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.....