Kiwi singer Monique Rhodes reveals 'beautiful experience' with Chuck Berry

After news of Chuck Berry passing away on Sunday, one Kiwi fan is taking the news harder than most.

Monique Rhodes is a singer/songwriter from New Zealand who - by sheer stroke of luck, as she tells it - wound up touring with the iconic musician in the late 2000s.

After a chance meeting with a promoter in France, Rhodes boldly put her name forward to open for Berry on a European tour and before she knew it, she had gone on to do two European tours with Berry through France, Belgium and Luxembourg in 2007 and 2008.

Monique Rhodes says it was an honour to perform with the legend, Chuck Berry. Photos / AP, Supplied
Monique Rhodes says it was an honour to perform with the legend, Chuck Berry. Photos / AP, Supplied

"It was just little old me and my guitar and I would have to come up and warm up his audience for half an hour," she recalls with a laugh.

Rhodes has always been a major fan of Berry - not just because of his music, but because of who he was as a man.

"He's a legend, obviously. But I guess for me, he was such a trailblazer; he was a black man working in a white man's world and I always felt that Chuck always forged his own path under quite difficult circumstances," she says.

"And it was amazing to see Chuck perform because he was 80 at the time, and to see this 80-year-old guy who was just so full of life and love for his music, getting up on stage and totally bringing the house down, it was seriously impressive."

But her first impression of the superstar was ... unexpected, to say the least.

She was waiting backstage in Luxembourg to meet him when suddenly there was a "huge commotion" as a French film crew had come in to interview Berry but hadn't gotten the proper permissions.

Chuck Berry performs his 'duck walk' in 1964. Photo / AP
Chuck Berry performs his 'duck walk' in 1964. Photo / AP

"So all I saw was this 80-year-old Chuck with this young film producer, and he had him against the wall, giving him such a blasting. I couldn't believe it, it was pretty funny," she laughs.

He was, she says, always clear about what he wanted and how he wanted them and was "the boss" on the tour; "he still had so much feistiness".

And while Rhodes never got the opportunity to play alongside the star, she did have many warm conversations him in their downtime, during which he preferred to talk about her life in New Zealand, than his own.

Monique Rhodes pictured in 2009. Photo / Supplied
Monique Rhodes pictured in 2009. Photo / Supplied

"He was quite a private man so he didn't talk too much about himself but he was really interested in hearing about New Zealand and what my life was like growing up here," Rhodes says.

"I remember once taking in a video of the All Blacks doing the haka and he was really impressed by that. He thought it was awesome, he'd never seen it before. All our conversations were just about the differences growing up in New Zealand and the culture there, and when I left him, I gave him a beautiful big whale bone carving to thank him for having me on the tour."

Obviously, the news of Berry's passing wasn't easy to hear, but Rhodes is grateful for the opportunity to reflect on her time with the music icon.

"It was a beautiful experience, but most of all he was just really inspiring - to see him at 80 with so much grace and so much energy, and to still be performing ... I know that those were some of the last years that he was touring so it was incredible to be a part of that."

- NZ Herald

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