Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rand Coffman and Chuck Berry, 1974

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.


  1. I was in one of the warm up bands for that concert.
    It was amazing performing for 10,000 people on a beautiful beach. I was impressed that Chuck kept playing through the rain with all that electrical equipment on stage. I was told that it cost $25,000 to ship that equipment over from Hawaii (in 1974 dollars!). I was disappointed in him however, when after the performance he came back on stage parading a young woman around.

    1. Were you in the Guam band "Friends". I remember they played before Berry and then backed him up I think. I thought the equipment on stage with him was local. I remember picking him up at the airport and all he had was his guitar and a small suitcase!

    2. No. I was the trombonist in Bamboo - we played both before and after.
      My cousin Jim Rekdahl did most of the lead singing. Billy Phillips was on Drums. I think he eventually became a newscaster. For that concert we also had some military kid with a wonderful voice sing a couple songs too. Unfortunately memories for names fade after 40+ years.

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