Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chapter 9 - Why He Matters, Part Three: Chuck Berry as Performer

His performance skills are formidable. When he was younger he could do impossible things: low splits, the duck walk, the miraculous “scoot” (backward, forward, past the amp, around the mike), all the while playing patented riffs, sometimes behind his back or from his shoulder. There are limitations now, but decades of on-stage wisdom and a good band allow his performances to remain interesting and authentic. He still scoots when he’s in the mood, standing much taller now, but gliding across the floor in a way most of us could not manage.

Like so much of his art, his showmanship delivers us simultaneously to and from the days of old all. His “scoot” and “duck walk” were his own creations, but the splits came from T-Bone Walker, and the guitar slinging was at least as old as Charlie Patton, who was known to play behind his back and twirl his guitar mid song. Even the duck walk (where Chuck squats and waddles while playing) had a predecessor in something Sister Rosetta Tharpe used to do, squatting a bit and walking beneath her long, gospel robes and dresses while playing electric guitar. Chuck cites her as an influence, but invented his own duck walk in childhood to entertain grownups, improvising it the first time to dip under a table for a ball.

What I enjoy most at shows is his ability to charm and excite— that pure, powerful charisma. He’s got loads of it. He draws all eyes. My brother, a fan of contemporary dance, saw him perform at age 84 and was struck by the way he moved on the stage. Keith Richards says in the film Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll that Berry’s personal presence got by him by despite bad pickup bands, bad moods, badly tuned guitars, and no rehearsals. There’s truth to that—though you’d have to add skill, too. He has a thorough understanding of how to rouse a crowd.

I once saw him arrive at a performance in bad humor. For 20 minutes his performance was cranky and lackluster, but at a certain point professional responsibility kicked in and he got it going, like a master puppeteer, manipulating wires to make his audience laugh and dance and clap for more. It was both kill and charisma at that point—a showman’s knowledge of how to please all of the people some of the time.

In the early 1970s he used a giant sack full of tricks, mugging, joking, making faces as he strummed his guitar—but back then it was primarily the music. I’ve always believed that his guitar skills peaked around 1970-1972. He had 20 years of frequent one-nighters under his belt (undoubtedly his only “practice”) and, as demonstrated on “Back Home” and “London Sessions,” he could flat out play.

I was lucky to see him with good bands. At Lake Tahoe, and later at Monterey, he played for hours—and the shorter shows that were part of the Richard Nader Rock & Roll Revivals were concentrated frenzy. (He’d catch his breath with a blues, or a novelty song.)

Once I got to know his act I watched with a certain tension. There was ritual to it—the big eyes and fish-like mouth he made while he slowly strummed a chord; the way he “began” a show four or five songs into the performance; the response to “My Ding-a-Ling,” shy at first, and then roaring; the hilarious obscenity of “Reelin’ and Rockin’;” the bad French of “Goodnight Sweetheart” as he began to close; the frantic, climactic “Johnny B. Goode;” the way he backed off stage, bowing, holding his guitar like an icon while the band rumbled on; his quick disappearance. I focused my attention on him but watched his effect on the crowd from the corner of my eye. I wasn’t concerned that I would enjoy the show. I would. I did. But I wanted the rest of the crowd to enjoy it, and was never disappointed.

Some 1970s performances are still available. The film Let the Good Times Roll (lost commercially to contract disputes but available if you look) contains footage of Chuck Berry performing as part of a 1972 Richard Nader Rock & Roll Revival—the same basic show I saw twice at the Memorial Auditorium. I remember taking my mother to the movie. “I get it now,” she told me, after the opening number, “School Day.” The best moment in the film is one Berry shares with his buddy Bo Diddley at the finale. Chuck starts a familiar riff, Bo adds an unexpected bit of punctuation, and the two guitars merge into one just as Bo begins a split and Chuck launches his scoot. It is perfect rock, roll and rhythm, perfect timing, perfect comedy, and pure stage magic. I also loved a scene of Berry in his beloved Park, rubbing his hand across the crumbling paint of his old tour bus and reminiscing about days on the road with Johnnie Johnson and Ebby Hardy. That bus, purchased in San Jose, may have made it to my hometown of Sacramento and the Memorial Auditorium in 1957. He played there the day after San Jose.

There are other performances that remind me of the Chuck Berry I saw in Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and Monterey— clips available occasionally on YouTube of concert performances before hordes of long-haired teenagers. I was one of those kids, manipulated by that man running wide-eyed back and forth across the stage, making us jump and sing, then feigning disbelief when we did so. I also saw most of the television specials as they occurred. My timing was superb. I became a fan, and a year later my hero exploded in popularity again.

His best performance on film isn’t the 60th birthday concert that Keith Richards organized. My favorite is a quietly refined show on BBC filmed in 1972, just a month after the live recordings heard on “London Sessions,” just weeks after his famous appearance with John Lennon on The Mike Douglas Show, and a couple of months prior to the show filmed in “Let the Good Times Roll. (He was a busy man in those days.) On the BBC show there’s none of the hoarse shouting you hear in “Let the Good Times Roll,” or in the “London Sessions” concert. It is like a command performance. He is refinement itself. And really, there is no choice. He is in front of a small studio audience. There’s no reason to scream or shout, so he goes cool and elegant, sometimes whispering or growling his lyrics. The backup band, which had been with Chuck for about a week, and which had done what amounts to a dress rehearsal with him on German television just a few days prior, is mostly competent. They stay out of his way. He seems, nonetheless— or perhaps because of this— to enjoy working with them, especially the pianist, who lacked the blues chops of the great Chess pianists you hear on Chuck Berry records. But Chuck is at his best, singing, dancing, and playing sublime licks on the guitar. My favorite performance is “Carol,” where at times the band drops away discretely to leave just Chuck and his guitar. There’s a funny scene in the film Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll where Keith Richards suggests it would be too much for Chuck to play rhythm and lead guitar and sing “Carol” at the same time. “Well, it wasn’t,” says Chuck, dripping innocence and venom— and here is proof. It is perfect, perhaps the single best Chuck Berry performance I have ever seen.

Another amazing performance happened seven years before the BBC show, at the Salle des Fetes outside of Paris. This time he’s with a European pianist who channels Johnnie Johnson. Chuck goes crazy during “Wee Wee Hours,” jumping, shaking his long hair and playing blistering triplets on his guitar, hard blues by a rock and roller.

In his old age the performances are stripped down to essentials, but there isn’t a phony note in the show. When his fingers fail him he uses other skills, punching out weird rhythm chords to punctuate the lyrics, or mugging with the drummer. When he needs a break he pulls out shtick. And by the end of every show, a dozen women are on stage vying for his attention.

Which is, of course, another part of it: he is a brown eyed handsome man, for sure. The girls and women keep jumping on stage even in his mid-eighties. I’ve watched several times lately when a pert 22 year old has bumped her butt in the direction of this elderly man.

So like I say, he is a five tool player, the Willie Mays of rock and roll: a songwriter, poet, singer, guitarist and performer. Top that, anyone.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Like a Fading Memory, Let's Roll the Microfilm!

If you follow this blog you probably know that I first saw Chuck Berry at a sad, poorly promoted show at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California.  I was never sure exactly when that show was until I contacted an archivist for the City of Sacramento a few years ago.  She sent me this e-mail. 

Dear Peter:

I did find that Chuck Berry played Memorial Auditorium on February 13, 1971. Also on November 24th 1971 there was a “50s Rock & Roll Revival” but the listing doesn’t mention who played. I can also tell you that 800 people attended the Berry concert and over 4,000 attended the rock & roll revival.
I knew who played-- a local group called Slo Loris, and a kid named Little Dion, who's show was sort of like The Jackson One.  You can read all about that show HERE, in Chapter Three of a book I wrote about Chuck Berry and my own personal madness.
Well, yesterday I was in Sacramento for business, so at the end of my stay I went to the downtown branch of the Sacramento library and asked for microfilm of the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union for those months.  Because what you have to understand about this blog is that, while it might say a lot about Chuck Berry, it's real focus is ME. 

I'm not sure other people have the same problem as me-- the feeling that all memory is suspect.  Every moment I've ever known in life is "like a fading memory."  So I take comfort in corraboration.  I like to see that what I remember is true.  So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across the following page of microfilm.

Although I mistrust memory, I trust mine enough to wonder if The Bantams actually performed.  We walked out during Little Dion's performance, so if they did it was after that.  (I would have remembered these guys If I'd have seen them.  They might actually have been younger than Dion!)

As for Little Dion, he's evidently now a pretty big Dion, and providing good times out there somewhere.  The man can still dance.

The rest of it all reeks of the Sacramento of my teen years.  Adult movies.  Vienna Choir Boys.  Perry Boys' Smorgy.  (Check the price there!  All you want for $1.75!  They even gave you a little bible with your fried chicken and spaghetti.  We ate there several times.) 

If you've read the story of that first Chuck Berry show you'll know two things: that we arrived late, figuring Chuck Berry was the headliner and would play last; and that when we arrived, he was already playing, first!

We figured this was because he took a look into the empty auditorium and said "Get me the #*%* out of this town."  But check out the ad more closely.  It says, albeit a bit vaguely, that Chuck Berry, the author of "Sweet Little 1," would appear at 8:00 p.m.  So maybe the promoter was telling the truth-- maybe Chuck Berry really was double booked that night, with a show later in Los Angeles.  But of course, I never saw this ad.  I learned about the show from my mother, who actually read the paper, and who'd probably heard the same stuff I had about Chuck Berry from my brother Stevo.

This ad is from a paper called The Sacramento Bee.  They didn't review much rock and roll in those days, but The Bee actually had an article about Chuck's appearance, on a page with stock market listings, news of an Illinois earthquake, vital statistics, and funeral announcements.  You can read it here.

The other paper, The Sacramento Union, didn't even mention Chuck Berry.  Maybe it's because the promoter didn't run an ad in The Union.  Maybe it's because The Union, once an employer of Mark Twain, was jealous of America's greatest poet.  Whatever the reason, The Union had a much better entertainment section than The Bee (even if one lengthy entertainment article was entitled "Why Men Cheat.")  Check out the blues listings in that day's Sacramento Union.  Lightning Hopkins and B. B. King!

As for the November show, I didn't find much-- just an ad.  This ad I probably saw.  By then I'd seen Chuck Berry again at Lake Tahoe, and I was on the hunt.  I remember the bad art, and the lineup.

Here the mushiness of my memory becomes a little more problematic, because I have always believed I saw two of these shows.  It's possible that I saw the second one years later, in 1975-- but my memory is that I saw it at about the same time as this one, and that there were a few small differences in the lineup.  The problem for me is that I don't have a clear memory of who was with me or where I was sitting for two different shows.  I remember being stage right, about ten rows back.  I don't remember seeing the show from any other location.  Or at least I don't think I do.  As I write this, I begin to see from a new perspective, closer in, more central. 

Which is why I'll have to search again someday.  Cause a fading memory can be a bluesy thing indeed.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Continuing Story of the Big Night in Cleveland(to be continued)

(THE REVIEWS ARE IN!  Thanks to Johan for finding THIS ONE so quickly!  Here's a more complete one from a St. Louis paper.  A million great picutures HERE.)

An interview in Rolling Stone.

And a video of Reelin' and Rockin'.

Okay, a couple of these are stolen, but worth stealing-- Bob Lohr's snapshots from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland where Chuck Berry was being honored yesterday.

A tour of the hall.  That's Marshall Chess making some point to Chuck.  Themetta Berry is looking on.

Here is Lemmy, of Motorhead "kickin' serious ass on 'Let it Rock,'" according to Lohr.

Bob couldn't have taken this one.  He's there at the keys when Chuck Berry takes the stage.

Another from the Hall of Fame's page...

Here, by the way, is a great interview of Lemmy by the Hall about Chuck Berry.  Says Lemmy: "People don't want to see the guy next door on the stage, they want to see a being from another planet. You want to see somebody you'd never meet in ordinary life, for a start. You want to see a being from somewhere else, who comes to your planet, fucks you up and goes away again. That's the idea with rock and roll. It should be amazing from start to finish and not ordinary. "

Here's Lohr with Lemmy.  (Bob once gave Lemmy a Chuck Berry box set, signed by the Master himself.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chuck Turns 86

And can still can do it...  (How many times do you figure this song has been played since he wrote it in 1958?)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Two Most Faithful at Blueberry Hill

(This interview was originally published in September 2010.  Since Judy and Karen will undoubtedly be there helping Chuck Berry begin his 86th birthday celebrations at Blueberry Hill, i it's worth repeating.)

One of the amazing things about this blog is the generosity that I find myself benefitting from.  I send e-mails to strangers and receive wonderful gifts of history and insight.

I only know Judith Feldworth and Karen Ross long distance, through very occasional e-mails, and from pictures taken by Chuck Berry fans when they attend shows at Blueberry Hill.  Karen and Judy are nearly always there, right up front, in those special seats reserved for a few special fans.

But as I say-- something about Chuck Berry inspires incredible generosity.  So when I wrote the two of them, asking them for one of our famous "Go Head On" "interviews," they both took time from busy days to give wonderful responses.

These are people with a personal connection to the man most of us admire from a distance.  Enjoy. 

You’ve been to more Blueberry Hill shows than anyone, I think. How many do you think you’ve seen? How did it start?

Judy:  Karen has actually been to more shows than I have. She and I got to know each other as mutual friends of The Lettermen. We discovered we both shared a deep love of music since we were practically toddlers so here we are, years later, discovering new friends in music. Karen had been going to see Chuck in the Elvis Room at BBH for a year or so and asked me to go to a show when Chuck appeared in the new Duck Room. That was in April 1997. I work at Saint Louis University and, at that time, was editing a book for a professor whose wife taught music to the Berry children in grade school. After the show I introduced myself to Charles Berry, Jr., and asked if he remembered this teacher. He and his sisters adored her and asked me to bring her to a show. From that night on, Karen and I slowly came to know many of the Berry family members.

From April 1997, and for nine years thereafter, Karen and I attended the Blueberry Hill show every single month. We developed friendships with three others who also came and we formed a little group that met each month. Now we go every other month for economic reasons (and also Karen drives 130 miles round trip to see Chuck).

Karen:  I started seeing Chuck at Blueberry Hill in the mid-90s when he performed down in the Elvis Room, and then in 1997 I started seeing him every month in the Duck Room with Judy. A few years ago we cut back to about every other month, because of the ticket cost and also the long drive for me, but we have never really counted how many times we’ve been there.  One of my favorite things that happened was that we got to meet Lance Freed, son of Alan Freed and President of Rondor Music, at the show and he has become a friend of ours. Another memorable night was when Chuck played a song on the drums, probably something we will never see again!

Do you have any favorite memories from Blueberry Hill? How about guest artists?

Karen:  I have so many memories that are special to me, but there were two guest artists that really impressed me:

First was Joe Perry of Aerosmith who came to Chuck’s 80th birthday and played a song with him on the stage. He sat only a few seats down from us and, as Chuck was performing, you could tell that Joe was in awe watching him. That was a very cool experience, and my daughter was thrilled to have Joe Perry sitting so close to us!!

Also there were the times when Johnnie Johnson would sit in on the keyboards with Chuck! It was like watching history take place on that stage and you could tell what good friends they were. If Chuck & Johnnie were feuding over song lyrics, it was not evident to anyone in that audience. Any differences they had were settled and those two men were like brothers until the day Johnnie died. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different!

Judy:   Chuck’s 80th birthday in 2006. Every year I make a card for Chuck and try to give him something unique. When he turned 80, I felt that he should particularly be recognized. How many other people do you know rocking out at 80? So I wrote to President Clinton. He knew Chuck, a very loyal Democrat who had also performed on the road and at the White House for him. I asked him to send a birthday greeting to Chuck and to acknowledge his body of work. The letter he wrote (attached) was wonderful and something that Chuck was not expecting so it was a great surprise. It was read right before Chuck came onstage. That same night the Kentucky Headhunters, Joe Perry, Boogie Bob Baldori, and other musicians were there to play and to celebrate with Chuck. Joe Perry was asked to step up to the stage to play with Chuck and he was thrilled . . . and so was the audience!
Have you met people at Blueberry Hill who’ve travelled a long way to get there?

Judy:   Every time we go. Over the years, we have met people from all over the world. It is a pleasure watching people truly enjoy themselves, particularly when they see a show for the first time. A few special people who share our love for music have become close friends. And there are also times when we act as ambassadors to those visiting for the first time.

Karen:  We have met people from all over the world at these shows. We’ve seen fans come all the way from Europe or Japan just to sit at Chuck Berry’s feet at that show and then fly home. We have a good friend, Mark Peterson from Maui, who comes here several times a year. We also keep in contact with several Chuck Berry fans from Germany and Sweden on a weekly basis. It’s wonderful how Chuck’s music has brought so many people together.
Tell us about your regular life—where do you live? What do you do?

Karen:  I live in a small town in IL about 60 miles from Blueberry Hill. I’ve spent most of my career working for the military at Scott AFB, IL, and retired about two years ago as a Software Test Manager. I’m much too busy to sit around though and am always doing something! At least now I can do whatever I want and that is a good feeling.

Judy:  I work at Saint Louis University. I copyedit books, edit manuscripts, learning to maintain our online websites, and work on special projects. I live in St. Louis, about eight blocks from where I work, which is very convenient.
When did you first start following Chuck Berry? What is it about him, or his music, that got you hooked?

Judy:  I first became acquainted with his music when I was a very young child in grade school. And, in 1956, he and Elvis were THE music icons.

Chuck’s songs tell stories. He is a poet. The beat is fabulous. His music pattern is unique, unmistakeable. That is why he is such a huge influence on the performers who came after him.

Karen:  I’ve always liked his music and went to Chuck’s 60th birthday taping of “Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll” at the Fox Theater in 1986. That was fun and quite an experience! After that I tried to see him whenever I could.
I’m assuming you’ve met the man; what’s he like?

Karen:  Chuck enjoys working in his yard, is very articulate, speaks several languages, is a good father, and comes from a really nice family.

Judy:  Astute. Fun. Sharpwitted. On a personal level, if you have spoken with him, or read his books, you know he is an extremely intelligent man who expresses himself eloquently in speech, in his writing, and in his music. His mother was a teacher and she must have instilled in him a hunger for learning that I believe he has carried out throughout his life. Chuck is a Renaissance man who rocks! What is better than that?
He sometimes has the reputation of being a grouch; but when I see him happily surrounded by his own family, his own musicians, and his fans, he seems like anything BUT a grouch.

Judy:  He is fun and very nice. Yes, he can be moody at times, but usually there is a reason for that. I have found that, if you respect him and his word, he will respect you, in turn. Chuck has made mistakes in his life, just as we all have, and he has paid for them, in some instances, very, very dearly. Only he and his peers can tell you what it was like trying to survive through the many years of emotional pain and racial disparity. And that experience molds a man's character. You either fold up under the pressure or you forge on and surpass life's many difficulties.

I would like to see his body of work acknowledged much more than it has been. Musicians know. But he is truly underappreciated by the general public. There is only one Chuck Berry. And there will never be another like him again.
Karen: Things were really rough for a black man in the music business when he first started out, and he was treated very badly at times. He doesn’t trust people easily but, if you are fair and treat him with respect, he will do the same for you.
Who are some other musicians that you follow?

Karen:   I really enjoy music and travel to shows whenever I can so have gotten to know a few people in the music business - Marty Stuart, BJ Thomas, The Oak Ridge Boys, Trace Adkins, The Lettermen, The Diamonds, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Bill Medley, Wanda Jackson, and Marti Brom.

Judy:  In addition to Chuck, his son Charles and daughter Ingrid, The Lettermen, The Diamonds, BJ Thomas, Billy Joe Royal, the Oak Ridge Boys, Marty Stuart, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Bill Medley are among those we have gotten to know, most of whom are very close friends.
(Editor’s note: These two women are clearly soul mates!)

I noticed on Facebook that both of you were pushing hard for one of the contestants on America’s Got Talent. Tell us about him, and tell us what happened.

Judy:  Michael Grimm. Pure raw talent. If you put the collective "soul" displayed by his blues forefathers Elvis, Bill Medley, Michael Bolton, BJ Thomas, and Tom Jones together, you have the up and coming Michael Grimm. He tears it up. AND he can write. AND he plays a mean guitar. McKenna Medley and Bill Medley's band members know him well. He is sweet, honest, very humble. And, again, inordinately talented.

Karen:  We have some mutual friends and feel like we already know this young man. Michael was raised by his grandparents in a very poor area of MS. He writes music, plays guitar, and has one of the best soulful voices that has come along in quite a while. Everyone speaks very highly of him, and his main goal in winning is to give his grandparents a better life. He has made it to one of the four final contestants now and next week the winner will be decided by votes from the viewers, so we are trying to support him as much as we can!
I admit some self interest here: but what are some things people should do, see, eat or drink when they come to your fair city?

Karen:  In addition to seeing Chuck Berry, I would say go to the Arch and the riverfront, and maybe the Brewery. Also go to the University City loop area and visit the Moonrise Hotel, shops, and see the street car. Have a hamburger or toasted ravioli at Blueberry Hill, and check out Vintage Vinyl and the Walk of Fame. Hope we get a chance to meet you!

Judy:  Target the obvious places - the Arch, Forest Park Zoo and Art Museum - visit Laclede's Landing, the Central West End, and especially The University City Loop - where you will find the blues, all types of music at the Pageant and Blueberry Hill, the St. Louis Walk of Fame, vintage records, books, and great varieties of food in the many ethnic restaurants. And there are great blues bars, Brandt's, for one. And go to Blueberry Hill for the food, music, darts, and rock and roll memorabilia. And, of course, Chuck Berry!

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.....

Thursday, September 6, 2012

As I Was Motorheading Over the Road...

Lemmy is just one of the luminaries coming to help put Chuck's name in lights at the upcoming Cleveland celebration.  Read about it HERE.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Interview of Bob Lohr

HERE'S a great (I'm guessing older) interview with Bob Lohr.  (I'm guessing "older" because of the reasonably dark grey hair, and because he says he's been playing with Chuck 8 years.  I think he's running on 16 or 17 at this point.)  Thanks to Jan for the link.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Live! From Fort Worth!

(I wonder if he ever stops to realize that, indeed, he'll be remembered as long and as fondly as Ludwig?

Here's a review.  Funny that I never find it too godawful sad.  I find it miraculous that an 85 year old still wants to get up there-- and I've never been less than fully absorbed.  Imagine, next time, that it's your own dad still doing what he always loved to do.  And Chuck Berry was never too worried about a missed note or a forgotten verse.

different review has a better POV.  And a quote that explains a lot.  "When I play a B I sometimes hear a C."  To learn more about that, check out Neurologist Oliver Sacks book Musicophelia, which talks about a composer whose hearing loss caused him to loose pitch perception.  He had to retune his piano to continue composing.  That can't be done when you're playing with a bunch of other folks.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Most Recent Time I Met the Blues. (And one of the most memorable.)

A performance that just kills me...


The set list from Fort Worth!  (Chuck used to surprise his bands with songs and keys.  But everyone needs a reminder now and then.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Taylor Hackford Talks About His Chuck Berry Movie

A good interview with "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!" director Taylor Hackford HERE.  Hackford also made the great documentary about Muhammad Ali, "When We Were Kings."   
"After I did When We Were Kings, I was offered the feature film Ali. I said, "I already did it." There's no movie star bigger than Muhhamad Ali. Same thing with Chuck Berry — nobody is going to be able to play him the way he does. Luckily, with Ray, Jamie Foxx did a brilliant job, so it can happen, but with Kings and Chuck Berry I was lucky enough to get the subjects in their prime."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It Was a Brown Eyed Handsome Man that Won the Game! Chuck Berry on Johngy's Beat (A World Series Replay)

John Wroblewski is a freelance writer who lives near Chicago.  I learned about him when Chuck Berry scholar and author Fred Rothwell sent me the link to John's blog Johngy's Beat and told me to check out the Cardinal's newest pitcher.  After that, had to track down the author and ask at least a few questions!

How did you wind up making baseball cards of people like Chuck Berry?

I saw others making cards of players who never had cards and I thought they were really cool.  Then I saw a picture of Trish Stratus (WWE wrestler) in a Maple Leafs jersey and the idea hit me to do Celebrity Jersey Cards, because that seemed to fit the concept of my site.  Then I started to look for other celebs wearing jerseys.  Some readers have also sent me pictures.

I use the design of the card for the year after the celebrity started his/her career.  I did not want the card design choice to be just random, so I use  the year after their debut, like the rookie cards of years ago.

Do you have any personal favorites?

I like the Trish, because it was my first, although I had help with it from Steve of WhiteSoxCards.blogspot.com.  I like the Elton John card because it is wacky.  I also like athletes in jerseys from other sports.  Some cards I like just because they were a real challenge to do.

I see on your blog that you interview a lot of folks.  Tell us about that?

I contribute a weekly online piece for Global Traveler magazine.  I wrote a few celebrity-focused pieces there, but GT is more about travel than celebs.  Thus, JohngysBeat.com was born.  My first real interview was former baseball player Rick Monday. That piece was read on Sporting News Radio.  It grew from there.  Interviewing celebs allows me a different experience than simply meeting them.

It has grown to me covering major conventions like Wizard World, Flashback Weekend  and Days of the Dead, along with some sports teams.  Lately, I have been covering a lot of independent wrestling companies in the Chicago area.  I just enjoy meeting all of the interesting people.

Got a favorite Chuck Berry song?  Ever see him live?

I have never seen Chuck Berry live.  As for my favorite song, he has so many.  He is such a great performer.  I would probably pick something old school, like Roll Over Beethoven.

Good Luck, Eagles

Did you catch the picture of Chuck in a Rams uniform?  Maybe it's time for a football card!

I have not seen that picture, but if you send it to me, I can promise I will make it.

(Editor's note: Readers came through with copies for John.  )


Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Stuff of Legends

"Sabato 22 febbraio 1997: è una bellissima giornata. Dopo vent'anni passati a consumare dischi di Chuck Berry cercando di capire il suo stile, mi ritrovo quasi per caso sul palco del casinò di Campione d'Italia con la mia vecchia chitarra acustica Silvertone e sto facendo il soundcheck al suo posto. Lui non lo sa. A poche decine di metri, al piano sottostante, sta passando un pigro pomeriggio ad i
nfilare monete nella slot machine. Intanto cerco di dare una mano al gruppo milanese dei Cherry Pie, i cui componenti la sera prima a Milano hanno avuto i sudori freddi a cercare di accompagnare la leggenda nera: niente prove, niente scaletta dei brani, niente tonalità. Tutto improvvisato..."  Carmelo Genovese.

(My first priority is to get the book and practice my bad Italian.  But until then, I (and YOU) can read more about that night HERE)

(Spoiler Alert.  After filling in at the soundcheck for Chuck Berry while Chuck plunked coins into the slots, Carmelo found himself backstage, jamming with his hero.  Dio mio!) 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ziggy Plays Chuck

When I was a teenager I was too busy listening to Chuck Berry to know much about what contemporary musicians were doing. Turns out, they were playing Chuck Berry songs.  My 18 year old daughter just brought in a Davide Bowie album she bought for a dollar after she heard this version of "Almost Grown."

The album she bought had "Around and Around."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

They'll be Rocking in Cleveland! Chuck Berry to be Honored at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in October

What's a fan to do with birthday month concerts in St. Louis at Blueberry Hill and an all star jam in Cleveland the day after his 86th birthday.  Go, I guess!

Read about it HERE.

Why You Should Go to BBH: Rock and Roll Music at Blueberry Hill, 7/18/2012

Thanks to Doug and to whoever made this video.  Great sound, great performances.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

There's Enrique in Mexico and Dominic in Great Britain.  Someday the three of them should meet.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Plays a Mean Piano, Takes a Perfect Picture

View from the piano bench at Blueberry Hill.

Enrique y su Idol

Got a little letter-- actually, a quite BIG one today, with a framed picture inside!

The drawing is by Enrique's uncle, Edgar Hernandez.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Read All About It!

A new installment HERE.

Chuck Dylan and Bob Berry

Two artists dominate my record collection. I’ve always thought they were more similar than different.

Both rooted in the blues.

Both born on the Mississippi.

Both Disciples of Muddy, (born further down).

Both enigmas.

Both touring constantly (at least for the first 70 years.)

Both attached to guitars (with a little piano on the side.)

Both authors of their own autobiographies, word for word, and both receiving critical acclaim for same at places like The New York Times for their work.

Both loose with their own melodies.

Both quiet off stage.

Both of them poets—authors of hundreds of songs.

Both, now, singers of Christmas carols!

It doesn’t matter if one stands stock still on stage, seemingly frozen, while the other scoots, bends, splits and duckwalks; or if one can barely crack a smile while the other grins and mugs.

Both dip deeply into the current of American music and pull up something that is timeless and original. They are both giants among their fellows.

Both hugely charismatic, each in his own peculiar way.

Both available to be seen and heard today.

My advice? Do it.

(Chuck Berry photo byKevin Reynolds,  http://www.kevinreynolds.co.uk/.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Precedent! Chuck Berry Back In Court! (Just Kidding!) ( But Cited, For Sure!)

A little legalese to show just how far Mr. Berry's influence has spread.  Here, he and Ms. Mitchell are quoted gleefully by a rockin' panel of Ninth Circuit judges in a decision that calls the name "Yellow Cab" "generic!"  Go, Judges, Go!

YELLOW CAB COMPANY OF SACRAMENTO, a California corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. YELLOW CAB OF ELK GROVE, INC., a California corporation; Michael P. Steiner, an individual, Defendants-Appellees.

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

August 9, 2005
419 F.3d 925

"In this Lanham Act case, plaintiff-appellant Yellow Cab of Sacramento appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee Yellow Cab of Elk Grove. We conclude that there are issues of material fact as to (1) whether the mark "Yellow Cab" has become generic through widespread use in the marketplace, and (2) if descriptive, whether the mark has acquired secondary meaning. We therefore reverse the judgment of the district court. We also determine that the burden of proof as to validity and protectability of an unregistered mark lies with the party claiming trademark protection.

"* Perhaps the Yellow Cab Company of Sacramento didn't know what it had until it was gone.1 It had operated in the Sacramento area, including the suburb of Elk Grove, since 1922. At the time this suit was filed, it operated approximately 90 cabs, had approximately 700 business accounts, and was the only authorized taxicab provider to the Red Lion Hotel, Doubletree Hotel, Radisson Hotel, Holiday Inn Capital Plaza, Marriott Hotel Rancho Cordova, and the Amtrak Depot in the Sacramento area. In the fall of 2001, a cloud appeared over the Sacramento yellow cab empire when Michael Steiner started a one-cab taxi operation in Elk Grove and operated it under the name of "Yellow Cab of Elk Grove." Determined to "catch that yellow cab,"2 Yellow Cab of Sacramento filed this action against Yellow Cab of Elk Grove, alleging trademark violation under the Lanham Act and related state law claims for unfair competition, false advertising, and intentional interference with prospective business advantage. The district court granted Yellow Cab of Elk Grove's motion for summary judgment, holding that "yellow cab" is a generic term, and, alternatively, that even if "yellow cab" is a descriptive term, Yellow Cab of Sacramento failed to show secondary meaning and is therefore not entitled to trademark protection. Yellow Cab of Sacramento timely appealed. We review a district court's grant of summary judgment in a trademark infringement claim de novo, with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Dreamwerks Prod. Group, Inc. v. SKG Studio, 142 F.3d 1127, 1129 (9th Cir.1998)."

(The footnotes are 1) "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell, and 2) "Nadine" by Chuck Berry.)