Tag Archives: Triumph

Two Chuck Berry Stories From Michael Cohl And Triumph

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry, the true king of rock ‘n’ roll died yesterday in St. Charles County, Missouri. He was 90 years old.

Though Berry stopped touring a few years ago, I always held out small hope that I would get to see him perform live. Clearly that will never happen now.

While Berry will be lauded for his music, almost as much will be made about his mercurial and sometimes controversial behaviours and personality.

What’s absolutely clear is that Berry was a bigger-than-life music personality who won’t soon be forgotten.

I went through some of my old interview transcripts and found a couple anecdotes about Berry.

The first is an outtake from an interview I did with super-promoter Michael Cohl for a story at Huffington Post Music Canada. When the conversation turned to some of the stranger music personalities he’d dealt with in his career, Cohl was very discreet. He did, however, provide this one Berry-related tale:

“I think I’ve dealt with most of them,” said Cohl, of the most idiosyncratic entertainers. “I think that Rodney Dangerfield story’s pretty eccentric. So’s Bob Marley’s. I mean, listen, we’ve dealt with Chuck Berry. He’s nerve-wracking. He wants to be paid for every little thing. He wants to be paid per smile in some cases, but at the end of the day he says, ‘Don’t you worry, it’s an 8 o o’clock show? I’ll be at the building at 7:30 and have my money ready.’ And doesn’t want anyone to pick him up… so in some ways he’s the simplest, but the simplest can also be the most nerve-wracking because you’re sitting there and it’s 7 o’clock and you go ‘I have no idea where this guy is.’ He’s not in his room. He’s not in the building. He says he’s going to be here at 7:30… I wonder. Inevitably, he shows up.

“Yeah, he’s extraordinary, let’s face it. He’ll make you crazy.”

The other good Berry story I uncovered came from Triumph bassist Mike Levine, who I spoke to when the band released their Live at Sweden Rock Festival CD/DVD a few years back. Levine apparently experienced the unique challenge that is being the local band backing Berry.

Levine explained why in this outtake from my interview with him:

“I got a good Chuck Berry story,” said Levine. “I can’t remember the name of the band, but it was in the early ’70s and we were pretty popular, playing high schools and colleges and stuff, and we get a call from Queen’s University and they say, ‘Can you back up for Chuck Berry?’ And he’s playing here, blah, blah, blah, you play a set and you’ll back Chuck up, so we said, ‘Oh that’ll be great.’

“So we played our set. We’re sitting in the dressing room. We still haven’t met Chuck. About 10 minutes before show time he arrives and he opens his guitar case and there were three things in it other than his guitar: airplane bottles of liquor, a wad of cash, and a gun. And he said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to be playing tonight.’

“We go, ‘What do you mean?’

“‘Well, the place is sold out and I told the promoter I want more money or I’m not going on.’ Which I found out later he’s very famous for doing.

“So we were, ‘Well, just in case we do play, what songs are we going to do?’ And he said, ‘Just follow me.’

“We go ‘OK’ and the promoter comes in and Chuck wrangled an extra $5,000 out of him or something. Insisted on being paid in cash before we got on. He got everything he wanted. We got onstage and he’d turn around and yell ‘Johnny B. Goode, E. Count it in.’ We played all the songs. It went really good. We had fun. And after it was done he said goodbye, packed up his stuff and left.”

Watch Chuck Berry perform “My Ding-A-Ling”

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Triumph Nearly Surrender: Reunion Show Almost Didn’t Happen Due To Migraine

Triumph

Triumph

When anthem rock trio Triumph decided to reunite for a show at the Sweden Rock festival in 2008 it marked the first time in 20 years that Rik Emmett, Gil Moore and Mike Levine played together.

Literal decades of feuding and acrimony between the three was about to get wiped away in one glorious return to the stage. But it almost didn’t happen because of a headache.

A very bad headache.

The whole story starts innocently enough with a question to bassist Mike Levine about the golf shirt guitarist/vocalist Emmett wore during the band’s reunion set. Triumph were an act known for leading edge lighting and staging in the ’70s and ’80s, as well as “of the time” spandex rocker outfits, so Emmett looking like a soccer dad for the band’s big comeback seemed like a peculiar oversight.

As it turns out, what shirt he was wearing was the least of the band’s concerns.

“We ended up laughing about it,” Levine said, recalling the show, which was recently released as a DVD/CD combo Live at Sweden Rock Festival, “but we couldn’t put too much pressure on him because he was so sick before we played.”

Levine then dives in to explaining how the band almost had to pull out of their reunion show.

“He [Emmett] gets serious migraines where he’s flat out,” said Levine of his bandmate. “He pukes, gets blind spots, we used to have to cancel shows midway through the show if he got sick and he’d be violently ill for 24 hours.

“So day of show, and I’m getting ready doing whatever I’m doing and Rik’s in the next room and I hear him puking through the wall. And I say, ‘Oh my god, I hope he’s alright.’ And this was 11 o’clock in the morning and we’re supposed to go to the site at 2:30 or 3 p.m. So I go pound on the door and he comes crawling to the door going, ‘Mikey, I’m really sick. I got the migraine.’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, we’ve gone through all this, we’re over here… and we’re not going to play.'”

With the clock ticking for Triumph’s early evening set, Levine put in a panicked phone call to the band’s agent, who was already at the venue an hour’s drive away.

“I called him up and said, ‘We got a big problem. Rik’s really sick. He’s got a migraine. We need a doctor in a hurry.’ So he goes to the promoter and it turns out the onsite doctor was a foremost specialist in Sweden for migraines.

“So they helicoptered him over or something. It was incredible. I don’t know how they got there so quick, he’s hammering on my door and he says, ‘OK what’s going on?’ and I go next door we have a big problem. I told him, ‘He has to play today.’ It was kind of like a football player when they tend to them on the sidelines. It was like, ‘Just get him on the field.'”

“So he whacked him up with I-don’t-know-what and basically put him to sleep, but we didn’t know what the result would be.”

From there Levine, in a sharp Swedish national team hockey jersey, and Moore, in never-goes-wrong black tee and pand pants combo, headed to the venue still having no idea whether or not they’d even get the chance to perform. Behind the scenes the former arena-headlining band and authors of such albums as Allied Forces and Never Surrender unsuccessfully jockeyed with Poison to switch their set times in order to get Emmett a better chance of making the show.

“We were trying to get the promoter to move us further into the show,” says Levine. Switch us with Poison or whoever’s after us, and he’s thinking that we’re bullshitting.

“And we’re like, no, we need as much time as we can otherwise we may not play.”

“So we’re there and the promoter’s there in our trailer and we’re just twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the call from Alex, our tour manager and it was 3 o’clock, 3:30, 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock… and we’re on at 7 or 7:30.

“Finally he called and said ‘We’re on our way.'”

Emmett made it just in time to hit the stage and power through Triumph anthems like “Lay It On The Line,” “Magic Power” and “Fight The Good Fight.”
It turns out, when your first gig in 20 years almost doesn’t happen, what you’re wearing isn’t a big deal.

“We didn’t want to hassle him about anything,” says Levine. “He performed admirably. He was pretty weak. I was amazed how well he played and how well he sung under those conditions.

“So to me the shirt was secondary.”

This story originally appeared on Noisecreep on Sept. 24, 2012.

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Triumph’s Triumphant(ish) Reunion That Almost Didn’t Happen

Triumph Live At Sweden Rock Festival

Triumph Live At Sweden Rock Festival

UPDATE: The full story of Triumph’s Sweden reunion can now be found HERE.

The first rock concert I ever attended by choice was Triumph at Maple Leaf Gardens somewhere around 1984 for the Thunder Seven tour (there was a Sha Na Na concert before that when I was a kid, but it doesn’t count because an aunt made me go). I never saw them after that because they put out The Sport of Kings album (poop) and then basically dissolved.

A few years back, however, the band made their first furtive attempts at a reunion, mainly by playing a big one-off gig in Sweden.

That gig was recorded and videotaped and has become the CD/DVD release Live At Sweden Rock Festival.

I spoke to band bassist Mike Levine about the reunion on behalf of Noisecreep and the results can be found in two separate feature stories.

The first, found HERE, is about how the actual Sweden reunion show almost didn’t happen.

The second, found HERE, takes a look at where the band are at right now, if they are actually ever going to tour again, and compares them to peers like Journey and Foreigner.

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