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Reviews 2002 - 2004

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Chuck Berry Rocks the Duck Room!

Chuck Berry
Ingrid Berry Clay

Blueberry Hill / St. Louis / Missouri

December 11 / 2002

By Dick Gordon

Mr. Chuck Berry brought his unique brand of roots rock'n'roll to the stage tonight at this intimate club in his home town of St. Louis, Missouri. Our little regular group of friends and fans had convened in the restaurant above the Duck Room to have dinner and chat before the show. We even had the loyal young men who serve as Mr. Berry's on-stage assistants with us and the ever-faithful Dexter, who is Master Stage Manager for Blueberry Hill, who appreciated the chocolate candies we shared. The room is decorated in a wild concoction of Pop Americana - record albums, comic books, and posters adorn the walls. Pin ball machines, a juke box, and a piano mix among the dark wooden dining tables on the wood floor. Christmas lights added their colorful glow to the room. Through the large plate glass windows passers-by scurried along the busy sidewalks of Delmar Blvd., in the area known as "The Loop", named for the turn-around point that used to be here for public transportation. The sounds of the juke box and laughter mixed with the aromas of cooked-to-order food in the air.

At our table someone had a copy of an unauthorized biography of Mr. Berry newly published by an English author in 2002. In the rear of the chronological book is a chapter about the Blueberry Hill club and the now-well-known Chuck Berry musical concert series. It was fun to read about the very place where we were sitting, recalling the dozens and dozens and dozens of shows our little group of fans has enjoyed here. And here we were ready for another one.

We learned Joe Edwards, the owner of Blueberry Hill, had proudly issued a new T-shirt commemorating this amazing, lengthy, and historical set of musical dates. It had gone on sale for the very first time today. Several of us rushed to the bar to buy the unique shirt. It is a fine white T-shirt with the image of a concert ticket on the chest, cocked at an angle. The ticket proclaims "Blueberry Hill - Chuck Berry Legendary Concert Series - 1996 to 200?". I liked the question mark to indicate the series, now reaching its 7th year, will go on until who knows when... Hail! Hail! Long Live Rock'n'Roll!!

When the doors to the Duck Room below opened at 8PM we scooted downstairs to claim our seats in the front row. The seating is general admission, you sit where you want, so we arrive early to get the best view of the show. The rooms holds about 300 people, half of us sitting on metal folding chairs, the rest standing. I had already seen a few people outside waiting in the back parking lot with LP records in hand, apparently waiting for The Man as he arrives for the show. Those are the hardy ones; waiting long, hard hours outside in the cold. We prefer to do our waiting inside, knees tucked up to the stage, watching the roadies set up the show, shooting the breeze, and watching the other fans amble in.

Tonight we had a treat; Ingrid Berry Clay played the warm up show. Beautiful Ingrid often jumps in on tunes her Poppa does in his set, but this was the first time we had seen her handle the first act chores. Not a problem. She wore a mocha outfit; a wild patterned top, long drop earrings, skin-tight shiny coco pants, and natural suede fringed high heel shoe-boots. She belted out her soulful songs with gusto. She wailed on her harmonica like she was blowing up a life preserver. Her band backed her up with fluid bluesy guitar, rock solid drums, and steady bass lines from Cornell. When the set got reeling with the feeling, she kicked off her suede footwear and started kick-dancing, prancing in her bare feet, with head thrown back, eyes closed ... INTO it. What a show. What a gal!

At 9 PM the main event came along. Joe Edwards came on stage as he always does to introduce his good friend, and incidently a rock'n'roll legend, Chuck Berry. It's always something special when Mr. B comes on. You think, oh wow, it really is him. THERE he is! In real life. As many times as I've seen his show, (I've lost count - 60 or more times), I always have a sense of thrill. As he straps on the big red Gibson you tend to stare with some degree of fascination because you are about to witness the essence of it all - Rock'n'Roll in its purest form, served up for your enjoyment by a master of the art. These shows are a testament to a life-affirming emotional blend of happiness, freedom, and release through music. The effect of these shows is as strong, true, and powerful now as I'm sure it was in 1956, 1964, or say 1985. It doesn't matter what year because this stuff is real, this music is human, and those who share it feel it in their soul. It's fresh, it's fun, and it's so gosh-darned all American, just like Chuck Berry himself. And so it is tonight.

He's wearing a red sequined shirt, sparkling silver bolo tie, and handsome ebony pants. No hat. But something is odd. Mr. B has let his shirt go loose over his pants tonight, usually it is neatly tucked in. Curious, but we find out later why this is. Charles "Butch" Berry Jr. is on hand for lead guitar duty. He has on one of the new Chuck Berry Concert Series T-shirts. He has a huge rock concert T-shirt collection, surely the envy of many a rock fan. He carefully arranges his clothing as he puts on his gorgeous maple-anigre guitar so that his belt buckle does not come in contact with the guitar back. No scratches on this baby. Jim Marsala has his bass guitar on and is sporting a very fancy watch on his wrist which looks like it could weigh a couple pounds. Time keeper Bob Kuban is at his drum kit, Bob Lohr holds down the keyboard position just outside the dressing room door. And off we go........ !

Half-way through the show Mr. B stops and casually takes off his guitar. Then he begins to remove the sequined shirt. The amused audience begins to imitate stripper music but Chuck comes up to the microphone with a smile to assure us he is not doing a strip show. When the sequined shirt comes off we see there is a new Chuck Berry Concert Series T-shirt beneath. Chuck then admits, "You know, in every show there's going to be a commercial". Laughter, applause, more music. Soon Chuck allows the audience to call the songs, "You name it, we'll play it", he says. I'm always ready for this so I shout out, "Nadine!" - and my request is granted. It's pretty cool when Chuck Berry plays one of his songs, a song that millions of people know around the planet, a song that celebrates guitars, women, and coffee-colored Cadillacs, and he plays it just for you. Pretty decent, I'd say.

It was another great show. Afterward Mr. B changed into a crisp white long sleeve shirt, the bolo tie and his signature nautical hat to receive fans in the dressing room for autographs and photos. People lined up to get a quick word or picture with him. Such a thrill to actually MEET him. Memories were made that night, for sure.

So on it goes - the Legendary Chuck Berry Concert Series at Blueberry Hill. When will you join us? We have had fans from all over the world meet us at Blueberry Hill to see the show. You could be next. 1996 - 200? Make a date soon!

See pictures


Chuck Berry's rollicking show

Chuck Berry
with his St. Louis band

Blueberry Hill / St. Louis / Missouri

March 12 / 2003

By Dick Gordon

It was finally a warm day after many weeks of periodic snow and cool temperatures. People were tired of the bleak seasoned weather. A few of the low-lying flowers of late winter began to display their small blooms in purple and white, spreading promise among the damp, dirty leaves. We gathered in the evening glow of Blueberry Hill's dining rooms to prepare for this evening's Chuck Berry show; another shining night in the great hometown series of concerts the legendary Prime Minister of Rock'n'Roll has been laying out since 1996.

After we were pulverized by the loud heavy metal band opening act, the stage was cleared for Mr. B's set. When Chuck Berry performs he likes to roam the stage; front to back, the full width of the stage, and everywhere in between. He uses two standing microphones for his vocals so he can get back to one or another in time for the next line of lyrics in case he has been off to the side of the stage. And of course when the feeling gets to be so much Mr. B wants to celebrate with more motion, there's always the Duck Walk. This all takes space. The stage is cleared to make way for all these activities. During instrumental breaks or solos in a song, he will back away from his vocal duties and casually stroll around the stage with his big burgundy-red Gibson six-string, playing his unique style of guitar rhythm styling; poking out a beat, licking along with the galloping groove, accenting the action with trills and rips of agreement. Often he pays a visit to the other members of the band while everyone continues to play, himself included. He may crack a joke in the ear of bass player par-excellence, Jim Marsala (which we cannot hear), he may walk over and give keyboard player Bob Lohr a moment in the spotlight, smiling with approval all the while.

Chuck joked to the audience tonight about winning $140 at a casino - but having to spend $260 to do so. During the next song he went over to the drums of Bob Kuban for an interlude where Chuck nonchalantly hoisted his guitar onto his right shoulder and continued to play it almost like a violin, while facing Mr. K and getting down with the unflinching groove. In a later tune Mr. B was having Charles Berry Jr. rip out some fine lead guitar work whereupon the proud father sat down on a small amplifier to stare in hilariously exaggerated fascination and study at his son's prowess. After that, during a harmonica break courtesy of the gorgeous daughter Ingrid Berry, Mr. B kneeled to Ingrid's side and played his Gibson with just one large hand, tapping the neck in rhythm and changing chords without strumming the strings, and gazing up with rapt appreciation at Ingrid's wonderfully soulful turn.

Some songs are quick and to the point. Others take more time. When the song is right Mr. B may really start digging in and force the tune to new levels of adhesion, pushing the rollicking beat to hotter chops and taking tighter turns in the musical road. Like a fast ride in a red sports car on a clear sunny day, the stronger the beat goes and the more pressure we feel in the curves and crests of the song, the more fun it is. You just want to go on forever. The whole audience is one, as if we are all on a roller coaster and Chuck Berry is in the lead car standing up with his guitar, taking us on the ride of our lives. It's a thrill you can get only at Blueberry Hill.

Owner of Blueberry Hill, Joe Edwards opened the night with an excerpt from a recent New York Times front page article on Mr. Berry and the accompanying 2 page color spread inside the same issue. When Mr. B comes on after Joe's introductory remarks they like to do a quick triple bow together to the crowd as a sign of thanks. Tonight Chuck was wireless, using a remote transmitter so that a cord to his amplifier was not required. Due to the nice weather he did not have a hat, just his purple-blue sequin shirt, bolo tie, black slacks, and patent leather shoes. He had his usual bountiful energy; wiggling, thrusting, mugging, and gyrating through many of his great rock'n'roll hits. Chuck never fails to lure the audience into his happy spell. If we could somehow capture this positive power, put this giddy essence in a bottle, soak this satisfying verve into a pill we would have a sure-fire way to accomplish world peace. No doubt about it.

Even though Chuck Berry is so quintessentially American, his appeal is worldwide. For this show we not only had folks from Texas, Iowa, Tennessee, and California, we also had two fellows from Russia in the seats and I talked to a sushi chef, originally from Japan, who had come up from Memphis to see this show. There is always a wide variety of people at this venue and most have not seen Mr. B perform live before. The invariable result is an evening of transcendence. Folks who walk in not really knowing Mr. B will walk out as confirmed fans, smiles affixed to the faces that won't come off for days. After this rollicking show of March 12, 2003 Mr. Berry changed into a crisp white long sleeve shirt and his blue nautical hat. He came out of the dressing room to sit on a chair to graciously sign autographs for all the people who lined up for the privilege. The Russians got theirs and the sushi chef was so excited he could hardly believe it. It works every time - Glad Power to the rescue.


Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill

"CHUCK BERRY CONQUERS TIME!"
"CHUCK BERRY JUMPS NORTH POLE!"
"CHUCK BERRY - WORLDWIDE DEMAND!"

Chuck Berry
with his St. Louis band

Blueberry Hill / St. Louis / Missouri

July 16 / 2003

By Dick Gordon

Chuck Berry and his merry band played at Blueberry Hill again July 2003 for another show in his famous monthly hometown concert series. It was a warm, clear evening in town; typically humid with a westward coral glow as the glaring sun met the horizon down Delmar Boulevard. The dazzling national festivities of the first part of the month when the United States celebrates its Independence Day from England, had faded like dew in sunlight. The city had settled down into a slow, even pace with the green heat of the oncoming summer. Now would be the time when the nighttime insects sing their loudest and the mornings would be sweet and mild with promise. The full moon which just passed had been bright with a shining white ivory.

In the belly of the building is the famous Duck Room where bands from across nation come to entertain St. Louis crowds. Just before 10 p.m. the owner of the club, Joe Edwards, came on stage to introduce one of our country's greatest living assets. Within moments, the band had their instruments in hand and from out of the dressing room door sprang a lively Mr. Chuck Berry. This is always a moment of revelation. Even with the expectation of seeing an entertainer of his stature, it is still a fantasy come true, a can-it-be-real? surprise to the crowd to see this man come across the stage, shake hands with Joe, and then turn to the audience and bow with greeting. The magic is beginning.

The band is prepared. The drummer, Bob Kuban, sits alert at his drum kit in a short sleeve shirt. The bass player, Jim Marsala, is completely dressed in black, including the black baseball cap, and is expectantly holding his blond bass guitar. Keyboard man, Bob Lohr - dressed in black jacket, blue jeans and tennis shoes - sits before the keys with hand on hip awaiting the signal. Lead guitar man, Charles Berry Jr., has plugged in a stunning sunburst Fender Telecaster. It is a 50th anniversary version of the famous guitar. Instead of the usual chrome and silver metal, this beauty features all gold metal and a white pick guard. Fabulous! He is wearing two shirts tonight because the room is very cool. The air conditioning is really cranking. He has on a long sleeve Blueberry Hill shirt over which he has placed one of his many vintage rock concert T-shirts.

But the focus is on our hero, the man coming to the microphone. He wears a silver sparkling short sleeve shirt and his customary bolo tie. He has on his dark slacks and black patent leather shoes. Something, however, is completely different. He has a refreshing new look. He has once again changed his sartorial style and has now adopted the appearance of a 1940s Latin lover from the movies. He sports a fashionable pencil-line moustache (a straight line affair that grazes his upper lip), and his hair is fuller; more wavy, and brushed backward. It is a great look. All he would need is a white dinner jacket and he could fit easily into the Copacabana nightclub scene in any Humphrey Bogart film. He seems impossibly young. Has he conquered time? Is he getting younger?! How does he do that? What is his secret? It almost seems as if he has just stepped out of a record album cover from 1957.

The room is almost chilly. Some people have put on sweaters. But it must feel comfortable to the man who works up a sweat putting on his show. The tunes start booming out of the big speaker cabinets, pounding out from the drums and crashing out from the cymbals. Chuck's trusty big burgundy Gibson 355 guitar is trimmed with white and has seen many, many shows. (A similar gold-yellow semi-hollow body Gibson guitar, one of Chuck’s past personal instruments, is displayed upstairs in the entry to this club.) For some reason, the temperature of the room makes the songs run with a quicker tempo. The pace is fresh, the energy is high. Chuck is having a good time tonight. In between songs he stops to show appreciation for his hometown St. Louis audience, thanking them for their kind attendance and adoration. He means it sincerely, he loves this town. The crowd responds with a rousing rendition of "My Ding-A-Ling", shouting out the choruses with gusto. During "Johnny B. Goode" Chuck brings up from the audience another St. Louis favorite, Mr. Billy Peek. Dressed in a shimmering cranberry-gray shirt, Billy (once a member of Rod Stewart's band) is invited to belt out a verse of the song. He mimics Chuck Berry's vocal style to perfection. It's hilarious. The crowd does it's part by clamoring the "Go-Johnny-Go" refrains to Chuck's satisfaction.

To round out the show beautiful Ingrid, Chuck's multi-talented daughter, brings her sexy essence to the microphone. She is dressed all in blue; an athletic shirt that says "Lions 40", blue spandex slacks, and even blue sandals. Her hair is piled up on top of head. She sings duets with her father, plays the blues harmonica, and keeps the action going by shaking her booty to the beat. Her smile sparkles. Not to be outdone, more Berry cousins fill in on vocals and side stage dancing. Chuck is gyrating, goofing, and grooving all over the stage. We are treated with several short pieces of the Duck Walk.

To finish the show, members of the audience are invited up to the stage to dance the final number. Excited blondes and brunettes flock to the stage. They get up and dance shoulder-to-shoulder with the band members. Chuck is now at the microphone, mock-pleading out to the audience so as to be released from his show. "You all gonna let us go? You all gonna let us leave?" The crowd disapproves with glee. The beat fills the room. Seeing that his loving audience will not release him, Chuck yells "Well, get your hands up higher !!" Instantly, the entire room is filled with hundreds of vertical arms clapping to the beat, a forest of fingers and forearms propelling the song with maximum possible force to its crescendo. "Higher, higher!" It's incredible, the human thrust displayed in this room. There is joy in the air, a common spiritual awareness is taking place, and everyone is happy. "Higher, higher!" This, my friends, is a Chuck Berry show.

After the Great One has made his graceful exit through the dancers to the dressing room door and the show has closed, the crowd begins a chant of "Chuck, Chuck, Chuck !!!". But Mr. B. has given it all he has. The room lights come on. Now Charles Berry Jr. ("Butch", to some of his friends) comes to the microphone and shares some inside information with the crowd to demonstrate what kind of hard-working man his father is. It seems in the first days of July 2003 Chuck was playing dates in Europe. Not one to sit on his laurels, he also had accepted engagements in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. So, immediately after the European shows the band hopped on a jet and flew over the top of the planet, right above the North Pole from Copenhagen direct to Las Vegas. Upon landing in the city of glitter, the man and his band - without so much as catching their breath - then played shows for American audiences. What a trouper! This is an entertainer under worldwide demand and yet he is still able to play his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri every single month. How about that? Which is just one of the many reasons why we are such big fans.


At age 77 Chuck Berry has got more mojo than any rock'n'roll act on the planet!

Chuck Berry
with his St. Louis band

Blueberry Hill / St. Louis / Missouri

December 17 / 2003

By Danny Guspie

Honest to God, I was looking for those graet Chuck lyrics in November 2003 and found him still rocking out at Blueberry Hill on December 17/03 in St. Louis.

Being my 45th birthday on December 18th, I bought tickets and my wife Heidi and I hoofed it to St. Louis through sleet, snow and sunshine with two hours to spare.

Chuck - You are bar none the very best rock'n'roll performer, and it was an honour to be only five feet front and center for what has to be the best show on earth.

That we got an autograph and to meet and shake that enormous hand of yours made it the absolute best birthday of my life bar none.

Weeks later, I am still buzzin' every time I pick up my guitar and play, write, sing, groove and move on out...

"I'm howlin at the moon,
Chompin' at the bit -
headin' down the road a piece
south on Route 66
Mama pack yer bags, I'm off
to St. Louie - gonna
see the legendary Chuck Berry!"

It's the beat, the beat, the beat....

Spontanaiety, heart, groove, soul power, you name it, Chuck's got it all and then some. Do yourself a favour and see a real legend in action.

Would that I could go to every date at Blueberry Hill and anywhere else to see you.

Count on me returning as often as possible for another hit of the real deal!

This Blueberry Hill gig is the best kept rock'n'roll secret going folks - at age 77 Chuck has got more mojo than any rock'n'roll act on the planet.

May you "swing on" for many many many more years to come, Chuck.

I am so fortunate to have seen you at close range on your home turf...

God bless you Chuck...Long live rock'n'roll!!!

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