These are the words that come to mind when I think about my mentor and friend, the man who taught me about working hard, and helped me on my career path:
Most people recognized him back in the day–At 6’8″ nearly 400 pounds, and with his distinctive Santa Claus beard, Charles”Big Chick” Huntsberry became something of a celebrity in his own right. Prince’s former bodyguard had a cameo appearance in the film Purple Rain, and served as his lead bodyguard until 1985.
Hard to believe it has been 17 years since his passing. He was only 49.
I first met Big Chick when my buddy Brown Mark invited me along to a few band rehearsals. Big Chick had been in Law Enforcement in Tennessee at one time, and worked for the band AC/DC. After meeting Chick, I was inspired to do this type of work, and thankfully, Brown Mark put in a good word for me. I was a big guy, but both guys pretty much laughed when I naively stated “I want to be a bodyguard, too.” I spent the next 6 months working out like crazy –yes, I was under the assumption you just needed to be big to be a bodyguard (see What It Means To Be Professional) to learn the truth about this career!) Big Chick thought I had the right personality and attitude for the job, and saw the work I’d put into getting physically fit. He gave me my first job as a bodyguard.
He then taught me there was a lot more to the work than being a big man.
Big Chick and I spent a lot of time together on the road in the mid-1980s, working on the Purple Rain tour. He was a funny, funny guy who loved to laugh, loved to cuss, and was constantly busting me with practical jokes. I remember the one time I got him pretty good, though. I went to his room and knocked on his closed and locked hotel doorâ€¦well, what he didn’t know was that I had my stun gun on the metal door handle, and hit the juice, so when he tried to open it to let me in, he got a little jolt. He yelped, then tried it again. Another jolt. “What’s wrong?” I asked, “I keep getting shocked when I touch the M.F. door,” he replied. (Insert any number of colorful expletives) I told him it was probably a malfunction with the electronic card reader, and to try again. Well, I zapped him a coupla times, then put away my stun gun.
WELL one of my road brothers squealed on me and Big Chick got wind of how I’d messed with him. I was put back on luggage detail for a few weeks–the crummiest, lowest task to deal with on tour. He was the boss, though, and he had the last laugh!
Big Chick had the most sinister laugh–he’d stick his tongue out the side of his mouth, and laugh that evil little laugh–and you’d just KNOW you were in for some trouble. Because he was such a big man, he’d often split his pants–and he’d get so mad!! Meanwhile, we’d all nearly cry from laughing–which would just make him more angry.
One of the funniest things I can recall is when Big Chick decided to design uniforms for all of the bodyguards in the entourage. I still cringe when I think about it. He designed suits that were double-breasted, purple satin with white belts. We looked like little school patrol boys. All the guys argued and complained and told him we really didn’t want to wear those uniforms. He insisted we put them on. So, we’re all standing there, when Prince comes in to rehearsal. He takes one look at all of us and FALLS out laughingâ€¦if I remember correctly, he said Big Chick and all of us looked like “Friar Tuck and his Merry Men.” We never had to wear those again. I did feel kind of bad for Chick though–he had the best of intentions and was so earnest in his attempt to get the guys looking sharp.
I miss Big Chick, he was a good man to work with and really made those days on the road fun. We worked hard, but we sure laughed hard and played hard, too. He once told Gilbert and I “you two are like my sons–and I didn’t used to like black people.” Given that he was a good ‘ole boy from Tennessee, I took that as a big compliment.
I guess you could say we both taught each other something important.