Toronto Rock and Roll Revival 1969

Since I posted Paul McCartney’s Concert for Kampuchea yesterday I thought I would concentrate on the festival John Lennon popped up at in 1969… The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival. Unlike Kampuchea which was spread out on multiple days and nights, this festival was held on one day September 13, 1969.

John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band just played fifties songs plus John’s new song that Beatles rejected…Cold Turkey. The reason for the fifties’ songs was because the band had limited time to rehearse and they wanted to do songs they all knew.

It was a great festival lineup but it’s remembered mostly by John Lennon’s participation. The Doors were the headliners and John only agreed to do it

The concert was conceived by promoters John Brower and Ken Walker with financial backing from Eaton’s department store but stymied by poor ticket sales, the venture began to lose support. The festival was almost canceled but Brower called Apple Records in the UK to ask John Lennon to emcee the concert. Lennon agreed to appear on the condition he would be allowed to perform.

The Lennons flew in from England with a makeshift band that included Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White, and Yoko. They arrived at the backstage area at about 10 p.m, while Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys were singing Good Old Rock ‘n’ Roll to an audience of about 20,000.

Lennon was quoted as saying “I threw up for hours until I went on” because it had been three years since he played live in a concert setting. The band went on and did a good job…ragged but it was a hastily assembled band with only a rehearsal on the plane ride and backstage.

John Lennon:  “The ridiculous thing was that I didn’t know any of the lyrics. When we did Money and Dizzy, I just made up the words as I went along. The band was bashing it out like hell behind me. Yoko came on stage with us, but she wasn’t going to do her bit until we’d done our five songs….Then after Money there was a stop, and I turned to Eric and said, ‘What’s next?’ He didn’t know either, so I just screamed out ‘C’mon!’ and started into something else.”

Little Richard: “I remember the show that people were throwing bottles at Yoko Ono. They were throwing everything at her. Finally, she had to run off the stage. Oh, boy, it was very bad.”

John Lennon: And we tried to put it out on Capitol, and Capitol didn’t want to put it out. They said, ‘This is garbage; we’re not going to put it out with her screaming on one side and you doing this sort of live stuff. And they just refused to put it out. But we finally persuaded them that, you know, people might buy this. Of course it went gold the next day.”

John Lennon and Yoko’s setlist

  • Blue Suede Shoes.
  • Money (That’s What I Want)
  • Dizzy Miss Lizzy.
  • Yer Blues.
  • Cold Turkey.
  • Give Peace a Chance.
  • Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)
  • John John (Let’s Hope for Peace)

Performers 

John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band

Whiskey Howl

Bo Diddley

Chicago

Junior Walker and the All Stars

Tony Joe White

Alice Cooper

Chuck Berry

Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys

Jerry Lee Lewis

Gene Vincent

Little Richard

Doug Kershaw

The Doors

Kim Fowley The Master of Ceremonies

Screaming Lord Sutch

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll 1987

This documentary starts off in 1986 with Chuck Berry reminiscing about the Cosmopolitan Club where he played in the earlier days.

The film is centered around Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday and Keith Richards assembling an All-Star Band to support Chuck in concert. Chuck had been touring since the 60s by traveling town to town and playing with any pickup band he found…all he brought was his guitar. He would get paid with cash in a paper bag in many places. That was his motivation more than playing with a good band. Chuck could be very sloppy playing live.

Chuck could also be difficult, to say the least. Keith was determined that Chuck was going to be backed by a great band for this concert… Chuck was Keith’s idol but Chuck seemed to want to give Keith as much trouble as possible. Richards says in the documentary that Chuck was the only man that hit him that he didn’t hit back. During the rehearsals for the song “Carol”, you can feel the tension in the air between the two.

Seeing Keith’s reaction to Chuck at times is worth the price of admission and I’m glad Keith was persistent and patient and got this done. It’s great footage of Chuck playing his classics.

The concert at the Fox Theatre ended up a success. Chuck sounded great and so did the band.

During the documentary, there are some great comments by Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Dixon and more.

Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Chuck have a very interesting conversation about how hard it was to get played on the radio because of being African American in the 50s. They also talk about payola and Alan Freed.

The band was incredible… Keith Richards, Robert Cray, the great Johnnie Johnson (Chuck’s original piano player), Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Chuck Leavell and Eric Clapton guests on a few songs.

Some of the artists that came on and sang were Etta James, Linda Ronstadt, and Julian Lennon.

Chuck was a complicated man but he was a poet as well. I can’t recommend this documentary enough. If you are a music fan you should like it. Chuck Berry may have influenced Rock and Roll more than anyone else…

My favorite story is from Bruce Springsteen. Bruce and the E Street Band volunteered to back up Chuck Berry for a show in the early seventies. Being Chuck’s temporarily pickup band must have been nerve-wracking for musicians. Chuck didn’t tell them what songs he was playing or what key…this is Bruce’s quote “About five minutes before the show was timed to start, the back door opens and he comes in. He’s by himself. He’s got a guitar case, and that was it,” Springsteen said. “[I said] ‘Chuck, what songs are we going to do?’ He says, ‘Well, we’re going to do some Chuck Berry songs.’ That was all he said!”

Below is the video…not extremely clear but watchable.