Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It's Important!

When I think of this silly blog, or when I think of Doug, or me, or Ida May, or Morten, or Dominic, or Jan, or Peter, or Judy, or Wolfgang, or Karen, or Thomas, or Stefano, or Carmelo, or Dietmar, or Fred, or Johan, or Thomas, or Manuel, or so many others, I think of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind and all those disparate people drawn to a force they didn’t understand for reasons they can’t really fathom.

When I post various blatherings about my hero I’m like the guy with the mashed potatoes, scraping away with my fork, worrying my family, trying to figure out what it is exactly that has drawn me all these years.

I haven’t filled my living room with dirt, but I’ve filled a few drawers with clippings and a few shelves with records and books.  My wife thinks I have too many guitars.  (She doesn’t know how many YOU have!  She doesn’t know how much yours cost, either.  Mine were cheap!)

When I tell a family member or friend another parable about Chuck Berry, or get excited about an “interview” on the blog, I cringe a little.  I know they don’t really understand.  They just put up with me.

When I go to a show it's different.  I remember at Monterey in 1974 meeting someone at the foot of the stage after the show.  We recognized each other instantly as fellow travelers.  There’s no need even for a secret hand shake.  We just know.  That guy was Howard DeWitt, who wrote the first serious book about Chuck Berry.  
(A few months ago I found him on facebook.  One day I called him.  We couldn’t really talk because he was at Trader Joe’s.  But I told him “I think I met you 35 years ago at the foot of the stage in Monterey."  “It was me!” he said.)

At chuckberry.com it’s different, too.  (Poor chuckberry.com.  It’s fading under the spell of facebook.  The short lived Real Chuck Berry Page was a fine substitute and drew many of the same people. But now there’s just a page with untold millions of fans and friends.  I like it though.  I’m amazed at how many Spanish speaking comments there are.)  

At chuckberry.com I “met” Doug and Jan and Johan, and I knew right away that they were drawn by a force similar to what I’ve experienced.

When I started my blog I “met” new people.  A guy named “Dominic” from Manchester, England, England started commenting.  It was months before I saw him on facebook and youtube and learned he could play a mean Chuck Berry on his red Gibson. 
There’s an English connection.  Or maybe an Italian one.  Stefano, an Italian in London, sends ideas for interviews.  Fred Rothwell sometimes corrects my frequent errors.  ("Bo didn't write that one, Peter.")  Carmelo, a Genovese from Milano, (which sounds like a Chuck Berry song), sends snapshots that make me crazy-- Carmelo holding a famous pair of pants, Carmelo playing his Silvertone backstage with Chuck Berry.  Later I learn that I’ve known him all along as one of the Boogie Ramblers.

Manuel Borea is another one from Italy, though most people probably know him online as "ForeverChuck68."  Manuel’s enthusiasm for Chuck Berry shines through the inadequacy of google translator.

The Swedes and Finns and Norwegians are also well represented.  Something about the cold north needs the warmth of a Gibson guitar.  Peter Kaleta travelled to places in my country I’m still waiting to see and experience-- New Orleans and Memphis-- to document the holy shrines of American music.  Fats Domino heard him knocking and came outside to greet him.  He went to St. Louis, too.  Where he undoubtedly met the mayors of Blueberry Hill, Karen and Judy, who have attended more than 100 of the fabled shows at the St. Louis bar and restaurant.

Germany?  It’s full of them.

France?  One of the first is there.  And Red Chuck, too.

Ida May from Brazil has the perfect name for a Chuck Berry fan-- half Ida Red, half Maybellene-- and she’s the perfect Chuck Berry fan, famous on youtube for her brief appearance on stage with the man, and famous on facebook for her exuberant love of the guy.  

My blog gets hits from around the world: Mexico, Japan, Turkey, India, Spain, Armenia, Bulgaria, Russia, China and Korea, just to name a few.

Some of the people I’ve encountered have the talent to do more than mess up their mashed potatoes.  (They’re more like the artist with the baby who painted real pictures.)  I don’t know Thomas Einarsson, but I shook his hand, and I know he travelled farther than I did to attend two Chuck Berry birthday shows in October, and I saw him at the soundcheck playing some utterly convincing, utterly confident Chuck Berry riffs.  Carmelo and Dominic can be found on youtube doing the same. 

And of course there are the big leaguers.  Robert Lohr evidently grew up idolizing Johnnie Johnson and Otis Spann, said the music was in his blood at “a cellular level,” got to know them both, and now channels them on stage with Chuck Berry.  Daryl Davis told the kids at his high school he was going to study music and play with Chuck Berry.  And guess what?  Bob and Daryl and Bob Baldori and Ronny Elliott all shared stories and their admiration for the man on the blog, and the whole St. Louis band greets us “true believers” with real generosity.

Even those of us who can’t really do it do it.  Jan’s got a guitar.  I try to play one and made a mess of “Wee Wee Hours” and “Oh Louisiana.”  Doug got up on stage and brought Nadine to life at the Bussey, Iowa Fourth of July celebration.  He even duckwalked and scooted.

There’s something that grabs us, and pulls us--sometimes towards St. Louis.

How many people have posed by that piece of granite on a backroad?

How many of you have made it to Blueberry Hill?

How many have toured The Ville, looking for old houses and clubs?

How many are on their way?  I see Dominic is resolved to go.  I hope Ida May gets there, soon.  I hope Peter gets back.  Doug will, for sure.  He’ll celebrate his own birthday there.  And Judy and Karen are there so often they probably keep toothbrushes and a change of clothing there.

I don’t know exactly what it is that makes us what we are, but I know this: like the guy in Close Encounters told his distraught wife: “It’s important.”

If I had fallen sway to, say, David Cassidy (and I mean no disrespect to David Cassidy), I’d be a lot more worried.

If I was interested in a celebrity, I’d be embarrassed.

But Chuck Berry is the anti-celebrity.  He mows his own lawn.  He has no management.  His only PR service seems to be a loving son.  He doesn’t sell shirts.  He doesn’t even sell records these days.  There’s no Graceland.  

But a couple times a month he hops into his car and there is a show with music--raw, live boogie woogie and blues-- and a  dozen or so songs drawn from one of the richest veins in American or world music. 

I’ve learned is that it is as solid as that tower of basalt and lava, and as magical.  It’s built on 12 bar blues, hard work, rhyme, rhythm and family.

It’s important, and it’s real.


Anonymous said...

Peter, Great Blogging as usual!! Now you have me curious and a little embarrased - I'm going to have to watch Close Encounters - I've never seen the movie!! I love mashed potato's so I've got to check that scene out....
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the Chuck Berry Fans you mentioned above and to the millions of others across the globe....
Thanks for all you've done and continue to do here at Go Head On Tulane an appreciation of Chuck Berry and his music...
CB Forum ID - Busseybootlegger

Peter said...

Ah! You're so lucky you get to see it for the first time.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Peter!!!
Happy New Year for Chuck Berry's fans in the world!
Congratulations for your WONDERFUL BLOG!
Thanks for all...
Ida May

Anonymous said...

I will always be here!
Greetings from Phuket Thailand.
I'm on vacation here with my family and will be back at home again in January.
We have been to Hard Rock Cafe in Patong Beach on our first day here.
There is a big photo of Chuck in the entrance here. I will share that with you when I'm home again. I have a film of it also :-)
Happy New Year!

stefano said...

We can all Sympathise with you Peter it's a wonderful bug that fortunately there is no cure and lets face it known of us would want to be cured.....RIGHT ON ! I remember when I became first infected....back in 1987 I walked into a restaurant called "The southside Cafe" in London's Covent Gardens,an American style diner, with T.V's in each corner, as I sat there Chuck Berry and Tina Turner were doing there thing "Live at the Roxy" and the rest is history.....I was seriously infected so much so that in 1990 my cousin was getting married in Italy one month before Chuck was arriving so I had to chose between between the 2 events , you guessed it I went a month later and watched my FIRST CB concert at Lecce southern Italy.....No contest really....!!!! Hail Hail Rock n Roll :)

Anonymous said...

Chuck Berry is the best and this.....is the best blog on Chuck Berry on Heart! ;-)
Thank you, Peter!
by ForeverChuck68

Ira said...

Peter: Your enthusiasm for the man after all these years is inspiring. I've never met the Brown-Eyed Handsome Man. but I'm ready to "Go, Go,Go'' to Blueberry Hill.