The Rolling Stones were actually formed after Mick Jagger saw Richards holding a Chuck Berry record at the Dartford railway station in Kent, England. They had been elementary school classmates, Richards wrote in his book, Life, he
thought he was the only Berry fan around until discovering Jagger had
“every Chuck Berry ever made.” Jagger invited Richards to hang out with
his cadre of R&B fans and they began playing music, with Richards
playing electric guitar “Chuck-style.”
Dylan has said he was into Chuck Berry before discovering Woody Guthrie and turning to folk. His first rock hit, Subterranean Homesick Blues, is directly influenced by Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business.
The Beatles had hits with Berry compositions such as Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music and Sweet Little Sixteen, and
McCartney called Berry “one of greatest poets America has ever
produced” in an introduction to the 2014 release of Berry’s complete
Young played with Berry and Richards at Berry’s
1986 induction into the first class of the Rock ’N’ Roll Hall of Fame,
in which Richards said in his induction speech for his hero, “I lifted
every lick he ever played.”
Hackford attended that ceremony with producer Stephanie Bennett, who had already asked him to direct a documentary about Berry.
“We went to the Chicago Film Festival and that’s where I met Keith
and we started collaborating because we wanted to make it something
really special,” Hackford said. “We also got a taste of Chuck, who was
playing at the Chicago Film Festival, driving his big camper through
Chicago the wrong way down a one-way street. It was astounding. I knew
when I got in with Chuck Berry I had really fallen into a fantastic,
creative feather bed. Chuck Berry is more like a bed of nails, but
regardless, you know it’s not going to be boring.”
Berry wrote in his 1987 book, Autobiography, about
his interest in doing interview “dwindled over the years as I would
read back what I was supposed to have said to reporters.” Hackford
interviewed Berry many times for his documentary and said Berry will “go
down in history as a brilliant artist and an enigma.
“Chuck is a total contradiction,” he said. “He’s a proud black man.
On the other hand, he has a very critical view of different parts of
society – racial and political and everything else. I would call him a
genius. The definition of a genius is somebody apart (who) doesn’t feel
the normal human weaknesses many of us do. Therefore they can be, let’s
call it complicated, let’s call it difficult, sometimes irrational. When
you see someone who is a genius, who has done things nobody else has,
why should they be normal? They’re not normal.”
Hackford said the other pioneers he interviewed — including Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley and Presley’s producer, Sam Phillips
— all called Berry an influence on them. Even Lewis, a pianist who
spewed racist epithets at Berry when they toured together in the ‘50s,
“Jerry Lee said he had a big thing with Chuck and
chose him off,” Hackford said, “and Chuck beat the (crap) out of him. He
says this on film. But, when it came down to it, they all basically
said this was the most brilliant artist of their generation.” [Read More]
Judy Parfitt was recommended for the role of Vera by director Taylor Hackford’s wife, Helen Mirren. Parfitt, who had largely confined her career to the stage, was virtually unknown to film audiences at the time. After auditioning with Kathy Bates, Bates reportedly turned to Hackford and gasped “Who was that?” They agreed to cast Parfitt on the spot.
“My husband did a beautiful thing when we were first together. I came to visit him at his office, and I was really upset. I was questioning what I was doing in LA and why I was with this guy I didn’t comprehend.
"There was a little path leading down the side of the studio where he worked, and he said,‘Do you see that path? We have just stepped onto that pathway. We have all that way to go. Don’t worry.’ It was such a wonderful, truthful thing to say. I immediately relaxed and thought, 'Yeah, we have just started on our path.’ ”