This Epiphone Casino originally purchased in Newfoundland was made in Korea in 1995 and is really not much like the Gibson ES355 that Chuck Berry favored. It is a similar color and shape but that's about it. The battered ES355 that he brought to Guam in 1974 was obviously a very old friend. Berry was 47. Normally he traveled with a less expensive ES335 but for some reason he brought his better guitar. Berry traveled around on the "oldies circuit" alone in that period, just himself and a guitar. He would get a pickup band that knew his tunes, do the gig, no encore, and move on. Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller performed the backup band function early in their careers. This time a local Guam band called "Friends" would back him up. No rehearsal, no discussion, just hit the stage, do the old tunes, and go to the airport. "Friends" was a very tight group and I think Berry actually appreciated it.
His concert on Guam was on August 17, 1974, Rand Coffman's 27th birthday. Rand produced the concert through a project he created called "Youth Incorporated" and a grant from the American Bicentennial Commission. I was the photographer-cinematographer for the Chuck Berry gig and Frank McGuire shot stills for the local paper. I don't know what happened to the 16mm color footage I shot. I was 27 and taking a break from graduate art school at Florida State University. I've been close friends with Rand since high school, some 50 years now. He still lives in Guam, has a radio program called "The Edge of Heaven" about phenomena, renovates yachts, teaches gifted children, and lot's of other interesting things.
Chuck thought I laughed a little too much. He was probably right. Mr. Berry on the other hand, was not very funny. We picked him up at the airport in a Rolls Royce. The one and only time I've ever been in a Rolls. It belonged to somebody's uncle. Why was he doing a concert in the George Washington High School stadium such a very long way from St. Louis? I got the feeling he might not have known how far it was to Guam and when he finally got there a bunch of scruffy hippies picked him up in a Rolls. He wasn't too cheerful. To top it off it rained at the concert and he went on early but played anyway. He did a very good set and got a standing ovation which seemed to cheer him up. Before he could get off, a bunch of kids jumped up on the stage and started singing and dancing around him. He started laughing. Laughing like a regular guy not a star. He took the microphone, pointed at the audience still applauding, and yelled "you're all my children!" And we are.
|Rand Coffman (left) and I on safari, 1965.|