Stephanie Bennett is a famous film producer having created some of the best rock documentaries. Chuck Berry collectors know her as the producer who brought to us "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll", the famous concert film and documentary celebrating Berry's 60th birthday.
And while Bennett, director Taylor Hackford, and musical director Keith Richards definitely tried to celebrate Berry in this movie, we all know that Berry's cooperation was less than sufficient. To Berry this was just another business project he got paid for.
Due to this, production of the movie was more than chaotic. Despite of what ended up in the movie, Berry did not help making it, but instead helped to destroy Hackford's and Richards' work and intentions.
Mrs. Bennett says that Berry's passing two years ago brought back all the memories about the creation of this film. While discussing the thirty years old events with their teammates, she decided to write a book about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now the book is out, published by Vireo/Rare Bird Books in the U.S. and available through all bookstores
. It is called "Johnny B. Bad — Chuck Berry and the Making of Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll", 220 pages thick, hardcover bound and including a selection of color photographs.
The title page says "written by Stephanie Bennett" while the inner page says "written by Stephanie Bennett with Thomas D. Adelman" who was the line producer of the movie. In fact, the book wasn't written by either. Mrs. Bennett calls her book an 'oral history'. This means it is a collection of quotes of what the team members remember from the movie production.
Tom Adelman remembers a lot, so does Stephanie Bennett. But most of the quotes are old. There's a two-page quote by Bruce Springsteen about backing up Berry one time. But this isn't a new quote from an interview done for this book. It is word-for-word in the movie itself.
Most of the readers here will own the DVD version of the movie. Most will own the 2006 two-DVD set or even, as recommended here, the four-DVD set containing all the bonus material. And if you own these DVDs, you already know most of the quotes.
For instance the first chapter is a "conversation with Chuck Berry and Robbie Robertson". And this is a word-for-word transcription of the half-hour film "The Burnt Scrapbook — Robbie Robertson and Chuck Berry's Scrapbook" which is on DVD 3. (Unfortunately typed by someone who didn't watch the film, as Chuck Berryn
becomes Chuck Barron
in the book.)
Chapter two is "Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley & Little Richard" and — you guessed it — is a word-for-word transcription of the 90-minute "Witnesses to History #1" which is also on DVD 3. Thus while you have reached page 56 of the book, all you got is that someone read to you the contents of DVD 3.
Most stories told and many, many of the other quotes are taken from "The Reluctant Movie Star — The bizarre tales of the making of Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" which is a one-hour film on DVD 2 of the set. This includes both the Algoa incident and the concert recording memories.
Of course there also is original material in the book. Especially the story about the team checking out Berry's performance at the Chicago Blues Festival (where Richards performed with Berry), the stories about the visit to Richards' home in Jamaica, and the things that happened after the shooting of the movie haven't been told yet, at least not to this detail. Unfortunately the original material is less than half of the book.
To those who are purely interested in the musical aspects of Berry's work, there is a single page which is of interest. In between the nice color photo section you'll suddenly find a one-page type-written sheet called "Song Selection".
On this page we get an exact description of the songs which made it into the movie. This includes the show number they were taken from. And it includes a list of those "recordings" which have been combined from the performances in show one and show two.
Another interesting fact from the book is that the concert recordings have been overdubbed twice. There was one overdub session at Berry Park where Billy Youdelman re-recorded some of the vocals for the movie's audio track. And there was a second overdub session in which Don Wershba re-recorded some of the vocals for the soundtrack album. (This is why we get two different vocal overdubs for "Roll Over Beethoven".) Trying to further fill the missing pieces in our database I asked Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Youdelman, and Mr. Wershba whether they have any notes left telling about the dates and places of the overdubs. All three were so kind to reply to my inquiry but unfortunately Mrs. Bennett has no paperwork regarding these topics. Billy Youdelman cannot remember the exact date but that it was shortly after the concert and that it was only a one or two day job, and not very long. Don Wershba's memories are worth another blog entry due soon.
Whether you will want to buy the book depends on your preference of reading vs. watching DVDs. And of course on whether you own the DVDs. It's a nice read, but as said, it's old news. Many of the quotes you will have heard before. Some of the newly told anecdotes, especially by Hackford, Bennett and Adelman, might be worth the price of the book, though. And if you wonder why actress Helen Mirren comments on the story as if she was part of the movie, keep in mind that she is married to Taylor Hackford and accompanied him throughout the making of this film.
Do not miss to visit the book's own website johnnybbadbook.com
. It contains a lot of interesting photos as well as videos with Hackford and Bennett telling some of the stories.
Many thanks to Julia Callahan of Rare Bird Books, Stephanie Bennett, Billy Youdelman, and Don Wershba for answering my additional questions.