“If you were to try and give rock and roll another name you might call it Chuck Berry,” praises John Lennon, live from The Mike Douglas Show. Although a rock legend in his own right, the former Beatle considered Chuck Berry a hero and worshiped him as a titan of the genre. While the two artists’ careers overlapped by a significant margin, the two had never performed with each other or even met prior to their TV performance in 1972.
Rightfully named the “Father of Rock and Roll,” Chuck Berry laid the foundation for the ever-changing genre. With timeless masterpieces such as “Johnny B. Goode,” and ”Roll Over Beethoven,” Berry was able to tour with his earliest songs for the next half century. It makes sense, then, that John Lennon would enlist Berry’s help during his week-long run as guest of The Mike Douglas Show.
It is difficult to come up with a more legendary musical collaboration. Both Chuck Berry and John Lennon sit in the top five of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists” list. The legends do not disappoint, splitting vocals and lead guitar on “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
After a heartfelt introduction from John Lennon, the dynamic duo goes to work. As Berry slings his guitar over his shoulder, Lennon practically jumps out of his heeled boots in excitement. During “Memphis, Tennessee,” Berry displays the same energy he had as an up-and-coming performer twenty years prior. His powerful presence is complimented by John’s “I’m just happy to be here” demeanor. Lennon displays visible joy when Berry jumps into his signature shuffle during a guitar solo. During the second verse, the performance takes an odd turn.
Chuck and John lean towards a single microphone to which they harmonize. Next to them stands Yoko Ono, her all black outfit matching her husband’s, banging steady upbeats on a drum. She pauses, picks up a microphone, and lets out a droning vibrato into it. Chuck Berry can’t hide his wide-eyed reaction to Yoko’s avant garde addition to his song. Satisfied, she returns the microphone to its stand and continues the beat. This process is repeated twice before the end of the song.
After a commercial break, the band proceeds to play the historic “Johnny B. Goode.” Chuck and John gleefully wail through the chorus. The second verse hits. Yoko Ono reaches for the microphone and brings it to her mouth. Despite her efforts, the sound of her voice isn’t audible. Her microphone has been shut off. She tries again during the final chorus, but with no luck.
Who was responsible for making this decision? Did a producer order Yoko’s line to be muted? Perhaps the sound engineer took matters into his own hands. I can’t help but feel sorry for Yoko. Chuck, John and the rest of the band continued to hear her performance regardless of what the console picked up. It seems wrong that the audience did not hear it, too. Still, the performance remains iconic, featuring a rock legend and music’s most recognizable couple.