by Bob Mcmahon
It's not every day you get to open for a legend in St. Louis. It's only every month.
In roughly that time-frame, Chuck Berry plays a show here and a band gets to say that they once shared the stage with the man who arguably invented rock and roll. As a bonus, the opener gains valuable exposure by playing for Berry's routinely sold-out audience. All in all, it's an ideal gig.
But how does an act get this opportunity? With Berry playing a sold-out show at the Pageant on Saturday night, I talked to Randy Shore of local garage rock vets The Zonkeys about his band's show at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room with Berry in February to find out. (Full disclosure: My father plays in The Zonkeys).
How did you get the show?
Obviously, the best answer is our reputation precedes us and obviously they expect us to be on the show. You want that for an answer, or do you want the truth?
The truth is that we thought we would be a good fit for the show and have previous ties to Blueberry Hill through the years we played there as The Husbands and the previous shows we've done at the Duck Room. (Shore and two other Zonkeys were in a group called The Husbands that frequently played in The Elvis Room in the '80s.) And so we forwarded our sentiment that we would be the right people for the show and they agreed.
Did you approach the show differently from your normal gigs?
Yes, as a matter of fact. This is more of a concert setting so people are more apt to sit and listen rather than dance and participate. So we chose originals because in a setting like that you want to play some original music. But we also chose some of the cover music that we did based on what we thought would work well in a concert setting, if you will.
What was the experience like?
It was great fun, first off, because I've admired Chuck Berry's music forever. My earliest memories of music: driving in the car and listening to him on the radio. So that part was a thrill for me. But also being able to play on a show like that because I think we were a good match, I thought we had a pretty good response from the crowd. So that's always fun. When you're playing and the crowd's responding, that's positive.
Were you worried that they might think, "I just want to see Chuck, to heck with any opening band."?
No, I don't worry about that. I think that having a band before Chuck gives people more for their money. I think that there's one other thing that you probably ought to say about why we got the gig: It never hurts to bring the fried chicken from King Edwards (laughs) (Shore owns the King Edwards' Chicken and Fish location in Crestwood.) Honestly, Bob, when Paul [Piccione, keyboardist for The Zonkeys] sent the email to Pat [Hagin, who booked the show], he offered that I would bring the fried chicken.
Do you think you gained any new fans who would come see more of your shows?
Yes, I believe so. It was definitely good exposure for our band.
I guess this is kind of obvious considering what you just said, but would you open for Chuck again?
I'm ready. Any time. I would play with Chuck Berry any time he wants me to.