promoter

Chuck Berry once ran away from an Auckland gig, a promoter says.

Chuck Berry once ran away from an Auckland gig, a promoter says.

The accolades are flowing in, as well they should for Chuck Berry, who died at the weekend aged 90.

The rock'n'roll pioneer is dead, and his legend is being buffed to a blinding sheen on every media platform around the globe.

But what about the time a promoter tried to have him arrested for dodging a gig? 

Chuck Berry performing at the 1984 Grammys, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Chuck Berry performing at the 1984 Grammys, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Veteran Auckland concert promoter Ian Magan has a different story to tell.

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"Chuck Berry was a mean old bastard," Magan said from his Auckland home, before launching to a story that unspools in my head like a Keystone Cops movie, complete with pockets of stolen cash, a car chase, and the long arm of the law failing to grip the collar of an absconding scoundrel.

In 1978, Magan booked Berry to play two dinner shows at 6pm and 9pm on the same night in Auckland cabaret Trillo's as a double bill with fellow rock'n'roll legend Bo Diddley.

"But Chuck shot through!" says Magan. "We had pre-paid him, because Berry always insisted on being paid before he played, in cash. So him and Bo Diddley did the first show, then in the interval, somebody came out from backstage and told me he'd taken off in his car and was on his way to the airport."

Magan was outraged. He jumped in his car and chased the bugger. "I wasn't gonna let him get away without a fight, and it nearly developed into one, too! I took off after him at high speed, and caught up with him at the airport just as he was checking in for the evening flight to Los Angeles."

They exchanged "some very stern words", says Magan, as he tried to prevent Berry from leaving the country without playing his second show.

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"It was all pretty unpleasant, then he buggered off into the distance. I think he'd gotten tired of touring and wanted to get home early. He said to me 'stop me if you can'."

Magan tried to get Berry arrested. ​"I called a policeman over and said, look, this man's leaving the country against the terms of his contract, and he has my money in his pocket. Would you please stop him?

"But the policeman asked me to produce the contract and I didn't have it on me, so Chuck just stood there, knowing there was nothing anyone could do. Once they called his flight, he just turned on his heel and took off through the departure gate. That's the last I ever saw of the man."

Angry and dejected, Magan had no option but to head back into the city and tell the audience to the second show what had happened. "We gave them half their money back and Bo Diddley played a longer show, bless him. He was a lovely man, whereas Chuck Berry was a mean old bastard."

Similar stories are legion online. Berry was known to be a major league hard-arse off stage. He once punched Keith Richard in the mouth in his dressing room for touching his guitar, and regularly cut short shows or demanded extra cash from promoters.

Magan says: "I have two very different views of Chuck Berry. On the one hand, there was this pretty nasty man ... on the other, a great songwriter and consummate performer whose stage craft was magical on a good night: Chuck Berry was a magnificent performer."

 - Stuff

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