let there be rock

Well, early in the mornin' I'm a-givin' you a warnin'

Don't you step on my blue suede shoes.
Hey diddle diddle, I am playin' my fiddle,
Ain't got nothin' to lose. 
Roll Over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.
Roll Over Beethoven

Chuck Berry 

'So let me get this straight, boy…' 

The thirty year-old black man, decked out in a wrinkled silk suit just this side the worse for wear from night after night of one night stands, smiled down at the slightly awkward young man standing before him.

Around the room, his band mates smiled, knowing their boss’s temperament and sarcastic sense of humor whenever anyone showed the slightest inkling of showing him up. They crossed their arms, their smiles mirroring their boss’s, never quite reaching their eyes, as they waited for the inevitable. Meanwhile, the young man, dressed in what one would generously or politely describe as a suit a college professor 20 years past his sell-by date would wear, looked around, his own smile belying his awkwardness. 

‘You tryin’ to tell me you can play?’ 

‘Yes…that’s what I’m saying,’ he replied, his British accent completely alien in the theater’s backstage dressing area. 

‘Play guitar?’ The man rested his hands on the edge of the table he perched himself on, his manicured nails gleaming even in the dimly lit room. His Missouri drawl drew out the second syllable of guitar, making the word sound far greater than it actually was. 

The younger man nodded. ‘Yes I am. Or at least, I could last I checked. Which, come to think about it, is probably a lot longer than it should be. The checking, that is. Or the playing. Or both. Yes, most definitely both.’ 

The man laughed. 

‘Boy, you crazy!’ 

The well dressed black man pushed himself gently off the table and walked over to the interloper. How this stranger had gotten in was anyone’s guess…security said he had an "All Access Pass", whatever that meant, but the charade had gone on more than long enough at this point. He’d had enough of people ridiculing him, stealing his music, or trying to take him down several notches because he was born poor and black and decided to make something of himself rather than just accept his appointed lot in life, and this was the final straw. Around the room, the rest of his band tensed up. This was a huge gig, one of their first on a major stage in NYC, and they didn’t need anyone to screw things up. They certainly did not it to be their boss. 

‘First off, mister…what did you say your name was again?’ 

‘The Doctor.’ 

‘Doctor? Doctor who?’ The man’s voice reeked of incredulity as he drew out the word who. ‘Every man’s got a name, and ain’t none of them just Doctor.’ 

The Doctor smiled. ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins. Blind Lemon Jefferson. What would you call them when you’d be talking to them?’ 

The man before him coughed out a ‘Hrmph!’ and crossed his arms before matching the Doctor smile for smile. His smile, however, was far from genuine. 

‘I’d call them sir, 'cause both of them are my elders, ‘n’ my mama taught me to respect my elders. That’d be a good lesson for you to take on.’ 

The Doctor’s face fell, suitably chastened. ‘John Smith, if you must…’

 ‘Alright then,’ the man said, his voice authoritative. ‘Now we’re getting’ somewhere. First off, boy…’ 

He paused, then corrected himself. 

‘John Smith, you’re white. Ain’t no white boy can play the guitar. Certainly not the way I can.’ 

‘But…Buddy Holly…’ the younger looking man tried to interject. 

‘Ha!’ scoffed the man in the wrinkled suit. ‘He ain’t nothin’! No way he could play a lick half as hot as me…and I wouldn’t even need to be tryin’! Now, you said Carl Perkins, I mighta listened, but he’s country, and that’s totally different. I never tell him I could play like him…even though I bet I could.’ 


‘Second!’ interjected the black man, his voice growing in volume, showing his anger growing by similar degrees. ‘You English. Hell, evr’body knows you ain’t got no soul, no rhythm, no blues. What you got? One-two-three, one-two-three? That ain’t rhythm!’ 

The Doctor held up a hand. ‘Van Morrison! Joe Cocker!’ 

He waited. No one in the room budged. 

‘Gerry Rafferty?’ 


‘Nothing ringing a bell?’

‘I’m gonna ring your bell if you ain’t done messin’ ‘round with me pretty soon!’ 

The young man slapped his forehead. ‘Of course, it’s too soon. No wonder none of the names mean anything to you! Always too early, me. Or too late. I really need to get that helmic regulator fixed…it would solve so many problems for me.’ 

‘Now I know you crazy,’ the black man said, picking at the wrinkles in his suit as he turned back toward his band. ‘Ain’t that right, boys? Helmic regulator? What kind of nonsense is that? Boy been sprung from the cuckoo’s nest too early, right?’ 

The rest of the backing band laughed. It certainly helped matters that they actually found the sudden and unexpected defusing of the situation a relief, but they also knew better than to not agree with the man. None of them were ready to go off on their own, not yet, and even though their checks were smaller by far than their boss’s pay, it sure beat busting their backs back home or playing for tips in a gin joint where they’d be lucky to not get ripped off at the end of the night. 

A gawky looking man…obviously theater staff…leaned in the door. 

‘Fifteen minutes, Mr. Ber…’ 

‘I know! You think I can’t read no clock? I’ll go out there when I’m good and ready to play. And I ain’t good and ready to play yet.’ 

The stage manager ducked back out of the doorway as quickly as he’d entered, closing the door with a bang behind him. The room fell silent; not a word was spoken for some time after the interruption. 

‘Sides,’ he muttered, more quietly despite the quick departure of the backstage managed, ‘y’all here at this theater got your pay, ‘n’ part of mine too, if I don’t know better. I’ll play when I’m ready to go out. Not a secon’ sooner.’ 

He turned back to the English man, this…Doctor John Smith, he said he was…standing in the center of the room and growing obviously more nervous with each passing moment. 

‘So, you white, you English, and you think you can play rhythm and blues? Hell, I might give you country, but you bein’ English just tossed that.’ 

The bassist nervously cleared his throat. 

‘Don’t you think we oughta…’ 

The bandleader holding court held up one hand. 

‘I said we’d play when I’m good an’ ready.’ He turned back to the focus of his attention, his eyes glinting. ‘You say you can play? A’right, I wanta see you play. Hand the boy a guitar.’ 

The bassist looked at his boss, nervous. 


‘Listen, you got a choice. You can either give the boy a guitar so I can see him make a damn fool of himself…or you can be out on the street lookin’ for another gig. Yo’ choice.’ 

Without a second thought the man grabbed a spare Gibson off a side rack, plugged in a lead, and nervously handed it to the suddenly smiling Brit in the center of the room. Taking the offered instrument, he strapped it over his shoulder, fingered the strings a few times, and started to check the tuning. 

‘Don’t you be messin’ with my tuning, boy,’ the black man said, his pompadour glistening as much as his suit. ‘Ain’t nothing wrong with how I tune my guitars.’ 

He sat back on the table, tenting his long fingers before him. His eyes narrowed, attentive, nearly predatory. 

‘You said you can play. Well, let me hear you play. Show me your licks.’ 

The Doctor took a step or so back, mentally and physically preparing himself for this moment. He fretted a chord, went to strike the strings, and then stopped suddenly. 

‘Somethin’ wrong? Nervous all of a sudden?’ The man’s voice was playful, but bitterness crept around the edges. 

‘No…I just need a pick? Might you happen to have a spare?’ 

The man laughed. 

’Might you happen to have a spare,’ he asks. Man, the boy can’t even talk like no common, ev’ry day person.’ 

He rummaged through a pocket. 

‘Yeah, I got you a pick. Here.’ 

He tossed it idly over to the continued focal point of the room. The Doctor plucked it out of the air with ease, slipped it between two fingers, and fretted the chord again. As he raised his arm in the air to hit the first down stroke, he unconsciously shifted his legs apart. One foot tangled in the amp lead, and without thought he jerked his leg back, trying to free himself from the loop. His balance suddenly off center, he pivoted on his other foot, lunging downward in an attempt to both stay upright and not accidentally damage the guitar. His pick struck the strings, strumming out a harsh, atonal chord, as he found himself awkwardly propped on his left leg, his right stuck out and looped over several times by a length of amp cord. Unceremoniously, he slipped backward, landing solidly on his bottom in front of the band, all of whom immediately broke into peals of genuine, unrestrained laughter. 

Blushing, he stood up and held out the guitar toward the band’s bassist, who took it while trying to stifle the laughter that struggled to continue unabated. The man in the silk suit walked over, smiling, and wrapped a long arm around him. 

‘A word of advice for you, boy?’ 

He nodded, the blush still hot and florid on his cheeks. 

‘I don’t know what your day job is, but you’d best not be quittin’ it any time soon.’