Sunday, March 19, 2017

Harry Thomason remembers Chuck Berry at Clinton events: Cash only

Posted By on Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 6:02 PM

click to enlarge ROLL OVER: Harry Thomason tells a tale about Chuck Berry's performance at Bill Clinton's 1993 inaugural ball. - ABC NEWS
  • ABC NEWS
  • ROLL OVER: Harry Thomason tells a tale about Chuck Berry's performance at Bill Clinton's 1993 inaugural ball.

The death of rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry has produced an avalanche of Berry stories, but this one from Harry Thomason, the TV mogul/friend of Bill Clinton who staged many of Clinton's campaign, presidential and other events, is a corker. He explains his role in getting Berry to play at the Clinton inaugural in 1993 (I was there for the duck walk, I'm happy to say) and for a subsequent event a few years later. Berry liked Clinton. He also liked cash. Great tale.

From Harry Thomason on Facebook:

I was producing the 1992 Inaugural and I wanted Chuck Berry to perform at an event. I talked to his manager and he said he wasn't sure but that he would talk to Chuck and get back to me. A day later, an excited aide barged into my meeting, "Chuck Berry is on the phone and wants to discuss something with you." I went to my office and picked up the phone. "Hello." Chuck spoke, "Harry, I know it's for the President and I like this guy but I don't perform for free." "I know you don't Chuck and I was going to get you some money." We agreed upon a very fair price and then he added one last requirement, "Now, the other thing is, I have to be paid in cash." "Chuck, that may be hard, with all the election laws and stuff. I can get you a cashier's check" A beat. "Naw, I don't care, it's the government, I have to be paid in cash or I can't do it."

I was waiting in the wings with the full amount in hundred dollar bills as he made his entrance onto the stage. "Harry, not just picking on you son, I always get cash. Too many boys, including the government, have tried to screw me before." "I get it Chuck, I get it." I handed him the cash and he put it in his old guitar case. "Watch it till I get back." He smiled and strode on stage and held the audience, screaming, clapping and on their feet for half an hour.

I thought, it would have been worth twice this much to see a performance like this. Little did I know that chance to see another performance would come a few years later. 1997. The Summit of Eight - a gathering of the most powerful leaders in the world is taking place in Denver and the U.S. State Department asks if I will produce the entertainment event. As I start putting it together, I think of Chuck and call his manager. Chuck calls me back for a few details and I tell him we have very little money and he tells me, "Okay, I'll do it for you for $10,000 you but remember - all cash. I don't trust any of these guys."

I explain the rules and the price to the State Department aides and they can't believe he won't take a U.S. Treasury check but I assure them he won't and that they should get the cash together. They mutter and go off in a slight huff.

Showtime! We have major acts and 5,000 people in a rodeo arena and it is going good! Suddenly, an when face State Department guy is grabbing my arm at the director'r booth in the back of the arena. 'What?" "Harry, it's Chuck and he wants to see you and he says he is not going on!" I scramble backstage to find Chuck in conversation with several State Department aides. "Chuck, what's the problem?" A State Department guy interrupts, "I'll tell you what's wrong, he says he's not going out without cash and I have right here a U.S. Treasury department certified check!" Chuck looks at me and smiles. After a beat, I speak, "Listen, I told you well ahead of time that he only takes cash. What was so hard to understand about that?" "Yeah, but we thought he would take a treasury check." "Well, he won't. How much do you have in the petty cash fund?" Another official speaks, "I think we have about $2700." "0kay, go get it." I ask Chuck to move away with me. "Listen Chuck, I'm sorry. If I get you the $2700 and promise to have the rest to you by the time the show is over, will you go on? I will even give you my wallet with cards, driver's license, and everything in it to hold until you are paid." I handed him the wallet. He took enough beats to make my heart thump. "Yeah, I'll do it." I muttered a thanks and went back to a worried gaggle of State Department aides. "Alright guys, here is what you have to do to save the bacon. Leave here this instant, take your credit cards and go to every ATM machine you can to gather $7200 dollars in in next half hour!" Nobody even spoke they just dashed out! The Denver police were cooperating in every way with us and had at least six patrol cars outside our production offices. Soon, I could hear through the cacophony of music and applause inside the arena, the sound of multiple sirens leaving the area. It did make me smile to think about a lot of panicked young government guys in police cars racing to ATMs.

I walked back over to Chuck, "The money will be here when you come offstage."

He nodded, "Thanks, and I don't need your wallet, buddy" He tossed it to me and walked toward the wing of the stage.
If speed is the mark of an efficient government, these guys were very efficient - within 25 minutes, one of them is handing me a leather brief case with $7300 in twenty dollar bills in it. He speaks breathlessly, "Here it is, tell Mr. Berry to keep the brief with our compliments." Chuck is already performing as I walk to the wing and look out on him. He looks at me and I waggle the briefcase. For just a moment, he smiled and then rolled right into Johnny B. Good.

After the show, I shook his hand, thanked him and walked though the semi-darkness to the backstage of the arena to help wrap. I was rolling up cable when someone tapped me on the shoulder, "Harry, I want to thank you for fulfilling a lifelong dream." I kept rolling the cable but muttered, "Good." "Yes, he is the rock and roller that I have always admired and never thought I would get a chance to meet." By now, I have turned around to see a guy in a Western shirt and boots. That's how I found out who the Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair's, favorite rock and roller was.

We'll all miss you Chuck...



Tags: , , ,

From the ArkTimes store

Favorite

Speaking of...

  • Rapert running into Clinton hate resistance

    March 1, 2017
    Word is that Jason Rapert is getting no traction on a bill to strip the Clinton name from Little Rock's airport. /more/
  • In passing: Darrell Glascock

    January 26, 2017
    Darrell Glascock, 72, a Louisiana political consultant and former political candidate in Arkansas, died shortly after Christmas while he was in Bogota, Colombia. His time in Arkansas was, to put it mildly, colorful. /more/
  • Welcome 2017. And make this the open line

    January 1, 2017
    Bill Clinton chose to emphasize the positive on Twitter this morning, so why not the Arkansas Blog? /more/
  • Bill Clinton tags Comey, 'angry white men' in Hillary's loss

    December 19, 2016
    Bill Clinton is quoted as blaming FBI Director James Comey for Hillary Clinton's presidential defeat — that and Donald Trump's ability to reach "angry white men." /more/
  • The Rev. Rapert wants to rename Clinton airport

    November 29, 2016
    The Bro./Sen. Rapert has his panties in a wad over the fact that Little Rock's airport is named for Bill and Hillary Clinton, according to his morning Tweet. I guess he should head on over to the Little Rock Airport Commission and warn them the Ledge is about to take it over. /more/
  • The roots and legacy of Bill Clinton's 'abandonment' of organized labor

    November 28, 2016
    After the labor movement helped elect David Pryor, Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton early in their careers, the three politicians took aggressive anti-union positions, Michael Pierce, an associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas, writes in a recent piece on The Labor and Working-Class History Association's Labor Online website. Pierce sees a connection between Clinton's early work against 1978's Labor Reform Bill (for the Pryor campaign), his later pro-business policies as governor and president and Hillary Clinton's struggles with working class whites. /more/
  • Bill Clinton was right

    November 17, 2016
    At the Arkansas Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser in July, Bill Clinton gave the worst speech I've ever heard him give. /more/
  • Roosevelt Thompson memorialized at Yale

    November 15, 2016
    Yale University had its ceremony last week renaming a dining hall for the late Roosevelt Thompson, the Little Rock native and Central High graduate who died in a car wreck in 1984 shortly before leaving for a Rhodes Scholarship. /more/
  • Huckabee: 'Hillary ain't Bill'

    November 8, 2016
    Mike Huckabee closes out the presidential campaign with comments on the relative likability of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and vows reprisal against Republicans who didn't back Donald Trump. /more/
  • Breitbart airs 1980 assault complaint against Bill Clinton

    October 19, 2016
    A woman identified as Leslie Milwee, a  Fort Smith TV news reporter in 1980 when Bill Clinton was governor, has given an extended interview to Breitbart, a right-wing news outlet once headed by Stephen Bannon, the leader of Donald Trump's campaign, in which she said Clinton groped her sexually. /more/
  • More »

Comments (12)

Showing 1-12 of 12

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-12 of 12

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Maddie's Place makes a believer out of a skeptic

    After a long hiatus, I return to Maddie's Place in Riverdale and find the food is a lot tastier than I remembered.
    • Aug 19, 2015
  • Matt Campbell files ethics complaint against Dennis Milligan

    Little Rock attorney and blogger Matt Campbell, whose knack for deep research brought down Mark Darr, Mike Maggio and Dexter Suggs, now has his sights trained on another worthy target. Today, he filed a 113-page ethics complaint against state Treasurer Dennis Milligan that includes 14 separate allegations.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Tom Cotton suggests Dick Cheney as House speaker

    Yes. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton told Politico he'd like to see Dick Cheny as House speaker.
    • Oct 12, 2015

Most Shared

Visit Arkansas

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Arkansas is the perfect place to try out this new health trend. Read all about the what, why, where and how here.

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation