Monday, October 15, 2012

A Super Fan Goes Back to St. Louis

(Doug Spaur is one of Chuck Berry's biggest fans.  A couple times a year he leaves his home in Bussey, Iowa with Chuck Berry on his mind.  And just about now, he's doing it again in time to help Chuck celebrate his upcoming 86th birthday.  It's a big week for Chuck, with three shows in short order, and a big week for Doug-- so I may have to publish some other Doug Spaur stories.  This one was originally published July 6, 2010.)

Doug Spaur was too busy to respond immediately when I sent him some questions-- and when I saw his video from Bussey City Park I sent even more.  Here are some responses to my original e-mail

Tell people about the Blueberry Hill shows. What makes them special?

I wish I would have known about Chuck playing Blueberry Hill years ago, what’s it been every month for 14 years now?? When I discovered the Chuck Berry website and its message board, people would mention the concerts at Blueberry Hill and how intimate they were. Like the small clubs Chuck started out playing at back in the 50's. Chuck's own son Charles "CBII" stated "It's like having Chuck Berry in your own basement". Well that’s all I needed to hear, I had to make the trip to St. Louie to see him. And as you know Peter first hand, there is no better place to see him perform. He's home, relaxed, backed by a band consisting of family and friends. Jimmy, Ingrid, CBII, Bob and Keith have played with him so many times, they know at any point in time Chuck can take a song and go in any direction and they are ready for it, they all feed off of one another and they all are having fun doing it. And yes its intimate, around 300 plus crowd in the Duckroom with about 6 rows of seating and the rest standing room. There's not a bad spot in the house. I have been very fortunate to be in the front row to every CB concert I've attended but nothing as close as Blueberry Hill. The stage is so short you can step right up onto it, if I stood up out of my seat and fell over I'd fall into Chuck, that’s how close you are to him!!! Blueberry Hill is also special because if he's not too tired after the hour long concert he signs autographs for the fans afterwards. That’s going above and beyond in my book!!

You also attended a show at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis-- what was that one like?

Joe Edwards out did himself here. The Pageant is a beautiful facility with a balcony that looked like it would be a great spot to watch the show from. A bigger venue than Blueberry Hill, but yet not some big arena that you would seem miles away from the performer. I don't believe there's a bad seat at the Pageant either. The All Ages show I attended there was very special. I wanted to see 3 generations of Rock's first family performing together and I also wanted to take my children of 10 years of age to see Chuck perform. The highlight of the night for me was Chuck singing Nadine by request from me and then handing the solo over to his grandson Charles the III who did a fantastic job with it!!

After hearing CBIII do that killer solo I knew the future of Rock & Roll was well in hand for generations to come, Grandpa and Papa have taught him well. CB didn't start the show with Roll Over Beethoven like he does 9 times out of 10, but with my son's favorite song - Let It Rock - I knew it was going to be a special evening. Mrs. Berry was there and Chuck announced that her being there "made him feel so good"!! My wife and daughter sat directly behind Mrs. Berry and the rest of the family. My son and I stood right in front of Chuck. Chuck's concerts are similar but yet each are so different to me. The one at the Pageant had a flow to it that seemed like a stroll through the park for him. CB is always generous with handing out solo's to the rest of the band but this night he was handing them out to them like candy!! The versions of Carol that night and School Days were superb.

I think of you as almost a greeter at the Chuck Berry website-- Do you think you'll ever try to meet some of the folks in Europe and elsewhere that post on that site?

I always try to say "Hi" to new members. When I first joined the CB Forum I just wanted to fit in. The other members made me feel very welcome. I look at the number of posts I've made and I think - man what a jabberbox!!! But most are just saying Hi or thanking other members for sharing the great stories, pictures or video links. I don't imagine it will happen but I would love to meet fellow CB fans especially from Europe. There are so many Chuck Berry fans out there, and some of the most passionate are from overseas. I have been very fortunate to meet Judy Feldworth, Karen Ross, Mark Peterson from Maui and also John better known as “stlblues” from the website. At the University of Iowa homecoming concert a couple years ago there was a guy standing about eight feet from me that was a dead ringer for RedChuck from France, but I thought to myself - Nah, can't be.......

Heck Tulane, it would be a pleasure to meet you!! Maybe we could co-ordinate at trip to BB Hill someday!!

(Note from Peter:  I keep trying!  My current fantasy is to do a birthday tour with stops in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. for the Strathmore show.  Depends how close they are together, maybe.)

What's your favorite Chuck Berry moment or memory?

My first Chuck Berry concert was at a casino in Tama, Iowa. My wife's friend and her husband came along with us. After the show was over Randy and I went and ate the buffet while the girls went and played the slots. After we got done eating we went to find the girls in the casino when who comes strolling right toward me but Chuck!! Now I know Chuck likes his privacy and I didn't want to make him mad or cause a scene - so it all happened in the blink of an eye, like two ships passing in the night. As he got close I reached and grabbed his arm gently by his right bicep, leaned and whispered in his ear as to not draw attention. I said - "Excellent Show Chuck". He replied to me softly and sincerely - "Thank You".. and that was it. Neither one of us missed a step. We each kept going our own way, I was on cloud 9. It was nothing really special but it meant the world to me, I'll never forget it!! A little later we found the row that he was in playing the slot machines and we quickly walked by a couple times and gave a fast glance down the row at him. I thought about sliding him a $50 and asking for his autograph but I didn't want to upset him so I didn't!! Another special moment was when I picked Chuck's guitar pick up for him and handed it back after he dropped it during the Sept. 2009 BB Hill Show, and he said, "Thank You Brother"!! CBII even gave his approval, and it was such a thrill. I mean what more can I do for him??!!

And I think I know the answer to this one-- what's your favorite Chuck Berry song? And what is it about the girl that intrigues you so?

It’s very tough to choose one over another, they all are so good. I think Johnny B. Goode has an unfair advantage over the rest. Kinda like who's a better baseball player than Babe Ruth?? But yes I do love Nadine, its a fantastic song, great lyrics, the live versions with the great solo's in the middle. The story of the girl you love so much and the ache in your heart because she's out with someone new, but yet you try anyway to chase her down and catch her. And also a great achievement for the time period of his life that he wrote Nadine....He could have set around feeling sorry for himself but no, he put his nose to the grindstone and he took advantage of the time and wrote several classics......

Anything else?

I have read some fantastic Chuck Berry stories from family, friends, fellow musicians, and fans that they have had with Chuck, I'm no musician so here would be my ultimate experience with him - To help him take care of his yard for a day.... You know like mowing, weed-eating, raking and cutting brush and such. That probably sounds silly but I like the fact that you take away all the Rock & Roll Super Star stuff, he's a normal guy, a hard working guy just like many us. He could hire everything done, but he mows his own properties, he takes his toolbox to his children's house and does carpentry work and fixes stuff for them. He does his own driving, riding along in his automobile. At 83 he works hard yet, before the April BB Hill show he mowed all day long before the concert. CBII told me that he takes it easy his self the day they have a show, but not his dad. That’s blue collar right there, I can relate to.

I can see it now - I go to Wentzville and meet Chuck out at his place in the morning. I'm all excited acting giddy like Bruce Springsteen and I ask Chuck, "What properties are we going to mow today"?? Chuck would say, "We're going to mow some Chuck Berry properties".... I'd giggle and say - Yeah!! That would be some day.....

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