Jon Brewer never got to meet Chuck Berry in person.
But the months he spent working on the documentary about the legendary musician helped him get a better understanding of the man.
“I tried to put all the negative things that happened in his life and balance it with how it influenced him,” Brewer says in an interview from his home in England. “This was a huge part of his life. Every aspect of it was an uphill battle.”
Brewer’s documentary, “Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play and Vudu.
The documentary takes a look at the life of the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who crossed the mid-’50s racial divide armed with nothing more than his guitar, business savvy and well-crafted songs such as “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Little Queenie,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
Brewer worked for months melding archival performance footage and ruminations on Berry’s influence from other music greats, such as Keith Richards, Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt, Joe Perry, and Alice Cooper.
The film also explores of the legendary guitarist’s personal life – including the first interview with Themetta “Toddy” Suggs, his wife of 68 years – and experience as a Black artist traversing the American racial landscape of the 1950s onward.
Brewer says Berry was a simple family man.
“He wanted to travel with his guitar case and his toothbrush,” Brewer says. “His rider contract included a clause that said, ‘If you don’t provide us with this, you get fined.’ He would fine the promoter if the wrong amp was brought. Everything was handled in cash as well. He was a simple but clever man and educated himself throughout his life.”
Brewer spent the majority of 2020 finishing the documentary.
When the pandemic hit, production on it began to stall.
“We were in lockdown,” he says. “People don’t want to open up their houses to film crews. It’s a process to pick up the threads and put them back together again, but we did it.”