Ron Weisner, the co-producer of the new PBS tribute Chuck Berry: Brown Eyed Handsome Man — which features complete performances of his songs by world-famous admirers of the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, and by Berry himself — has told uDiscover Music that “everybody wanted to participate” when he floated the idea.
The show, narrated by actor Danny Glover, is now airing at PBS affiliates after making its debut on 29 February, and takes the form not of a documentary with quickfire excerpts of songs, but of complete, unexpurgated performances by such acolytes as The Beatles, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. Berry himself is also seen in full collaborations with Keith Richards, Linda Ronstadt and Billy Kingsley & Rockin’ Horse. Watch a trailer for the programme here.
Weisner’s company Ron Weisner Entertainment co-produced the programme with S Pictures and Liberation Hall. The executive, whose extensive career has included his time managing McCartney, Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight and such UK stars as Wham!, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Bananarama, explains: “When Chuck died, there was a bunch of stuff in the press for a couple of days, and then it disappeared.
“Chuck was like a wild man, but he was great”
“I worked with Chuck through the years. Chuck was like a wild man, but he was great. He was a talented musician, a great songwriter and I liked him,” continues Weisner. “I just remember being on the road with artists I managed. They would talk about people that influenced their careers and lives, and Chuck’s name would always seem to come up. And I said ‘Why isn’t there what I call a legacy piece on the man, on his body of work and the people he influenced?’”
Weisner began to compile a wish list of potential clips for a show. “I said ‘If we can get half of these people, we’re golden.’ [But] it seemed that everybody wanted to participate. The presence in the PBS show of The Beatles (doing ‘Roll Over Beethoven’) and the Stones (‘Around and Around’) was especially important, he adds, because in the 1960s, “they start playing and recording his music and talking about him, and all of a sudden it opens up a door to start moving Chuck through it.”
Berry’s son, Charles Berry Jr., says of the finished collection: “We’re very pleased with the way Ron Weisner’s company has put together this collection of excellent music. It’s quite the shift from the typical [show], where you see ten or 15 seconds of a musical performance and then you’re left kind of disappointed because you didn’t see it in its entirety.
“It was really great to see entire clips”
“I’m sure it was a not inexpensive effort to get clips not only of my father, but all the other bands that appear. It was really great to see entire clips. It’s ‘Let’s show you some rock ‘n’ roll from start to finish,’ it’s very refreshing. My personal goal and my mum’s goal, in fact my entire family, is to keep my dad’s music alive. It shows not just him, but some of his acolytes and people that performed with him, some very major acts in the industry.”
Concludes Weisner: “You’ve seen documentaries by other people and they will be ‘We got our hands on 40 seconds of material of this act,’ and it’s like a throwaway. We got full performances by every one of these acts, because this was their respect for Chuck, they wanted to be part of this. And because of that, this is what transpired.”
The performances in Chuck Berry: Brown Eyed Handsome Man are as follows:
“Carol” – Chuck Berry and Keith Richards
“Maybellene” – Chuck Berry
“Wee Wee Hours” – Chuck Berry
“You Can’t Catch Me” – Chuck Berry
“Around and Around” – The Rolling Stones
“Roll Over Beethoven”– The Beatles
“Johnny B. Goode” – Jimi Hendrix
“Back in the USA” – Chuck Berry and Linda Ronstadt
“Nadine” – Chuck Berry
“Sweet Little Sixteen” – Chuck Berry with Billy Kingsley & Rockin’ Horse
“Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen
“Roll Over Beethoven” – Jeff Lynne/Electric Light Orchestra
“Carol” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“Brown Eyed Handsome Man” – Paul McCartney
“Let It Rock” – Chuck Berry with Billy Kingsley & Rockin’ Horse
“Memphis” – Chuck Berry with Billy Kingsley & Rockin’ Horse