Chuck Berry may very well have created rock ‘n’ roll, but the music legend got rock in hot water with Boston’s mayor after fans started throwing chairs and brawling during one fateful concert in 1958.
Adam Gaffin at Universal Hub first posted about the event, which was recounted in author Bruce Pegg’s book “Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry.”
Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis played at Boston Arena (now Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena) on May 3, 1958, and Berry knew that “rock-and-roll shows had traditionally encountered problems” in the city.
Lewis played first that night, and police at the concert objected to fans dancing in the aisles, trying to settle them down.
When Berry started playing, concertgoers tried dancing; police again tried to keep them seated. A local DJ got on a microphone and complained that police wouldn’t let “the crowd have a good time.”
So in a scene that might have looked like something from “West Side Story,” the crowd objected by throwing chairs and fighting — the brawling got bad enough that Berry apparently hid behind his drummer.
“One eyewitness account later observed that some of the crowd thought that Berry was performing his trademark duckwalk, and that there was nothing to fear; they were ‘too far away to see the look of fear on Berry’s face,’ however,” wrote Pegg.
Wallace Vaine of Boston attended the concert, and wrote to the
Daily Boston Globe to blame “’satin-jacketed’ hoods” for causing trouble (numbering maybe 25 of the 5,000 people there that night, by his reckoning).
Vaine wrote that criticism about the concert were unfair, and anyway, those who did complain “probably could not tell Jerry Lee Lewis from Chuck Berry.”
The New York Times reported the concert broke down with stabbings and the like (although Vaine and at least one account suggests it wasn’t all that bad).
But then-Mayor John B. Hynes decided to crack down on rock.
“If the kids are hungry for this kind of music they’ll starve for it — until they learn to behave like citizens instead of hooligans. Boston will have no more rock and roll,” Hynes told Variety, sounding like the bad guy in a John Hughes film.
Vaine suggested that the real trouble lay in trying to keep people in their seats during a rock concert.
“You would not expect people to sit quietly for 2½ hours listening to tangoes, rumbas, and foxtrots,” wrote Vaine. “Why should your expect them to for rock ‘n’ roll, which is much more animated?”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.