Monday, July 12, 2010

A Fan (of this fan)

When I talk about Chuck Berry's "influence," I'm not just talking about his influence on Keith Richards, or Jimi Hendrix, or Eric Clapton, or John Lennon.  I'm also talking about his influence on us, his every day fans.  And his not so every day fans, like Peter Kaleta.  Back by popular demand: an old post about an incredible fan.

Peter Kaleta, of Sweden, is a visual historian. He researches. He goes. He records and documents—beautifully.

His backyard is enough. (Must be a helluva backyard!) On his myspace site you’ll find pictures of wildflowers, deer, snow, slugs, hummingbirds-- even a clothespin.  (These two are by his talented 12 year old daughter!)

I first “met” Peter on Peter’s posts on the CB forum are marked by a photograph of Peter standing near the granite gravestone that marks the entrance to Berry Park in Wentzville. I have a soft spot for that marker. I still have an ancient snapshot of the same stone taken the day my Fiat died in Chuck Berry’s driveway—but I was alone that day, with an instamatic, so there’s no me in the picture. But I knew from Peter’s photograph that we shared something—if only the drive from St. Louis to Wentzville and whatever it is that drives a person to do that.

Peter's 38 years old.  He lives in Sweden with his wife and daughter.

For Peter, the Chuck Berry thing began with a television show.

“Everything started back in 1981 when I was 11 years old. We had a Swedish TV program called “Rock Rullen” hosted by the Swedish Kings of Rock’n’Roll Jerry Williams and Svante Grundberg. They showed people how everything started in the 50’s using clips with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. We didn’t have a video recorder then but it was favorite program and I saw it every week. After that I started to buy records with different 50’s artists, and I soon realized that Chuck not only sang my favorites, he also wrote them and he was most important artist of them all.”

Most of us would be satisfied with a record collection. Or seeing our hero in a few shows. Not Peter. 22 years after first seeing Chuck Berry on Swedish television he and his family head to the United States. For his wife and 12 year old daughter, one of the goals is to see a “killer whale show” somewhere in Texas. But this puts Peter in proximity to all sorts of the USA's best musical locations—Memphis, with Sun Records and Beale Street; Nashville; Clarksdale, Mississippi; and New Orleans. 

Now, I recently went to Mississippi. I “researched” it by asking three people—my brother, and the owners of the Shack Up Inn-- what I should do. Most of the advice concerned eating (which suited me fine.) For the rest, I stumbled around, seeing what I saw, missing what I didn't see, and loving it anyway.

But Peter knows where to go and what to see. He plans it in advance!  In Memphis he tracks down the Royal Recording Studio where Chuck Berry recorded “Back to Memphis” with the Memphis Horns. He goes to the crossroads in Clarksdale (even I found that!). And in New Orleans he does the most amazing thing of all.

He finds Fats Domino’s new home. He marches past the cars (poses with the Rolls!) and knocks on the door.

And Fats answers!

And poses!

And even sings a song to Peter’s daughter!

“He came out and sang “Hello Josephine” to our daughter and was very friendly to all of us. We took some pictures and drove back to French Quarter where we also met Cosimo Matassa, the former owner of the J & M Studio. Matassa recorded Fats Domino’s first recording in 1949.”

And then, eventually, off to St. Louis, via Route 66.

“We had been to Sea World in Texas and drove from Texas to St Louis on Route 66 with one stop at Days Inn in Oklahoma. When we first came to St. Louis I was in hurry because I wanted to see the concert at Blueberry Hill the same evening we arrived. I had my family with me and my 10 year old Daughter who wanted to see Chuck but it was impossible because of her age. We drove fast to the hotel and I took a taxi by myself to Blueberry Hill. My wife stayed at the hotel with my daughter. It was an evening I never will forget. My dream came true and I felt like Louis Armstrong on the moon!”

(Editor’s note: Peter meant “Neil Armstrong.”   But I didn’t ask for clarification. I liked “Louis,” who fits as well or better.  Louis— one of Chuck Berry’s rare peers in the world of musical genius-- showed his joy better than Neil, and once sang about the Moon in a way that strikes me as very fitting:

Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way

Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see!
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ ‘round the bend
My huckleberry friend, moon river, and me.

What song could be more appropriate to describe Peter Kaleta, off to see the world and rainbow's end?)

After the show Peter met his hero. “I met him that evening in August 8, 2007 after the show. I had some photographs with me from the recent Swedish tour that I gave him. He smiled and asked “So this is for me?” then I got my first autograph on a picture I got from a guy at Blueberry Hill same evening. I also met Charles before the show and he was very kind to me.”

The next day Peter went around photographing various historic sites—

Chuck Berry's former homes

his old office

his high school ("down the halls and into the street!")

And lots of other places.  His collections of photographs are almost mind bggling.  I've only just begun to explore them.

Kaleta explains how he found stuff.

“When [Chuck Berry's] biography came out in 1987, I bought the Swedish edition and started to read. I was 17 years old then and my dream was to see all the places he mentioned in the book. I did a list of places I wanted to see before our trip. We had a rental car with GPS so it was very easy to find everything and the journey began. I had to wait 22 years to do that but I did! We drove to Berry Park the day after the show to take some pictures. Berry Park and Blueberry Hill were the most interesting places for me to see in St Louis. I also wanted to see the Cosmo Club but the building was gone.”

A lot of those places will be gone some day, and most of us probably won't use the GPS to go find them.   But we've got Peter's photographs.


Peter said...

Thanks Peter for the great job!

stefano said...

Not too mention his photo standing on the stage at the 100 club on London's Oxford St and outside the infamous "Stefs" !!!

Anonymous said...

You never know where Peter might end up, then he has these wonderful pictures to share with us. Yes and even pictures of the "Famous" Stefs!! Thanks Tulane for re-running this great story about our friend Peter from Sweden.
CB Forum ID- Busseybootlegger

ida may said...

Parabéns pelas fotos e pelo privilégio de conhecer St. Louis,Wentzville , Blueberryhill e Berry Park,obrigada amigos...
Ida May

Anonymous said...

Thanks everybody for those kind comments :-)