Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll

It would be easy to characterize Chuck Berry, who passed away at age 90 in 2017, as one cantankerously acrimonious fellow, but after revisiting Taylor Hackford's astute 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll, now available on Blu-ray for the first time via Shout Select, I'm reminded of how captivating, creative, and downright business-savvy the pioneering, guitar-playing singer/ songwriter actually was. In Hail! Hail!, Hackford's always on-the-spot lens follows Rolling Stones guitarist and early Berry acolyte Keith Richards' holy mission to celebrate his hero's 60th birthday with an all-star backing band at St. Louis' fabled Fabulous Fox Theatre. Tense moments ensue during a tight-quartered rehearsal of "Carol," with Berry negating some of Richards' suggestions outright—Keef's eye-daggers after turning his back following one particularly intense exchange are priceless—but once the pair achieve the correct intuitive guitar-line interweaving, all is essentially well.

520berry.boxThe doc's original filmic quality remains intact yet better defined on Blu-ray than the 2006 DVD. Shades of red are well-defined when Berry visits the rundown Cosmopolitan Club, the shiny cherry-cranberry hue of his boat-length car contrasting with the duller crimson of the corner stop sign and that of the dilapidated, fading bricks of the club's exterior. Elsewhere, his striking burgundy-champagne jacket contrasts well with the intricate detail work seen on the lavish column carvings located within the lobby of the Fox Theatre.

It's a pure joy watching and listening to all the concert segments. The surround mix conveys just the right amount of ambience, with crowd noise swelling in the rears whenever Berry beckons the audience to vocally respond to his actions. Berry is both animated and charismatic whenever he sings and plays the lead and rhythm guitar lines that are the literal bedrock of the last half-century-plus of popular music. Not only that, but he's an amazing coach and cheerleader whenever he points at Richards to let loose with a lead or entices Eric Clapton to "take another one!" after his initial blazing solo on "Wee Wee Hours."


Extras, culled from what Hackford compiled for the 2006 DVD, are bountiful and clock in at roughly over 4 hours. A section called "Chuckisms" features Berry proffering extended original poetic readings seemingly off the top of his head, while a sitdown between Berry and creative consultant Robbie Robertson as they pore over his personal scrapbook together divulges details only a fellow musician could garner.

STUDIO: Shout Select, 1987/2019
AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
LENGTH: 120 mins.
DIRECTOR: Taylor Hackford
STARRING: Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Johnnie Johnson, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Julian Lennon, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James

John_Werner's picture

For those of us around 60 or so we, likely, missed the real glory years of Chuck. That makes this film important because the only hit he had in my formative years was the novelty song "My Dingaling" not exactly his best work. I have to say Chuck avoided be a vicim when so many of his contemporaries got "hosed". This is about the best evidence of the man and his rock instincts. He used pick-up bands because, well, he was cheap...or smart. The thing is he deserved a crack and tight unit that only a honed group of steady road warriors honed over time and "battles" could provide. His use of various pick-up bands largely truncated this. So, what we have here is the best band on video supporting the man. They may not have traveled for a decade with him yet his influence struck a huge chord with this collective. After reading your concise review I've decided this is worthy to purchase. Earlier viewings support this and this edition with additions can only add depth and value. A true rock and roll pioneer in a worthy presentation for the ages.