Sixteen years ago, roughly on the occasion of his 75th birthday, I flew to St. Louis to talk to Chuck Berry. This was per our arrangement. Chuck said there would be none of those long confessional conversations where “the writer moves into my house and watches me brush my teeth in my pajamas.” Instead, I was to travel to Old St. Loo at one-month intervals, chat for a couple of hours at the Blueberry Hill club and then go home. This worked well, for a while, Chuck always appearing at the appointed place and time. Chuck might have developed a reputation over his matchless career for some nasty habits, but lack of punctuality was not one of them. Through thousands of gigs, no matter how remote the venue, Chuck was always there, on the dot, as long as the money was up and his three standard contract demands were fulfilled: a Lincoln town car at the airport, a Fender Bassman amp and an “able” pick-up band, as in, a band “able to play Chuck Berry songs,” which should go without saying, because how could any band be a band if it couldn’t play Chuck Berry songs?
So it was a surprise when Chuck did not show up to our last meeting. Reaching him at his home at Berry Park outside Wentzville, Missouri, Chuck was cheerfully unapologetic. He said he hadn’t forgotten our date because “I never forget anything.” He simply decided he had other, more important things to do. At the moment, he was just finishing troweling a little cement on his front doorstep. After that, he planned to pull up a chair on the lawn to “watch it set.” “Call me capricious,” said the man who once allegedly flicked the ash of his cigarette down Keith Richards’ shirt, adding that we both knew he’d already given me “plenty.”
This was, of course, accurate. Over lunches of chicken wings and coleslaw, Chuck, captain’s hat upon his head, had reprised his singular American journey. He had even let me drive his Toyota Avalon, albeit briefly. The Avalon was a serious letdown after all that detail-rich automotive phantasmagoria described in tunes like “No Money Down” and “You Can’t Catch Me.” But there was a purpose to it, Chuck said: “In a Toyota, the cops don’t stop you as much.”
Did the cops actually stop him, even now? I asked.
“Shit, yeah,” Chuck replied, with a flash of sternness. “They stop me. They’ll let me go after they see it’s me, but they stop me. Always have, always will.”
That was another thing Chuck gave me, the horse’s-mouth testimony that even when you’re the Father of Rock & Roll, the cops will still stop you for being, as Chuck said, “a color other than white.” Asked if he had ever gotten over the way so many white groups, the Beach Boys and Beatles included, made fortunes out of his music, or the fact that, like Muhammad Ali, years were taken from the prime of his career after he was busted on the rarely invoked Mann Act (a law prohibiting the transport of a woman across a state line for an “immoral purpose”; Charlie Chaplin, pegged as a communist, and the brash black boxer Jack Johnson were similarly accused), Chuck said, “Get over it? Not really.”
Chuck told me that, outside of his family, the last thing he ever wanted to see on this Earth was the number “1 million” inscribed in his bankbook. No doubt he achieved that, which maybe squared things up, to a degree. It is also sweet to hear that the record he’d been working on for the past couple of decades will come out in June. The song list contains a tune called “Jamaica Moon,” which brought a smile to my face, owing to an incident that occurred during our visits. At the time, Chuck had not been in a commercial recording studio for 17 years. He’d been fooling around at home, but now he wanted to make “a real record.” Admitting to some nervousness, Chuck entered the studio with boxes full of old sheet music and reel-to-reel tapes. One page flew out and fluttered to rest at my feet.
It was the original sheet music, with Chuck’s penciled notations, for “Havana Moon,” one of my all-time favorites. Not at all like the more familiar “Chuck Berry songs,” “Havana Moon” tells a vernacular story of a local who falls in love with a beautiful tourist on a tropical island. The local spends most of the tune waiting for his love to return, only to have dozed off when she actually arrives, not waking up until he sees her boat head “for horizon.” It always gets me, that one, but before I could pick the sheet music from the floor, Chuck snagged it and jammed it back into its box. It was a good song, Chuck said, but he’d grown to hate it. “It never made a dime,” he said, attributing the lack of sales to “Fidel Castro, the whole communist-Cuba thing down there.” He said that one day, if he got around to it, he would rewrite the song as the less-controversial “Jamaica Moon,” and put it out on a new record. It was nice to see he found the time.
Spoon documented a sweltering trio of hometown gigs at Austin, Texas festival SXSW with their new “Hot Thoughts” video. Grainy handheld cameras zoom in on frontman Britt Daniel, who unleashes the song’s funky, coiling riffs as stage lights flash onto transfixed audience members.
The band also announced a brief run of co-headlining dates with fellow indie-rockers the Shins. This fall, the groups will unite at four west coast venues: Berkley, California’s Greek Theater on September 30th, San Diego’s Cal Coast Credit Union on October 1st, Phoenix’s Comerica Theater on October 3rd and Morrison, Colorado’s iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater on October 5th.
Both bands will launch respective headlining tours behind recently released LPs this month. Spoon will kick off their massive Hot Thoughtstrek April 18th in Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City; the Shins will promote their fifth album, Heartworms, with a live run beginning April 20th in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Spoon will share stages with several other notable indie-rock acts on tour, including Tennis, the New Pornographers, Belle & Sebastian, Andrew Bird and Twin Peaks.
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It’s Valentine’s Day and Samuel T. Herring is onstage at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, splitting open his soul – as well as the crotch of his pants and the sleeve of his navy button-down. Sweat blooms around the curve of his back as he jabs, kicks and body-rolls along to his own existential grief.
“So many sad songs on Valentine’s Day,” the Future Islands frontman tells the crowd, clenching his fist around the mic. “Because that’s what we fuckin’ do.”
For years, the Baltimore synth-pop trio were a well-kept secret. Then, on March 3rd, 2014, they played their single “Seasons (Waiting on You)” on The Late Show with David Letterman. Herring’s impassioned delivery and idiosyncratic dance moves seemed to transfix the entire Internet. The clip went viral, becoming the most-viewed video on the show’s YouTube page.
“Have you seen them?” Bono asked in U2’s Rolling Stone cover story. He called “Seasons” – a galvanic moving-on song – a “miracle,” and shipped the band a case of Guinness and champagne in gratitude. When Debbie Harry saw the clip, she hopped on a duet with Herring (the lovely “Shadows,” from the band’s new fifth LP, The Far Field). Even the reclusive author Haruki Murakami tweeted praise. Suddenly, Future Islands were one of the most in-demand bands in America, selling out venues like London’s Roundhouse and New York’s Terminal 5 at Bey-level speeds. Festivals that previously passed on them came calling. That summer, even Gwyneth Paltrow asked for a selfie with Herring.
This year, the stakes are higher than ever before. Future Islands locked main-stage sets at three of the country’s biggest music festivals, Coachella, Panorama and Bonnaroo, all before anyone had heard so much as a song from The Far Field. It’s a particularly big leap considering that the band has never charted on the Billboard Hot 100.
Future Islands’ signature sound is the work of bassist William Cashion and keyboardist/programmer Gerrit Welmers. They create spare, shimmering tracks that recall Eighties synth pop at its most wistful and urgent; Herring adds melancholy reflections culled from his journals – “I try to translate the feeling of the chords,” he says – and delivers them in an achingly soulful belt.
Herring’s unguarded expression is what captivates many fans, but some close to the band are concerned about him going too deep. “Sam’s obviously a great lyricist and is very vulnerable, but I do worry about him,” says electronic-music artist and friend Dan Deacon. “I think he drifts into the darker part of his past, which is OK, as long is he doesn’t put himself in emotional danger to do so.”
It’s a gray weekday in Baltimore, and an insistent thrum is coming from Cashion’s backyard. Future Islands are practicing in his wooden shed, which is just big enough for the band, a beat-up couch and a case of LaCroix. They run through fan favorites like “Long Flight,” “Walking Through That Door” and “Tin Man.” Herring stands uncharacteristically still until Cashion’s hand glides down the fingerboard of his bass on the opening of “Seasons.” The singer instinctively jolts forward, like he’s running head first into a cold ocean.
In exactly one week, Future Islands will play their new single, “Ran,” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “The one thing that makes us the most nervous as a band is playing on television,” Cashion says later. “Ran” has the same restlessness as “Seasons,” but it brings in a new hint of desperation, with Herring singing, “I can’t take this world without you.” In the video – partly shot in Cashion’s shed – the singer bounds through the Maryland countryside, contemplating “how it feels when we fall and we fold” like Thoreau in an L.L. Bean fall coat.
The Far Field builds on Singles’ themes of compassion and heartache with roving songs like “Ancient Water” and “North Star,” balanced with more introspective ones like “Through the Roses” and “Cave.” The album is also a bookend of sorts to the raw sound of Future Islands’ 2010 album, In Evening Air. Both album titles are taken from poems by Theodore Roethke, a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer who inspires Herring’s portrayal of nature. Both record covers were also painted by the same Brooklyn-based artist, Kymia Nawabi. (She also used to be in the band, but more on that later.)
“When I wrote In Evening Air, I was exploding with love and then, exploding with loss,” Herring says later. “The beauty of falling in love is the surprise that it can find you, the surprise that someone can make you feel again. … As an older man, falling in love and then losing it – it’s not a surprise anymore.”
Herring appears sanguine, but as he says later, the period leading up to The Far Field was a lonely one – at times harrowingly so.
After practice, the 33-year-old singer drives me back to his house in his tan-interior Audi, a sensible, used 2007 model that’s a major upgrade from his old, white Volvo. “This was my gift to myself after Singles,” he says from behind the steering wheel.
Baltimore has been Future Islands’ surrogate home since late 2007. They came together here from various cities in North Carolina at the recommendation of local DIY fixtures like Dan Deacon and Benny Boeldt, who raved about the industrial mid-Atlantic stopover as a creative haven. Deacon knew Herring, Cashion and Welmers when they played in the wild, theatrical Art Lord and the Self-Portraits, in Greenville, North Carolina.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be the biggest band in the world’ – they had the audience right in the palm of their hand,” said Deacon. “And they still do. I’m just confused why it took so fucking long.”
Deacon recalls booking Future Islands’ first Baltimore show at the now-defunct Talking Head club. “It was a disaster,” he says unflinchingly. The set was too early and no one showed up to hear them. Feeling accountable, Deacon insisted they rally for a second show later that night – this one at a DIY warehouse party. “They just killed,” he says emphatically.
The first time Cashion and Herring talked seriously about moving to Baltimore was over a cigarette in Brooklyn. Future Islands was somewhat marginalized in North Carolina’s guitar-driven rock scene. “We were coming from Art Lord, which was kind of gimmicky and people knew us for that,” Cashion explains. But in Baltimore, particularly when Deacon’s quirky art collective Wham City was taking off, Future Islands seemed like the serious ones.
Herring parks outside his austere suburban house as the sun dips through tall spruce trees outside. Walking past a bucket of cigarette butts on the porch, he opens the screen door to a cavernous living room and heads straight back to the kitchen. His mangy tabby named Chantix slinks at his feet. “Take a seat, it’s story time with Sam,” he smiles, motioning me to sit as he lights the stove and sets up the ingredients for a scrambled-eggs dinner.
Herring grew up in the small beach town of Morehead City, North Carolina. He hails from blue-collar folks, mostly farmers. His father was the first in his family to attend law school and became a divorce attorney. (“I joke that I continued the family business,” Herring says, dimples darkening to a smile, since so many of his songs are about separation).
But it’s the endurance of love – not its dissolution – that’s made Herring a hopeless romantic, or depending on the day, intensely lovesick. His parents just celebrated their 40th anniversary, he says. They still wake up together, leave for work together (Mrs. Herring is Mr. Herring’s secretary), go home together and turn off the lights together. “I see such a true thing in their relationship. … Their love informs how I speak about love – it’s beautiful,” he says taking fresh broccoli out of a plastic bag. He jokes that when he dates people, it’s like, “What do you mean you don’t want to hang out for 24 hours straight?” He spreads the olive oil, tilting the frying pan and holding it up like a mirror. “I’ve always wanted that thing. Someone there. And I don’t have that.”
As a kid, Herring was doe-eyed and likable, but felt weak in his identity. “I felt isolated in a world in which I was loved,” he says. Hip-hop filled a void that the school baseball team didn’t. Every week, he’d steal his lunch and pocket his allowance to have enough at the end of the week to buy tapes from obscure artists like Killah Priest and Gravediggaz alongside Eric B and Rakim, De La Soul, and KRS-One. Hip-hop was a twofold gift, providing Herring with a cheeky hubris that impressed his friends in the locker room – and, more significantly, a poet’s ear.
Standing over the cutting board, Herring lets out his inner Kool Moe Dee, reciting from memory the first verse he wrote in eighth grade, and promptly cracking up. “I had no idea how to talk to women – I couldn’t freestyle at all,” he says, chopping zucchini into neat fours. “But that’s how I developed my own style and writing – pretending to be the Treacherous Three.”
Hip-hop is still a major force in Herring’s life. Since 2009, he’s rapped under the MC pseudonym Hemlock Ernst. “Hemlock” was his original name as a writer when he was 14, he says. (“Ernst” comes from Locke Ernst Frost, the made-up German character he portrayed in Art Lord.) In addition to his main band, he has recorded and collaborated with hip-hop trailblazers like Madlib, BadBadNotGood and Busdriver.
Herring’s gift for flow come across on “Aladdin,” the first track on The Far Field:
I’ve seen the beaches Breached the peak of “please” and “thanks” I’ve seen my features age My fingers strange
“I could’ve only written that song after studying hip-hop,” he says.
“The tremble of a word can make you cry,” he continues. He pauses, his face serious. “You don’t [necessarily] recognize what [it is] about it, but something can make you break down. It’s fucking beautiful.”
The singer is eager to tour in support of The Far Field, though he fears that as the band grows, he’s becoming less accessible to fans, especially after blowing out his voice in 2015. “It was just sad, because I had to resign myself to the fact that you can’t give 100 percent of yourself onstage and then give 100 percent offstage,” he says. “I had to make a decision.
“I’ve been alone a lot this year – physically … well, in every way,” he says with a smile. An average day begins with a pot of coffee and ends with a long walk. He writes everyday” in his room, at a picnic table outside a local coffee shop, just driving around. Solitude lets him dig deeper, he says – “maybe not in a good way.”
Just then, one of his roommates, fellow Baltimore music-scene fixture Lexie Mountain, enters the kitchen to grab her journal, which is lying open on the table. If Herring wasn’t driving to Chicago tomorrow for Future Islands’ first concert of 2017, he’d be attending her standup set tonight at local spot the Crown. And later, he’d probably end up at Club Charles, a favorite dive around the corner.
“Bands aren’t in competition with each other like they are in other cities like New York,” says Gerrit Welmers in a separate conversation. The quiet keyboard player was admittedly not thrilled about leaving North Carolina for Baltimore, until on his first night in the new town, he found himself at a Dan Deacon–Diplo double billing that featured giant inflatable men waving in the musty club air. Welmers was home.
Welmers, 33, likes Baltimore even more now that he is married to a teacher whom he met through the town’s close-knit art scene, specifically, when he was stranded outside a DIY hub in the middle of the night. “I tried to wrap the jumper cables around my car, and Za’s like, ‘You’re doing a terrible job!’ and I’m like, ‘I love you.'”
Tall and thoughtful, Welmers grew up two streets over from the Herring household. He was an only child who enjoyed solitary pursuits – guitar, skateboarding, shooting hoops outside his house. (One time in eighth grade, Herring beat an infuriated Welmers at H.O.R.S.E.). Mostly, Welmers just listened to metal and punk records alone in his room. He loved the Misfits the most, but wanted to play guitar like late Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads. (To this day, Welmers prefers playing his ice-blue, Rhoads-style Jackson – “There’s nothing like holding one of those in your hand,” he says). Eventually, Welmers and Herring would find common ground in their mutual obsessions with Danzig and Kool Keith.
In 2002, they enrolled at East Carolina State University. There, they met William Cashion, a friendly, ambitious, blue-eyed country boy who also loved heady alt-rock like Pixies (“Dead” was his favorite Doolittle track) and composing his own avant-garde computer music.
Cashion, 34, recalls winning a Web-design competition for the North Carolina state fair when he was 13 years old, well before most people even owned a computer. “I was just interested,” he says with his usual calm. In high school, after hearing Smashing Pumpkins for the first time, he applied that natural inquisitiveness to guitar.
Cashion vividly remembers the first time he spoke to Herring, who he knew as the kid with the crazy mutton-chop sideburns in his Drawing I class. “He was like a politician,” Cashion recalls, tucking his shoulder-length sandy-colored hair behind his ears. “He knew everyone’s name on campus, in kind of the same way he still remembers everyone’s name when we’re on tour.” Almost instinctively, Cashion and Herring decided to form a band. The specifics – like genre, name, instruments – would come gradually, over beers at Herring’s apartment with his childhood friend, Welmers.
Art Lord and the Self-Portraits were an irreverent party band. Their first official show was on Valentine’s Day, 2003. Nawabi was a senior fine-arts major who met the gaggle of freshmen (Herring, Welmers and Cashion) through another band member, Adam Beeby. Neither of them had any musical background. But skill was besides the point, says Nawabi, who played tambourine and backing vocals. It was one of the most fun experiences of her life, she says, sitting at the dining room table of her cozy Brooklyn apartment.
Welmers and Cashion, both guitarists, decided to try other instruments in Art Lord. Welmers mostly played keyboard, learning from copying Aphex Twin and Xiu Xiu records, and Cashion chose bass, a natural transition for the Kim Deal and Peter Hook fanatic. (According to Cashion, this is when the musicians hit upon the taut bass-keyboards-drums mix that would later define Future Islands.) Herring, meanwhile, could rhyme but had never written a pop song. He played the role of the brash, domineering “art lord” Locke Ernst Frost and mostly made up lyrics on the spot.
After Nawabi and Beeby graduated, Art Lord continued as a trio until 2005. (“They were, like, the three kings of Greenville,” says Deacon, remembering their warehouse parties.) “There were definitely times I thought I was gonna die onstage,” says Herring of Art Lord’s wild sets. “I was crammed in a room, high as fuck, singing songs with people on top of me, heart beating out of my chest, nose exploding onstage with blood.”
All the attention tugged at Herring. In his late teens, he developed an addiction to cocaine. “It was all just in my head, all an escape, something I thought rock stars do,” Herring says quietly. “I’m lucky certain things didn’t come in the door like heroin, because at that time, I would’ve done anything.
“There was a lot of desperation. … I lost friends to drugs and I continued to be a user and a dealer. It was like, ‘You were just at a funeral last week, crying, and now you’re just doing the same thing?'”
At 22, Herring told Welmers and Cashion that he was moving back to his parents’ house. “It was a very emotional meeting. I don’t think I knew how bad it had gotten,” Cashion says. “It’s hard because it’s like, you’re young, you’re partying and sometimes it gets to be too much and you get in over your head. I had no doubt [Sam] could get to the other side, but he’s also fortunate that he called it early, realized it was an issue and removed himself from it. He rode the ship. And it’s hard to admit – to ask your friends and parents for help.”
Herring cleaned up on his own. He moved out of Greenville; if he had stayed, he would’ve relapsed, he says. Part of his recovery was acknowledging how the drugs masked something graver.
Over the empty dishes, Herring pulls his chair back and leans forward, gathering his thoughts. “Sometimes I think, ‘Doesn’t everyone think about depression?'”
Sure, I nod.
“But they don’t, though,” he says flatly, shaking his head. “There are a lot of people who can’t even fathom this thing, who have never really thought about it. To me that seems really foreign. … I don’t think it’s a bad thing to ponder those things. It’s another thing to act on them.” He pauses again.
“I wouldn’t be here, if … I feel lucky that I’m here. Because I just wanted out – like, life is hard. There is so much sadness. And people continue to be hateful.” His voice trails off. It’s been more than 10 years since Herring has felt, in his words, “the dark darkness.” But as a songwriter, he’s still drawing on these experiences.
“Through the Roses,” The Far Field‘s most vulnerable song, gracefully addresses loneliness and self-harm.
In the weak of my soul The temptation to look inside my wrist – it grows The cut is waiting The cut is waxing in its hold The clutch of nothing The curse of wanting Takes me whole
After dinner, Herring shows me his modest bedroom facing the front of the house. “Welcome to my dungeon,” says. It’s here that he spends an inordinate amount of time writing lyrics, freestyling and thinking. Above his closet, baseball caps hang in a neat line, one per hook. A fly-catching strip curls from the ceiling light. Four Murakami books are stacked on the bedside table.
Herring points proudly to the leather recliner next to his bed where he writes; its mustard-color cushioning is peeking through the threads. It was his grandfather’s, as was the small silver ashtray that sits on his bed.
In less than eight hours, Herring and the band’s drummer, Mike Lowry, will be up at 6 a.m., driving their gear to Chicago’s House of Vans where Welmers and Cashion will meet them. The group seems excited to hit the road again but also cautious, given their penchant for tours that can last years without a break.
Welmers attests to the grueling schedule. After Future Islands wrapped a five-year tour in 2010, he chased the band’s transatlantic flight with a 10-hour nonstop drive to visit his ex-girlfriend in New Hampshire. They’d broken up because their lives were heading in different directions between his touring and her graduate school. It was a confluence of shitty luck, he recalls: That tour stole his gear, his wallet, his passport and his relationship. (Fortunately, the pair reconciled and the same woman is now Welmers’ wife.)
“Sam’s lyrics about the hardships of touring really resonate,” Cashion says. He, like Welmers, met his partner, Elena, before Future Islands took off. They first hit it off on the Deacon-led Baltimore Round Robin tour in 2010, folding T-shirts at the merch table in Philadelphia.
The kitchen windows are now completely black and Herring’s roommates have left for the evening. I close our conversation with what seem like two softball questions: What place makes him most happy? And what’s his favorite part of falling in love?
Herring looks away, uncomfortably.
“I don’t really have a ‘happy place’; a happy memory is also something you long for, something that’s not there, so I don’t really have them,” he says. “I go to the coast when I’m home and it makes me feel like a kid again. It’s beautiful to hear the sounds, to smell it. … But it all becomes the longing for something that’s not there. My happiest place in this world is the stage. That’s where I have purpose. It’s what makes me know I deserve to be – not that I need to be – on this earth.”
The painting on the cover of The Far Field shows the delicate outline of a woman, lying below a flower that hangs over her like a pendulum. The piece, titled Chrysanthemum Trance, is about finding renewal in nature, Nawabi says. She never told Herring what the painting meant, but a track like “Day Glow Fire” shows he understood implicitly.
Inspired by a long-distance romance of Herring’s that began and ended in 2016, the song might be the album’s most heartbreaking. Rather than unpack the relationship in detail, the lyrics focus on a walk through the Rocky Mountains. “Nature is the thing I have,” Herring explains. “I don’t talk about the person I loved – I talk about the beautiful things that we see, because that’s the thing that still exists.” Cashion’s bass rolls like a quiet river, and Welmers garnishes each line with a synth chime.
“Before I met this person, I was about to turn 32,” Herring says of his ex. “I’d lost my great loves, my early loves, my strong loves. They were gone. And I was changed. I couldn’t go back to them even if I had the chance because I was a different person. I was a person that I maybe didn’t even like as much.”
He claims he’s grown cynical, and yet he stresses that “love is central. It’s the theme I can’t get away from. It’s like, why do anything if not for that?”
So says the person who’s given up on love.
Herring’s face softens. “You always give up. You have to give up if you’re going to get over somebody.” He shakes his head and smiles. “You better give up.”
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Chuck Berry was laid to rest Sunday following a pair of memorials in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. The music legend died March 18th at the age of 90.
Early Sunday morning, hundreds of fans began lining up outside the city’s Pageant venue for a four-hour public viewing of Berry, who was dressed in a white suit, purple sequined shirt and iconic Captain’s hat accompanied by his red Gibson ES-335 guitar.
A guitar-shaped floral arrangement, sent from the Rolling Stones, resided next to Berry’s casket, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. “Thank you for the inspiration. With fondest memories, Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie, the Rolling Stones,” the card’s inscription read.
Hundreds of fans also queued for a chance to receive one of 300 tickets to join Berry’s friends, family and fellow musicians at the private ceremony later that afternoon at the same venue.
Following the viewing, the private “Celebration of Life” service was held, with Kiss‘ Gene Simmons, former Late Show bandleader Paul Shaffer and Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records co-founder Leonard Chess, among those paying their respects to Berry.
The service opened with Missouri congressman William Lacy Clay reading remarks written by former president Bill Clinton, who recruited Berry to perform at both of his presidential inaugurations.
“He is one of America’s greatest rock & roll pioneers,” Clinton wrote. “He captivated audiences around the world. His music spoke to the hopes and dreams we all had in common. Me and Hillary grew up listening to him.”
Simmons, who didn’t plan on speaking at the service, took the podium to thank Berry, “Without Chuck Berry I wouldn’t be here and everything that came, that became this huge thing called rock & roll started with a guy who just wanted to make people feel good and forget about the traffic jams of the world and everything,” an emotional Simmons said.
“He was breaking down barriers that no one suspected. Chuck, he changed more little white boys’ and white girls’ lives than all the politicians and their talk,” the Kiss bassist added. “Maybe Chuck said it best: ‘Roll over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news.’ Buckle your knees, bow your head, the great Chuck Berry is passing by.”
Shaffer credited Berry as the man “who invented rock & roll,” while Rock and Roll Hall of Fame president Joel Peresman acknowledged that “from the first brick, everything that was built was based on Chuck Berry,” who was among the Rock Hall’s first inductees.
Letters of tribute penned by Paul McCartney – “As you probably know, Chuck was a huge influence on me and my companions, and I will always remain a great fan of his wonderful music,” he wrote – and Little Richard were also read to mourners.
Within the “Celebration of Life” program, Themetta “Toddy” Berry, Chuck’s wife of 68 years, penned a letter to her late husband:
Among the performers at the Berry memorial included Johnny Rivers, who had hits in the early Sixties with covers of Berry’s “Memphis” and “Maybellene” and played “Blue Suede Shoes” at the service, two of Berry’s grandchildren and some members of Berry’s backing band, including Billy Peek, who doled out “Johnny B. Goode.”
Former Journey frontman Steve Perry is planning to release a “cathartic” new solo LP in 2017. In a recent interview, the singer described the album, his first in over two decades, as an “emotional expression” of losing a loved one.
“I met someone, and I fell in love with this person,” Perry told ABC Radio. “And I lost this person to breast cancer four years ago. In the midst of that, I had written some songs, and before I met her I had sketched some. And so about a year ago, I started recording.”
The as-yet-untitled record will be Perry’s third proper studio work – and first since 1994’s For the Love of Strange Medicine. The “Oh Sherrie” singer said it’s been “real cathartic” touching on emotions he never expected to revisit. “And we really have been doing our very best to capture what I think are some timeless songs,” he said.
Perry appeared alongside his former Journey bandmates this weekend to accept the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There was media speculation that the reclusive singer, who last sang with the band on 1996’s Trial By Fire, would perform with the classic rock hitmakers. But the hyped reunion never happened, and current frontman Arnel Pineda handled vocals.
“They played so well. So, I want to thank them for all the music we’ve written. Thank you, Gregg for letting me live at your house to write the Infinity record. Thank you for letting me live at your house, Neal Schon. Thank you so much, Jon, for all the songs that we all have written together. Steve Smith’s amazing drums. Basso profundo, Ross Valory. Alright, guys, I thank you so much for all the music we’ve written and recorded together. It will be forever in my heart.”
LOS ANGELES, April 10, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Multi-platinum global superstar Mariah Carey, the best-selling female artist of all time with18 Hot 100 #1 hits, inks an exclusive joint partnership of Butterfly MC Records and Epic Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, it was announc…
“The cops were called, which I thought was totally unnecessary,” Heart‘s Ann Wilson says last month by phone from Colorado. “It was something that could have been worked out in a family meeting, but instead, it just went ballistic. I think it was overblown and just grew this other head. My gut reaction [after I found out what happened] was, ‘Let’s get everybody in a room and hash it out.’ All the emotional, super hyper-drama could have been avoided in the first hour.”
On August 26th, 2016, Heart performed at Auburn, Washington’s White River Amphitheatre, 30 minutes from where Ann and sister Nancy grew up near Seattle. With the families of both members backstage, it was supposed to be a celebratory homecoming show for the Hall of Fame duo in the midst of their U.S. tour.
As the band began their last song onstage – a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready – a different scene was emerging backstage shortly after midnight. Nancy’s then-16-year-old twin sons asked their uncle, Ann’s husband Dean Wetter, if they could see Ann’s new tour bus. Wetter brought the teenagers and Nancy’s stepdaughter to the vehicle, but asked them to keep the door closed so the dogs on the bus couldn’t escape. When the twins exited the bus after the visit, the first one out left the door open for the other two behind him, enraging Wetter.
According to a detective’s report in court documents obtained by Rolling Stone, “Dean became immediately upset and began calling [one of the teens] names … slap[ping] him on the back of the head, causing pain.” The teen asked why he hit him, with Wetter responding by “punching [the teenager] in the back of the head with a closed fist, causing [him] to be stunned and see stars.” After Wetter grabbed him by the throat, Nancy’s other son intervened. Wetter grabbed the other teen by the throat and, according to a police report, began “squeezing [the other son’s throat] to the point that [he] could not breathe. [He] said that he was unable to breathe or talk and that he feared for his life and felt pain in his neck.” Police arrested the then-66-year-old Wetter, charging him with two counts of assault, one felony and one misdemeanor.
“We just have to get through this first. It’s been kind of a nightmare.” –Nancy Wilson
On March 9th, Wetter pleaded guilty to two non-felony assault charges in the fourth degree. And while he won’t officially be sentenced until April 14th, all parties have agreed to a plea that will allow him to avoid jail time in lieu of two years unsupervised probation, individual counseling, group therapy, a ban on any alcohol or drugs, $3,000 restitution and no contact with Nancy Wilson’s two sons. (When asked for comment, a rep for Wetter replied, “Dean is not available for this article.”)
While Wetter admitted to police that he hit the teenagers on the night of the assault – “He said that he lost it with them and that he should not have touched them,” police wrote in their report – the aftermath is murkier; a Rashomon-like she-said/she-said that has threatened to upend the future and legacy of one of rock & roll’s most successful bands.
Wetter first appeared in the sisters’ lives in the 1980s on a blind date with Ann that Nancy, ironically, had set up. The pair went out for sushi and sake, with the night, and brief courtship, ending with Ann’s unsuccessful sexual advances. “He drove me home and I really put the make on him,” Ann says. “And he didn’t want to go there. He’s a super intellectual, brainy, complex, sensitive guy. And that’s not how he rolls, so he declined.”
The two reconnected three decades later while Wilson was on a promotional tour for the sisters’ autobiography Kicking and Dreaming and married in 2015. “We’ve been inseparable for two years now, 24/7” Ann says. “He’s such a different animal from anyone else who’s ever come into our family that [Nancy] never really understood him. And that had a lot to do with what happened. He was demonized before we even got married because he’s a free spirit. He’s completely blunt and honest and open. He holds nothing in reserve and that puts people off right there. People take it personally.”
But one woman’s “free spirit” is, to quote Nancy’s description, another’s “oddball.” “He’s hard to know,” Nancy says of Wetter. “We were really trying to get to know the guy and it takes time to know anyone. He’s one of those crankpots and he’ll kind of mouth off about kids. What I didn’t know is that he’s a guy that had some issues that really came between me and wanting to see him anytime soon.”
Nancy says she hasn’t had any contact with Wetter since the assault, due in part to, according to her, Wetter never trying to apologize. “Ann came up on my bus [after the incident] and said, ‘I guess Dean must have touched the children, and he’s sorry, but he had to lie down and take a nap,'” she says. “And I’m like, ‘What? That makes no sense.’ I don’t think it was very cool of her to have to try to apologize and cover for him. I thought if he was an adult all by himself, he would face it and come and say he was sorry and try to explain the behavior, but that’s never, ever happened.”
But Ann claims Wetter wanted to apologize, but wasn’t welcome. “When I came offstage and Dean told me what had happened, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Go over onto Nancy’s bus and clear the way because I want to come on there and apologize and talk to them,'” Ann says. “I went over on Nancy’s bus and it was a scene where everyone in the Heart camp was sitting around. Everybody was all upset … and they wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t listen.”
“My side really hurt her side. Her side really hurt my side. We’ve got to let those heal and get some counseling.” –Ann Wilson
According to Ann, Wetter spent the ensuing three or four days after the incident in a jail cell as the band continued their U.S. tour. They managed to finish the tour, performing 20 more shows – Nancy calls them “excruciating”; Ann, “complete hell” – with the sisters, for the first time in their 43-year career, opting for separate dressing rooms and only communicating via third parties. Nancy considered walking away from the rest of the tour, requesting that Wetter not be allowed backstage, close to the stage or near her children.
The Wilson sisters have not been in the same room since Heart’s final show of the tour last October – Nancy describes the relationship now as “pretty strained” – though they occasionally talk via text message. The assault put Ann in an unenviable scenario: Defend your husband or defend your sister.
“I’m a person who is completely authentic in my love for my husband and understanding of him,” Ann says. “I know him and I know he was really provoked. And it was wrong for him to get into it, but I think he’s a person of extremely high moral fiber. It was just totally unfortunate all around.”
“I’m an eternal optimist because I’m from a really strong, tight family, and I don’t think any drama that’s temporary is going to change our strong relationship,” says Nancy. “We just have to get through this first. It’s been kind of a nightmare.”
Ann agrees with the sentiment, but adds that Nancy “feels Dean is a monster and is always on the attack.” “Dean is a Zen warrior; he’s not a fighter,” she says. “That was a really unfortunate situation that gave everyone the wrong impression about this guy. If she can look around and see that everything really is OK and that her boys were scared, but not hurt, harmed or even marked, then we’ll get back together as a family.” (In a statement released after the publication of this story, Nancy said, “As much as my sister would have liked to solve this as a family matter, it is categorically against the law not to report any violence against minors. The parents could face serious charges for not reporting.”)
According to Ann, while the assault became the most extreme division between the sisters in recent years, it wasn’t the first. As of a couple years ago, Ann says, “We no longer had a shared vision for what we wanted for Heart.”
“We didn’t want to see ourselves as an old, has-been legacy band just going out again and again to make the big bucks,” she says. “I saw that happening the last couple of years more and more. [Nancy] has a vision of playing the same old meat-and-potatoes set in Europe. It can just go on forever. I just wanted to not call it a static thing that’s going to ride down into obscurity without at least trying to evolve. I don’t mean to say she’s wrong.” She pauses, as if searching for the perfect words. “We just differ, that’s all.” (Nancy disputes the idea of being a “mindless jukebox spewing out old hits,” but admits to a desire to “getsome new territory under our belts” alongside playing European and U.S. festival dates.)
“We just don’t need the high school drama swirling around the camp. We just need to talk to each other.” –Nancy Wilson
After the ill-fated tour, Ann and Wetter, feeling like “pariahs” on the West Coast, moved to Florida for four months. It was Ann’s first long stretch of free time in a decade and she says, despite the circumstances that led to her relocation, she’s happy to not have “Heart hanging in my future like a deadline.” “Nancy and I love each other,” she says. “We want to be friends. My side really hurt her side. Her side really hurt my side. We’ve got to let those heal and get some counseling.” In January, Ann announced a U.S. tour billed as “Ann Wilson of Heart” that continues into July.
The business of Heart, and its lucrative future touring plans, has effectively ceased since last year. “I’ve had no livelihood for a really long time now,” admits Nancy, who formed new band Roadcase Royale with Prince protégés Liv Warfield and Ryan Waters and current Heart members Chris Joyner, Dan Rothchild and Ben Smith. Warfield, whose commanding, soulful voice and R&B background complements Nancy’s rock and folk roots, opened for Heart in Los Angeles, and the band subsequently spent four days at the end of 2016 recording rough demos for their forthcoming EP.
Nancy says the band employs the “Pearl Jam ethic,” relying on a democratic “art-by-committee” model to steer the music’s direction. The funky, nimble “Get Loud” (co-written by longtime Heart lyricist Sue Ennis) sits next to the dulcet, yet muscular, cover of former Men at Work singer Colin Hay’s “Hold on to My Hand.”
But the EP’s most emotionally wrenching song is “The Dragon,” an ode to Wilson’s friend and deceased Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley. Wilson originally wrote the song – a dark, tense track that shifts between mellow acoustic guitars and a grinding grunge-like hook – in the mid-Nineties after watching Staley struggle with heroin addiction. “I saw such a beautiful band of brothers suffering and limping like walking wounded,” she says of Alice in Chains. “They couldn’t even do their music hardly anymore and it was such a sad thing that I wanted to write that.”
In an interview last month, Ann referred to Heart as being on a “temporary hiatus.” Asked if that is still accurate, she removes a key word. “I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘temporary hiatus.’ I would say it’s a hiatus,” she says, laughing. “We don’t need that little qualification right there.”
Still, both sisters insist the group hasn’t broken up. “I do see a positive way forward and that’s our friendship,” Ann says. “Nancy and I didn’t do this thing. We are each other’s friends and have been and will after this. Right now, we’re supporting each of our families. Nobody in this situation is evil. We have to be like trees that grow around the little imperfections.”
For Nancy, who appears to be the more optimistic of the two sisters, the “victory lap I was hoping to have this summer” is on hold, perhaps indefinitely, until “feelings all settle down and people can just be adults and talk to each other.
“If [Dean] makes [Ann] happy, then I’m really glad for her,” she says. “Everyone makes mistakes. It’s been freaky and more negative than it needed to be, but I’m willing and ready to humanize it all and get back into a dialogue, with Ann in particular, about if we’ve still got Heart. I feel pretty positive that we do, but it’s been impossible to know that for a long time now.
“It’s so unnecessarily competitive and those are the kind of destructive behaviors that harm big, positive relationships like me and Ann’s,” she adds. “I just know in my gut that me and Ann are going to be fine. We love each other and we’ve weathered all kinds of stuff in the past together no one would ever imagine and this is just one of those things. We just don’t need the high school drama swirling around the camp. We just need to talk to each other.”