R.I.P., Fats Domino, survivor of Fayetteville riot

Today’s rock ‘n’ roll fans wouldn’t think of the late Fats Domino — “Blueberry Hill,” “I’m Walkin’ ” — as an incendiary performer, but this isn’t 1956, when a riot broke out at his show in Fayetteville.  Police used tear gas to break up the unruly crowd, and Fats jumped out a window to avoid the melee. He and two other band members were slightly injured.

Wonder if he and Chuck Berry ever compared notes about their experiences in Fayetteville….


What Chuck Berry learned in Fayetteville

“Richard Nader, a concert promoter, recalls a story Berry told him about a show he had played in Fayetteville, North Carolina [in the 1950s].  After agreeing on a fee of $750, Berry made the 800-mile trip from St. Louis only to find a audience of 20 teenagers in a seedy ice-cream parlor. Berry played the show, only to be handed at the end of the night a fee of $1.75 and a list of expenses. ‘[The promoter] had everything down there,’  Nader recalled Berry saying, ‘down to the light bulbs.’

“It was a lesson that would shape Chuck Berry’s view of the music business from then on.”

– From “Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry” (2002) by Bruce Pegg

Chuck Berry died Saturday. He was 90.


No wonder Chuck Berry ‘bypassed Rock Hill’

On this day in 1961: The “Freedom Riders,” headed from Washington to Jackson, Miss., to challenge the South’s segregated bus facilities, incur their first arrest during an overnight stop in Charlotte.

Joe Perkins, a 27-year-old New Yorker, refuses to leave after being denied a shoeshine in the bus station’s white-only barbershop and is jailed for trespassing.

“We had expected this sort of thing in the Deep South,” says James Farmer, executive director of the Congress on Racial Equality, “but not in Charlotte.”

The Freedom Riders will experience much worse treatment, starting with beatings in Rock Hill, S.C., and ending with bread-and-water imprisonment in Mississippi. Their mission, however, not only brings the bus system into compliance with the law but also arouses widespread public sympathy and paves the way for more civil rights workers to come South.

Footnote: Although I’ve never seen it confirmed, Chuck Berry apparently was alluding to the Freedom Ride when the “poor boy” protagonist of  his “Promised Land” (1964)  “stopped in Charlotte, but bypassed Rock Hill.” Berry wasn’t exactly Woody Guthrie, of course — he wrote the lyrics with the help of a prison atlas while serving time for a Mann Act conviction.

Footnote footnote: Elvis’ 1974 cover of “Promised Land,” which 23 years later resurfaced prominently in the “Men in Black” soundtrack, ” omits mention of Charlotte, Rock Hill and Georgia — the whole second stanza.