Updated August 2020
Sad news that long-time Rockin' Berries guitarist Bryan "Chuck" Botfield passed away on July 30, 2020 at the age of 76. It was Chuck who helped form this well-known Birmingham band in 1959 and named them after American rock 'n' roll star Chuck Berry while also adopting his hero's first name.
Born on November 14, 1943, Bryan Botfield met future Rockin' Berries vocalist Geoff Turton while at Turves Green Boys School where they both played clarinet in the school band. Taking up guitar, Bryan went on to Moseley College of Art and while there, played in a skiffle group called "The Bobcats" who had future Fleetwood Mac member Christine Perfect (Christine McVie) on piano.
After college, Chuck Botfield worked for a photography shop before forming a rock 'n' roll band and "turning pro". They became known as "The Rockin' Berries" before powerful Birmingham vocalist Jimmy Powell was added to the line-up. It wasn't until the group went over to Germany for a second time in 1962 that vocalist/guitarist Geoff Turton joined the band with new bass player Roy Austin along with existing members Chuck Botfield (lead guitar), Clive Lea (vocal), and Terry Bond (drums).
When interviewed by Laurie Hornsby for his brilliant "Brum Rocked!" book, Chuck Botfield said; "In Hamburg, Geoff Turton joined as a backup guitarist to fill out the sound. We were doing loads of Chuck Berry material at the time and I wanted that 'chunk chunk' vamp on the bass strings going while I soloed."
"As we played one night, I was aware of a fellow near the stage watching my fingers intently whenever I played a lick. We did 'Roll Over Beethoven' and the fellow asked to see me after our set. It was George Harrison. He asked me to show him the guitar break I'd been playing. We sat there in the dressing room and I taught him note for note what I'd played."
The Rockin' Berries were one of Brum's first successful pop groups. They spent a total of 41 weeks in the U.K. national records chart from 1964 to 1966 starting with 'I Didn't Mean To Hurt You' that was followed shortly after by 'He's In Town' that went all the way to Number 3. A year later they again made the Top Five with 'Poor Man's Son'. Regular appearances on popular TV shows like "Ready, Steady, Go!" and "Thank Your Lucky Stars" helped them gain a large following of fans.
Chuck Botfield was rather underrated as a guitarist. He could easily be recognized on-stage picking leads on his distinctive cherry red Gibson ES-335 guitar in contrast to Geoff Turton strumming his Epiphone. Chuck's fast and fluid lead guitar style was a distinguishing feature on many of The Rockin' Berries recordings and is well worth checking out as can be heard on their excellent "They're In Town" the Pye Anthology double-CD collection.
Like many hit groups in those days, the Berries relied on professional songwriters for their material which put them at a disadvantage, but while other bands struggled to survive in a changing pop music scene, The Rockin' Berries went on to thrive for decades on the cabaret circuit.
Their successful mix of music and comedy (aided by Clive Lea's talent as an impressionist) ensured they were never short of work. They became one of the most in-demand performing groups in the country with high-profile bookings ranging from summer seasons at holiday resorts to Christmas pantomimes in support of many famous names.
Although the Rockin' Berries line-up was to change a number of times, Chuck Botfield remained the only consistent original member throughout the band's more than 50 year career. Their 2015 "Back to The Music" tour of the UK included Geoff Turton along with former Move and Wizzard bassist Rick Price. Sadly, this tour turned out to be their last with Chuck Botfield.
My condolences go out to Chuck Botfield's family and friends. He will be missed. For more information, go to the official Rockin' Berries facebook page where you can leave a tribute message.
To see more about The Rockin' Berries, click HERE.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
Back to BRUM BEAT FEATURES PAGE