We should honor our rock of ages, Chuck Berry

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Oct 9 / 2006

By Bill McClellan

We got a new statue last month. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark have now set up shop down by the Eads Bridge. It's a very nice statue, but when I look at it, I can't help but mutter, "Roll over Meriwether and tell William Clark the news".

Chuck Berry turns 80 next week. Where's his statue?

He is probably the most famous St. Louisan of all time. Oh sure, lots of people know Stan Musial, but his fame is pretty much limited to countries in which people play baseball. A friend of mine was in Croatia recently. People were drinking and dancing, and she did the duck walk. "Chuck Berry!" somebody said. Everybody nodded. Most of these people did not speak English. They probably knew nothing about baseball. I say this not to denigrate Stan Musial - I'm happy he has a statue and I wish it were a better likeness - but to point out that Berry's fame is international. Actually, it's intergalactic. In 1977, a recording of Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" was placed aboard the Voyager space probe and fired out into the cosmos. Johnny B. Goode forever.

There is something else about Berry that merits a mention. He lives here. He raised his kids here, and they still live here.

"I could not imagine my parents or my sisters living anywhere else in the country," said Charles Berry Jr. "My father went to Sumner High School and knows the city like the back of his hand. He has roots here so well in the ground I don't think he could leave. He's seen most of North America, South America, Asia and Europe. They all have a great deal to offer, but there's nothing like St. Louis when you've grown up here".

Think of all the famous people who grew up here and then left, lured away by brighter lights or better weather. From Tennessee Williams to Yogi Berra to Dick Gephardt. Then there are the people who've made a mark here but have never wanted to live here. Tony LaRussa and Mark McGwire come to mind. But Chuck Berry, who could live anywhere, chose to stay here.

He was born 1926. St. Louis was very much a southern city back then, especially in its racial attitudes. Berry sang in the Sunday school choir at Antioch Baptist Church, but he was not always a compliant young man. He was rebellious. He got in trouble. He went to prison.

His early musical career was also an upstream effort, very much against the current of the times. He was a crossover when crossing over was not allowed. In those days, he was never far from trouble, and if some of the trouble was rooted in the times, some of it was surely his own doing.

But he persevered. He hit it big when he was 30 with "Maybellene." Eventually, he became an icon. For his 60th birthday, rock and roll stars such as Keith Richards and Eric Clapton came to St. Louis for a concert-movie called "Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll".

But the most amazing thing about Berry is that he still plays a monthly gig at Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop. It has to be one of the coolest things in the country. Imagine going over to a friend's basement to hear the founding father of rock 'n' roll. It's a family affair, too. Berry's son and one of his daughters, Ingrid, are part of the band. While Ingrid is a full-time musician, Charles Berry Jr. is a computer guy who owns an IT consulting firm.

These shows at Blueberry Hill attract a wide audience. There were two BBC crews at last month's show. Also, Paul Muldoon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet and professor at Princeton. Mostly, though, it's just regular St. Louisans who come out because it's a good thing to do. Which is probably why hundreds of St. Louisans showed up at the riverfront when Lewis and Clark returned. It's always appropriate to salute people who have accomplished much.

Which is why when I look at the new statue, I think, "Roll over Meriwether, and tell William Clark the news".


St. Louis Rams to honor Chuck Berry

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Oct 13 / 2006

By Deb Peterson

HAIL! HAIL!: Both Isaac Bruce and Chuck Berry will wear #80 on Sunday as the Rams celebrate the rock'n'roll legend's 80th birthday with a special pregame salute, complete with a Rams #80 jersey. Berry will be a special guest in the suite of team owner Georgia Frontiere. Also, young fans can bounce across the field with the Energizer Bunny following the game. The Rams will have for those 15 and under a special pink bunny ear giveaway and instructions to get to the field.

We trust that the Bunny and Berry on the same day is not intended to be any sort of editorial comment ... and in even more rock'n'roll news, the BBC2 "Newsnight" feature that covered Berry's 80th birthday concert in the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on September 13 aired in the U.K. on Wednesday.

The show featured correspondent Steve Smith's tour of St. Louis in his search to interview Berry, including a visit to a Cardinals game, interviews with Joe Edwards and Chuck Berry's son, Charles Jr, and daughter, Ingrid. Smith also visited Dr. Jeffrey Hallazgo's radio show "The Big Bang!" on KDHX-FM (88.1).


Aerosmith guitarist pays tribute to Chuck Berry

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Oct 15 / 2006

By Deb Peterson

BERRY PERRY GOOD: Aerosmith's lead guitarist and rock'n'roll hall of famer, Joe Perry, got into town a day early for his concert Sunday night at the UMB Bank Pavilion so he could meet up with our town's legendary rock'n'roller, Chuck Berry. Perry, 56, and his wife, Billie Perry, and one of their sons wanted to wish Berry well on his upcoming 80th birthday.

They had lunch at Blueberry Hill with three generations of the Berrys - Grandpa Chuck, son Charles Jr. and grandson Charles III.

Blueberry Hill owner Joe Edwards said it was one of the most fun afternoons of music talk and chitchat that he's had in a long time.


Chuck Berry celebrates his 80th birthday

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Oct 19 / 2006

By Kevin C. Johnson

Classic rock will never die so long as early rock legends such as Chuck Berry are around keeping it alive, as he did on the occasion of his 80th birthday celebration Wednesday night at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.

The duck-walking Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, whose classics include "Maybellene", "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Roll Over Beethoven", spent this landmark birthday the same way he did his 75th - in front of a standing-room-only crowd of fans, family and friends and more, doing what he just can't stop doing.

Berry took to the stage about 10 p.m. wearing a red, sequined shirt, dark slacks and his trademark sailor's cap, and he blazed his way through several rock, blues and boogie-woogie jams.

One early highlight was his hit, "Rock'n'Roll Music", on which he was joined on-stage by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry in a surprise appearance.

The band included his daughter Ingrid on harmonica and his son Charles Edward Berry Jr. on guitar.

The celebration also included a birthday greeting from former President Bill Clinton in the form of a letter read by Blueberry Hill owner Joe Edwards. The statement in part read: "Our lives are richer, our music more memorable, and our artistic legacy greater because of you, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to salute you for truly being an American treasure".

University City Mayor Joe Adams proclaimed it Chuck Berry Day, and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. had complimentary comments read into the Congressional Record.

Berry, characteristically, was not interested in talking to reporters on his birthday but was more concerned with his performance at hand and the Cardinals playoff game.

"I can guarantee you he's listening to the game throughout the night", said Berry Jr, a who expressed great pride Wednesday, along with the rest of the family, including Chuck Berry's wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"Not many people get to be 80 and achieve the kind of things my father has achieved", Berry Jr. said.

"Not too many people get to see their grandparents turn 80", added Berry Jr's own son, Charles Edward Berry III, 12.

He described Berry as a good grandfather, and he said the first thing you notice about him is his hands. "You don't ever want to get hit with those hands", he said.

Clay said he has seen Berry perform throughout his life. He said he admires Berry's music, showmanship, longevity and endurance. "He went through everything he went through in life and is still on top", Clay said.

St. Louis musician Billy Peek skipped a gig at Busch's Grove Wednesday night to help Berry celebrate. He has considered Berry his mentor since opening for him at the Casa Loma Ballroom in 1958.

"I've always looked up to Chuck as being the real king of rock'n'roll", he said. "If it wasn't for Chuck, there wouldn't be a Billy Peek. His influence on me was tremendous".

Family friend Ed Seelig, owner of Silver Strings Music, called it a blessing that Berry is still around and living in St. Louis. "He's still playing, when obviously he doesn't need to. He's just doing it for fun", Seelig said.

A rising St. Louis blues group, Bottom Up Blues Gang, opened the concert. Prior to the concert, Berry, his family and assorted others gathered at nearby Pin-Up Bowl for a private party that included comments from Berry and Berry Jr. and a group rendition of "Happy Birthday".


Chuck Berry and friends took the stage

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Oct 20 / 2006

By Deb Peterson

CALL THEM OLD: But MOST DEFINITELY, not out. Chuck Berry rocked Blueberry Hill on Wednesday night at his 80th birthday party, performing with two of his kids - Ingrid and Charles Edward Berry Jr - while his wife, Themetta Suggs Berry, and another daughter, Melody Exes, looked on from their ringside seats.

Berry - wearing a red-sequinned shirt and what-must-have-been vintage double-knit slacks - drew an eclectic crowd to the Loop nightspot, where he has been enshrined by owner Joe Edwards.

Among those on hand to toast the new octogenarian were: Patty Bush, Debra Carnahan, Lyda Krewson and Mike Owens, Beatle Bob, Tom Stringer, Dave Torretta and Chuck and Jane Ettelson.

Berry's band was joined on stage by Darryl Davis from Washington and Bob Baldori from Lansing, Michigan, who occasionally performs with them on the road. Aerosmith's Joe Perry, also took to the stage.

Berry's regular band members, including Bob Lohr, Jim Marsala and Keith Robinson, were all there rocking along with the legend.