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George Bedard

George Bedard 2017

A Chuck Berry Tribute

by Sandor Slomovits

From the August, 2017 issue

When Chuck Berry died in March at age ninety, George Bedard knew right away that he would build his fifth annual History of American Music concert around Berry's music. "He was such an enormous influence on me," Bedard explains. "One of the very first LPs I bought was More Chuck Berry, which has a lot of his classic stuff on it. It's hard to imagine a more influential, iconic figure in American music."

It's also hard to imagine anyone more suited to do a Chuck Berry tribute than Bedard. He can play Berry's classic guitar riffs with precision and authority while also delivering foundational rockers like "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Johnny B. Goode" with the joy and freedom that were the hallmarks of Berry's music.

Bedard's shows are all about that exuberance and energy--the dance floor is always crowded, whether at the Ark (when space permits) or when he closes the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, as he has for more than twenty years. But they are also about his longtime interest in American roots music traditions, which found their way into Berry's songs and were in turn influenced by him. It's that extended and deep study of this music that led Bedard to create, and curate, these now highly anticipated annual concerts, and his profound knowledge and affection for this music comes through in everything he says onstage.

This year's show will, as usual, feature Bedard's longtime, rock-solid rhythm section: bassist Pat Prouty and drummer Rich Dishman of Bedard's band the Kingpins. He's also bringing back pianist Daryl Davis, who joined him in the first concert of the series. In a long and illustrious career Davis, whose playing is sonically superb and visually flamboyant yet graceful, has accompanied Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Bo Diddley, among other giants. Most fittingly for this show, he also worked for many years as Chuck Berry's pianist.

As always, there will be no rehearsals. "The rehearsal is sound check,"

...continued below...

says Bedard. "There's certainly spontaneity." Which does not mean these shows are undisciplined or sloppy. While one sideman once wound up introducing himself to the audience after it appeared that Bedard had forgotten him, there have been no musical miscues. Bedard and his bandmates are all masters of these styles; a look or a nod is enough to indicate who will take the next solo, or when and how a song will end.

As one of the players said from the Ark's stage a couple years ago, "It's simple music but not easy." Bedard and company make it look easy, and each show has been a memorable musical map charting the highways and byways of twentieth-century American roots music.

Bedard's History of American Roots Music returns to the Ark on Saturday, August 26.     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2017.]


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