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All Star Show : Irvine 'Jam'--a One-half Party Only

October 28, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN | Times Pop Music Critic


That was the reaction of lots of people around me at the end of the "30th Anniversary Rock 'n' Roll All Star Jam" on Friday night at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

Chuck Berry may only be six years from the traditional retirement age of 65, but wouldn't you still expect him to sing more than two songs in a show that he headlines?

The "All Star Jam," which was taped for a cable TV special, was designed to salute the roots of rock by presenting Berry and Bo Diddley--two of the music's true pioneers.

Though these performers are constantly on the road, the novelty was in seeing them backed by an all-star line-up featuring members of such groups as the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, the Moody Blues and Chicago.

While this may sound intriguing, the result for most of the evening was an anonymous musical blur. The nearly two dozen musicians simply locked into rhythms and stayed with them, offering few surprises or flashes of character.

An added reason for the lack of inventiveness was that the musicians Friday were mostly the workmen of the bands rather than the star players, who normally presumably would have found some way to inject a bit of their own personality.

Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page certainly had no problem expressing themselves in the all-star Ronnie Lane/ARMS benefit tour in 1983. (Lane, who has suffered for years from multiple sclerosis, was a surprise guest Friday, singing one song as he sat in a chair at the microphone.)

Diddley, 56, started things off with a generous, hour-long display of the rapid-pulsed guitar style and humorous, superstud image that remain his legacy to rock.

Backed by a cast that included drummer Mick Fleetwood and guitarist Carl Wilson, Diddley even demonstrated the leg wiggles that are said to have helped shaped Elvis Presley's scandalous pelvis antics.

After intermission, we did get to hear the songs that established Chuck Berry as rock's first great poet/performer: "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Maybelline." The only problem is Berry wasn't even on stage.

Instead, the vocals were handled by bluesmen John Hammond and John Mayall, Three Dog Night's Chuck Negron and Chicago's Bill Champlin.

Finally, Berry graced the stage for his two numbers. And even here he ignored his most lasting works in favor of a one-joke novelty hit like "My Ding-A-Ling." When Berry returned for the finale, he didn't even have a guitar in his hand--so you didn't figure he was going to stick around for long.

Ron Wood, the Rolling Stones guitarist, appeared to be coaxing Berry into getting into the spirit of the evening. He circled the singer for a couple of minutes, playfully holding out a guitar for him.

Apparently exasperated, Wood then tried to slip the guitar around Berry's neck. But Berry ducked away before the task was accomplished. Wood, mocking anger, shook his fist at Berry as the latter headed for the wings.

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