Chuck Berry 2003

The Music They Made: Legends of rock, country and soul

CHUCK BERRY: Sweet tunes, fast beats and a hard edge

New York Times

Feb 23 / 2003

By Bernard Weintraub

Chuck Berry is seated backstage listening to the crowd gather at Blueberry Hill, a music club and bar in the Loop area on this city's west side. Once a month, Mr. Berry, known universally as the father of rock 'n' roll, performs downstairs in the cramped Duck Room, named for the famous duck walk he has performed around the world for nearly 50 years.

....Mr. Berry remains as suspicious, defiant and guarded offstage as he is mesmerizing on. In a life overshadowed by three prison terms, his own inner demons and the humiliations of racism, he now carefully avoids any public hint of the anger and resentment that seem to lurk just beneath the surface.

....The high point of his career, from the mid-50's through the 60's, was distinguished by about 40 songs, many of them early rock 'n' roll classics.

He became famous with "Maybellene" in 1955. It was followed by "Roll Over Beethoven," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Johnny B. Goode," "School Days," "Nadine" and "Rock and Roll Music."

Although Little Richard and Fats Domino may have been the earliest black stars to sell rock to white audiences, Mr. Berry was the first to break down racial barriers, not only with his electric guitar but also with wordplay and imagery. As Paul Friedlander writes in his book "Rock and Roll: A Social History," Mr. Berry "created the most literate, stylistically innovative and original music of the era." If the formulaic lyrics of early rockers were narrowly focused on boy meets girl, Mr. Berry's songs went beyond this to appeal to the concerns of white adolescents dealing with issues like parents, dancing, cars, lust and new tastes in music, along with teenage romance.

....He also forged the style for rock 'n' roll guitar that's still current. "For him, the guitar was more than an accompanying prop hanging off his shoulders," Joe Stuessy and Scott Lipscomb write in "Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development." In Mr. Berry's hands, they observed, the guitar "was a frontline instrument, often on a par with the lead vocal. The statement-and-answer technique in which the guitar mimics the just-completed vocal line is related to the two-bar or four-bar 'tradeoffs' found in jazz. It is as if Berry and his guitar are doing a duet."

When Mr. Berry recorded "Maybellene" for the Chicago-based Chess Records, he was inspired, he said, by a country-western song, "Ida Red." Leonard Chess, one of the owners, told him he didn't like the title.

As Johnnie Johnson, the piano player and Mr. Berry's longtime collaborator, recalled, Mr. Chess suggested "Maybellene" after noticing a Maybelline cosmetics box on a window sill beside a secretary's desk.

....His book also includes scary incidents with the police or with white men who saw him driving or dancing with white women.

But the most devastating episode in Mr. Berry's life was his trial and conviction in 1961 for violating the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of women or girls across state lines for the purposes of prostitution. Mr. Berry was convicted of charges involving Janice Norine Escalanti, a 14-year-old hat-check girl. (She complained to the police after Mr. Berry fired her from her job at his St. Louis club, Club Bandstand.)

Mr. Berry's 20-month imprisonment left him broken and outraged. He said he felt hounded by the police because of his association with white women.

...."Never saw a man so changed," Carl Perkins, the songwriter, singer and guitarist, once told Michael Lydon, a journalist, as he recalled a 1964 tour of Britain with Mr. Berry. "He had been an easygoing guy before, the kinda guy who'd jam in dressing rooms, sit and swap licks and jokes. In England he was cold, real distant and bitter. It wasn't just jail. It was those years of one-nighters; grinding it out like that can kill a man. But I figure it was mostly jail."

....Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, he grew up in his family's three-room brick cottage at 2250 Goode Avenue, "a nicely kept area in the best of the three colored sections of St. Louis," he recalled later. The neighborhood, known as the Ville, was a thriving black community north and west of downtown St. Louis. Mr. Berry's parents, Henry and Martha, came from polyglot roots: African, Chihuahua Indian and European. His father worked in a flour mill and later as a repairman in apartment buildings.

....Judging by his candid autobiography, which he wrote without the help of a ghostwriter, Mr. Berry was stirred by two forces in his early years (and his late years, too): sex and music. "My 12th was my most Christian and most boring year of my life," Mr. Berry writes. "Try as I did, day after day, to cling to righteousness, I was washed down in suds of sinful surroundings."

His earliest influences were boogie-woogie, blues and swing. He spent hours listening to the bluesmen Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Arthur Crudup and Muddy Waters, and later to Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Johnson, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Harry James and Nat King Cole.

"Nat Cole's diction, his speech and his delivery was something that I can't get from a lot of rappers today," Mr. Berry said backstage. "And a lot of that country-western - can't hear what they're saying."

....At the Cosmopolitan, Mr. Berry worked up a repertory of boogies and blues but also played around with the lyrics of old country songs. "Some of the clubgoers started whispering, `Who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?' " Mr. Berry recalls in his autobiography. "After that, they laughed at me a few times, they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed trying to dance to it."

Mr. Berry's calculated showmanship began luring larger white audiences to the club. He also began singing the songs of Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters. "Listening to Nat Cole prompted me to sing sentimental songs with distinct diction," he said at Blueberry Hill. "The songs of Muddy Waters impelled me to deliver the down-home blues in the language they came from. When I played hillbilly songs, I stressed my diction so that it was harder and whiter. All in all, it was my intention to hold both the black and the white clientele by voicing the different kinds of songs in their customary tongues."

...."Maybellene" reached No. 1 on Billboard's R & B chart and had crossed over into the pop chart. By the end of the year, the song had sold a million copies and Mr. Berry had been named Most Promising R & B Artist in Billboard's annual disc jockey poll. Almost overnight, he had become one of the country's most popular artists.

In the same breath, Mr. Berry recently praised and criticized Leonard Chess and his brother. "They were great," he said. "They weren't honest but they were very helpful in my career. They gave me the first chance. That's a beauty. To rob somebody or to not give somebody what belongs to them is not honest. So they're both, you know. But they were good to me and cool."

Below is a portion of my bio of the Chess brothers from The Encyclopedia of Record Producers:

The story of the Chess brothers and their label burrows into the heart of such charged issues as art versus commerce and exposure versus exploitation - all tangled up in the miasma of race relations.

Lazer and Philip Chez, aged 11 and 6, were herded through Ellis Island on Columbus Day 1928 from their village near Pinsk, Poland, and transformed into Leonard and Phil Chess. They joined their father, who had been running a junkyard in a Jewish neighborhood near the South Side of Chicago. Their address, 1425 South Karlov Ave, provided the catalog number for the first Chess Records release.

Phil served in the Army during World War II. Leonard's childhood polio left him with a limp, ineligible for military service. During the war, Leonard pursued various business interests, including liquor stores and bars of less than stellar repute.

Eventually, Leonard moved up to the Macomba Lounge, an upscale jazz and blues club at the heart of the South Side. The club featured major national acts including Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong. The predominantly black crowds were regular and enthusiastic, and as label talent scouts sniffed around the back door, Leonard realized he could sell records as well as drinks to his customers.

....For his first Aristocrat session, "Johnson Machine Gun," veteran Chicago blues pianist Sunnyland Slim brought in a youthful guitarist, Muddy Waters, fresh from the Mississippi Delta. Waters recorded "I Can't Be Satisfied" in April 1948 and the first issue sold out in 12 hours. Reeking of the country funk of the Delta, Waters' single is a violent shout into the void that laid the foundation of the Chess sound - heavy on vicious electric slide guitar, thumping rhythm and unadulterated blues wailing.

Leonard reportedly couldn't understand what Waters was singing in the studio, but he understood the sales and somehow knew the records sold because, not in spite, of the track's rawness.

This insight is of such importance that American Heritage magazine (December 1994) selected the Chess brothers as among the 10 most important agents of change in America since 1950 with the following comment:

"The Chess brothers made records that helped transport African-American culture, especially its language and music, to its central place in American culture...The Chess brothers' story is one in which greed and inspiration swirled together in a characteristically American pot where the ingredients did not so much melt as alloy in a metallurgical sense: steel guitar, electricity, and vinyl transmuted into a wholly new cultural substance."

....Willie Dixon tends to minimize Leonardís contributions as a producer, indicating that his main contribution was to rile up the musicians in the studio with a string of friendly curses and then leave them to take out their frustrations on the music. (Leonard was notoriously crude, answering the phone with a "Hello, Motherfucker.")

However, an ability to bring out the best from musicians is one of the very definitions of producer. Also, it was in Dixon's interest to play down Leonard's input in that Dixon was also a producer and writer with the company, and felt rather unappreciated by the Chesses, especially financially.

Dixon's account of the first Chuck Berry session in 1955 leaves Leonard out of the picture entirely; Berry's account in his autobiography firmly places both Leonard and Phil on the scene as engineers and supervisors: "We struggled through the song, taking thirty-five tries before completing a track that proved satisfactory to Leonard," Berry wrote, observing Leonard was clearly in charge of the session.

Perhaps inadvertently, the Chesses contributed to the perception that they were exploiters of black music by downplaying their personal interest in that music. They both claimed to be "just businessmen." Perhaps this attitude stemmed from some vestigial Old World notions of hierarchy, division of labor, or even the unseemliness of the music that they produced. Perhaps downplaying an affinity for the music helped the Chesses maintain emotional distance from their artists - many of whom they clearly took advantage of financially with recording, publishing and personal appearance contracts that screamed of inequity but were standard for the time.

Another way to view them is as paternalistic: The Chesses "took care" of their most important artists. Muddy Waters worked with them for 20 years without a contract; they paid for the funeral of a destitute Little Walter; Howlin' Wolf grumbled but stuck around, and the like.

Despite their protestations, the Chesses, especially Leonard, had a feel for the blues, rock and roll and their permutations. Leonard's son Marshall (who would become president of the company and runs the Chess publishing company, ARC) put it this way to writer Peter Guralnick in his classic Feel Like Going Home: "My father was a music lover in a very strange way. People used to talk, they'd think he was kind of a freak, because all he'd ever want to do was to go to these little funky clubs that no white person would ever dream of going to, to hear new acts, to buy new talent."

....Other greats to work for the label include Bo Diddley, The Moonglows, The Flamingos, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, Little Milton, Etta James, Billy Stewart, Fontella Bass and Chuck Berry. Waters, Wolf, Diddley, Berry, Dixon, James and Leonard Chess himself are inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

As brilliant and lasting as the Chess blues work is, their work with Berry will stand the longest. Berry met his idol Muddy Waters on a road trip to Chicago from St. Louis, accepting Waters' advice to seek out Leonard Chess, whom Waters called the best in the business.

Leonard has dismissed his acumen regarding Berry as riding a trend. But the master tapes show Leonard making decisions about takes and contributing ideas throughout. And when "Maybellene" began to look like a hit, Leonard took the record directly to Alan Freed in New York to push Berry with all the clout Chess could muster.

Whether Leonard recognized Berry for the most important single figure in rock 'n' roll history is debatable, but he knew greatness when he heard it and was willing to back his judgments with money and muscle.

Berry is the greatest lyricist in rock, capturing the teenage experience with empathy and humor. He also was the architect of the riffing guitar sound at the base of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and every other guitar-based rock band on earth. "Johnny B. Goode," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Rock And Roll Music," "Memphis" and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" are but a few of the greats in the remarkable Berry canon.

....On Oct.16, 1969, Leonard Chess died of a heart attack at age 52, probably felled by his own type A personality. Earlier that year, he and Phil had sold the company to GRT for a reported $11 million. In 1975, GRT closed down the logo, selling it to All Platinum Records. Phil remains active at ARC, the Chess publishing company. The Chess catalogue is now being aggressively reissued on CD by MCA, giving another generation access to this timeless music.

Chuck Berry's rarely-heard blues recordings on new collection

July 26 / 2003

By the press stab

LOS ANGELES - Chuck Berry's BLUES (MCA/Chess/UME), released August 12, is special even for such a massively anthologized artist not just for what it includes but for what it does not. There's no "Maybellene", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Johnny B. Goode", or "Rock & Roll Music". What the new collection does offer is 16 rarely heard recordings of blues classics and originals, each digitally remastered, from the man who first rocked the blues.

In fact, three selections -- "I Just Want To Make Love To You," "Still Got The Blues" and "All Aboard" -- make their U.S. CD debuts minus the overdubbed crowd noise which distracted their premieres on the less-than-truthful 1963 "live" album ON STAGE. Spanning 1955 to 1965, each track produced by the legendary Leonard and Phil Chess, nearly every one recorded in Chicago, and all issued on Chess, BLUES reveals the too often overlooked bedrock upon which Berry duckwalked his way to immortality as one of rock 'n' roll's founding fathers.

Berry waxed the classic "Wee Wee Hours" on May 21, 1955 at his first Chess session (sidemen over his tenure would include Johnnie Johnson and Lafayette Leake on piano, Willie Dixon on bass, and Hubert Sumlin and Matt Murphy on guitar). Though it went Top 10 R&B, A-side "Maybellene" made Berry a superstar.

But the blues would never be far away. In 1957, he recorded the self-penned "How You've Changed" and played steel guitar for his instrumental "Deep Feeling." The next year he laid down a rollicking "The House Of Blue Lights," though it would not be issued until a 1974 compilation. The final '50s cut on BLUES is his truly-in-the-studio 1959 rendition of Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You," made famous by Muddy Waters, the man who introduced Berry to the Chess brothers.

Sessions in early 1960 produced standards harking back to Berry's youth: "Worried Life Blues", "Drifting Blues", "Sweet Sixteen", "Down The Road Apiece" (whose arrangement would be copped for 1965's THE ROLLING STONES, NOW!) and "Confessin' The Blues" (which won him a high school talent show). Among his originals were the swinging "Still Got The Blues" and the tough, gutbucket blues "Run Around".

Berry paid homage in 1961 to Nat King Cole with a rocked-up take on his hero's hit "Route 66". His own rip-roaring "All Aboard" was also recorded that year. Returning to action in 1964 after a legally mandated hiatus, he reminisced about "The Things That I Used To Do", a vintage Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones hit. BLUES concludes with a 1965 London session recording of W.C. Handy's immortal "St. Louis Blues" - the hometown and the music where it all began for Chuck Berry.

Buffalo revs up for motorcycle gathering

Business First

Aug 22 / 2003

By the press stab

The Buffalo Bike Blast rides into town this weekend with organizers anticipating 20,000 motorcycle enthusiasts converging on the city.

The two-day event is part of Harley-Davidson's 100th Anniversary "Ride Home" celebration and culminates Labor Day weekend in Milwaukee. Buffalo is one of eight cities to host the Ride Home.

The law firm of Paul William Beltz is paying nearly $150,000 to sponsor the gathering, which will feature a free concert by rock legend Chuck Berry. Berry, one of rock's founding fathers, will be performing on the Niagara Square stage, beginning at roughly 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 23 Music on the stage runs from 4 to 9 p.m.

A second series of concerts will be held from the same Niagara Square stage, beginning at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24. That show will be headlined by Blues Traveler.

The concerts and all of the Niagara Square events connected with the Harley Ride Home are free. The event is being produced by Buffalo Place Inc.

Chuck Berry and Little Richard to perform benefit concert in Trenton for the National Foundation for Cancer Research

Aug 30 / 2003

By the press stab

Trenton, N.J. (PRWEB) Chuck Berry and Little Richard are set to perform at this yearís annual benefit concert for the National Foundation for Cancer Research in Trenton, NJ. The 11th Annual V. Rugnetta Memorial Concert featuring Little Richard and Chuck Berry will be held on Saturday, Sept. 13. Also performing will be two bands from New Jersey; The Cryers and Waterís Edge. Tickets are currently on sale for the show, which will be held at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton. All proceeds will go to benefit cancer research and the National Foundation for Cancer Research.

"Cancer is such a devastating disease to so many people and families and it is only through increased support in cancer research that we will see this disease stopped," says Tony Rugnetta, chairman of this year's event. "What a great way to help conquer this disease by spending it in the company of two of Rock & Roll's legends, Chuck Berry and Little Richard."

Tickets are on sale at Ticket Master and can be found by logging on to or by calling the Sovereign Bank Arena at (609) 656-3222.

Since its founding in 1973, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) has provided more than $200 million to fund research and education focused on understanding how and why cells become cancerous. This worldwide "laboratory without walls" assembles the intellectual power to achieve one of medicine's greatest goals: the end of cancer.

It is believed that prevention, treatment, and cure depend on understanding cancer's genetic origins and environmental influences as well as the "individual" nature of the disease. NFCR's research discoveries are now on the threshold of being translated into therapies and potential cures for cancer patients.

For more information, please visit

St. Louis musicians plan tribute CD to Chuck Berry

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

September 11 / 2003

By Kevin C. Johnson

Tribute CDs are the music industry's valentine to treasured or influential artists, and many great artists have received such treatment. But Chuck Berry has somehow been mostly overlooked in that department - despite his status as one of the originators of rock 'n' roll.

That's about to change, however, thanks to St. Louis music scene mainstays Kip Loui of the Rockhouse Ramblers and Tom "Papa" Ray of Vintage Vinyl. The upcoming "The Chuck Project" CD will not only honor the St. Louis-area man behind "Roll Over Beethoven," "Johnny B. Goode" and "Sweet Little Sixteen," but also serve as a benefit for radio station KDHX-FM (88.1).

"I really feel like Chuck hasn't gotten his due in his hometown," says Loui, who'd been kicking around the idea of the tribute CD for nearly four years. "His issues concerning his personal life aside, the man did practically invent rock 'n' roll. It's high time to pay tribute to the man's talent.

"It seems like everyone has a personal, insider story about Chuck Berry, and half of it is legend and half of it is hearsay. I could care less about any of that. He's kind of like Ike Turner - they have colorful pasts, but that doesn't color their accomplishments."

According to Loui, "The Chuck Project" - to be mastered by Jack Petrocek with Mike Martin serving as music director - isn't meant to serve as the definitive tribute CD.

"There are lots of others that could be made and should be made," Loui says.

Still, as far as St. Louis participation is concerned, this may be the one.

Since the announcement of "The Chuck Project," which will be released in the spring, St. Louis artists have been lining up to participate. In fact, there are more artists interested than the CD can possibly accommodate, which might make the project grow from a single to a double album.

"That's a wonderful problem to have," Loui says.

The Bottle Rockets and Jay Farrar are among the leading acts who will participate. The Bottle Rockets will cover "Come On," a lesser-known Berry song.

"I was privileged to be at the recording session, and it's gangbusters," Loui says. "They put their own stamp on it. If radio put a push behind it, it could be a minor hit.

"They have a new second lead guitarist, John Horton, and he brings a southern soul vibe to the Bottle Rockets, in the southern rock style of (Memphis soul session musician) Steve Cropper."

Farrar and Oliver Sain are mulling which songs they'll perform: "Oliver's not doing well healthwise, so we're really eager to get him in the studio."

The band Nadine, appropriately enough, will cover the song "Nadine." "We thought that would be kind of fun," Loui says. "Plus it's a killer Chuck tune. They have an interesting idea for an arrangement. They're talking about doing it as a ballad."

Berry's daughter Ingrid Berry is set to do a song, though she is still deciding which one. The Civil Tones are probably going to record an instrumental. Punk bands Sullen and Phonocaptors will appear, along with rockers the Tripdaddies, country acts the Flying Mules and the Orbits, and blues artists Bennie Smith and the Soulard Blues Band.

Loui and Ray would also like Nelly, Chingy, Ike Turner, Denise Thimes, Henry Townsend and Fontella Bass to appear on the CD.

"We heard Nelly is open in a theoretical kind of way," Loui says. And, of course, Loui and Ray, who are both musicians, will appear.

"I didn't create this project to include my own band - but I'm not going to pass up the opportunity," Loui says. Ray will contribute what's believed to be his first solo recording in his covering of "Wee Wee Hours," an early Berry blues tune.

Even Johnnie Johnson was invited to participate. Johnson and Berry collaborated on many of the latter's biggest hits, but in recent years all has not been copacetic between the two artists. Johnson sued Berry over royalties and credit, with a judge ruling in Berry's favor last year.

Can Johnson and Berry let bygones be bygones? Loui had been optimistic but was told this week that Johnson was advised by his lawyers not to participate.

All of the artists are donating their services to the CD, Loui says.

"What Tom and I did was get together to figure out the folks we felt best represented the music community of St. Louis," Loui says. "We wanted acts that are established and have been around for a while, and acts from a wide variety of musical styles.

"But, admittedly, it basically came down to folks Tom and I know and respect musically. A lot of this has to do with our own tastes, musically speaking. But we were trying to be fair at the same time."

More information on "The Chuck Project" is available by emailing Kip Loui at or Tom "Papa" Ray at

At 70, Little Richard still knows what to do

The Courier-Post Online

September 12 / 2003

By Marc Voger (Gannett News Service)

Not to sound morbid, but Little Richard is 70 and Chuck Berry is 76. If you ever wanted to see these two musicians who helped create rock 'n' roll, well, what are you waiting for?

Richard - who broke race and gender boundaries in the repressed '50s by shaking a gravity-defying pompadour while singing "a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom" - doesn't dance around the subject.

"Chuck Berry's gettin' older and I am older. You may not ever get a chance to see this again, you understand me?" Richard says.

"I would like everybody to come out to this show. I think this show should be a very special show for people. I'm sure they'll never be able to see this again."

The show is the 11th Annual Vincent Rugnetta Memorial Concert to be held Saturday in Trenton, which benefits the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Show organizer Tony Rugnetta calls it a "labor of love for me as a tribute to my dad (Vincent, who died at 65 in 1992).

"Everybody can identify with cancer. Not only have I been touched by it by losing my dad and other loved ones, I feel like a lot of people that research is vital to one day finding that cure, God willing."

Rock pioneer Richard - who also sang "Good Golly, Miss Molly," "Long Tall Sally" and "The Girl Can't Help It" - spoke to Gannett News Service recently in a telephone interview.

GNS: You're 70 and still on stage. How do you maintain yourself?

RICHARD: Oh, boy (laughs). That's another story there. I really don't consider myself as that. But I take herb medicine called Seasilver every day. It puts all the vitamins back in your body and it also takes cancer out of your body.

GNS: Does that help with playing music?

RICHARD: Well, I've been out here a long time. Chuck Berry has, too. But I think it's tiring. It's more tiring than it used to be, you know? But it's still a joy. The audience keeps me alive, because they are so nice. They are young and old, black and white, rich and poor. They are so enthused over the shows wherever we go. The crowd is huge everywhere we've been.

GNS: Today's young people take some freedoms for granted, but there was a time when racism was much more prevalent in the United States. You broke barriers with your music . . .

RICHARD: Yes, I did.

GNS: What were you up against?

RICHARD: Oh, my God! I really came through it when I was a boy. I lived through the real racism. You know, when you couldn't go to the toilet. You couldn't drink water. You couldn't go and buy a sandwich. You had to go to the back door of a restaurant to the kitchen door. Oh, my God! On the bus, you had to ride on the back seat; you couldn't sit up at the front of the bus.

The train that you rode was one that was right next to the engine. You know, if the train had a wreck, you'd be dead. All of the smoke was comin' back, do you understand me? The smoke was comin' back to the train because of the coal; it wasn't the electric like it is today. So the black people sat in the front - that coach up there by the engine - so all that smoke and stuff came back and got 'em, you know?

GNS: Did you feel things begin to change as you gained fame?

RICHARD: I've seen the change. I've seen the changes. It hasn't reached completely where it's supposed to be, but it's better than it used to be.

GNS: Who do you see when you look into the audience these days?

RICHARD: The audience are all races, creeds and colors. Tell the people to come out, because it will be one of the greatest, energetic shows they have ever seen. The band is unbelievable. They would have a great time. And may God bless you.

Law And Order: Fire destroys Chuck Berry's motel at Wentzville

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

September 21 / 2003

By Associated Press

WENTZVILLE, Mo. (AP) A blaze destroyed a motel located on an estate owned by legendary musician Chuck Berry Saturday evening, fire officials said.

The assistant chief of the Wentzville fire district, Austin Worcester, said no one was injured. The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

"The fire is suspicious. Our fire unit is investigating", Worcester said.

He said Berry was out of the state at the time of the fire.

The building, known as the old Chuck Berry lodge, was located in unincorporated St. Charles County. It had eight suites and used to house Berry's visitors, Worcester said, but had been used for storage in recent years. It's located on property about 40 miles outside of St. Louis, near Wentzville.

The two-alarm fire started around 6:30 p.m. Other buildings on the property were not damaged.

Berry pioneered a musical revolution in rock music with hits like "Maybellene" and "No Particular Place To Go".

He is a member of both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame.

Building on Chuck Berry estate burned to ground

The Suburban Journals / Wentzville Journal

September 24 / 2003

By Linda Meyer

A suspicious two-alarm blaze that totally destroyed a large building on the Chuck Berry estate just outside Wentzville Saturday night is under investigation by fire and law enforcement officials.

Firefighters from Wentzville, Lake Saint Louis and New Melle responded to the fire at the Berry estate on Buckner Road, just west of Highway Z around 6:37 p.m. Sept. 20. Wentzville Assistant Fire Chief Austin Worcester said that when fire crews arrived they found the building totally engulfed in flames. Within 20 minutes, the building collapsed.

It took 35 firefighters with five pumper trucks and three water tanks an hour to bring the blaze under control. The fire burned very quickly, Worcester said. The rate at which the fire burned is one reason the fire is considered suspicious.

The building, one of several structures on the Berry estate, used to be referred to as the "motel," Worcester said. It is an 8-unit structure that was most recently used for storage. Worcester said that at the time of the fire there were some items of value stored in the building, but because of the investigation, exactly what they were and their value could not be released.

Worcester said that he was told Berry was performing in New York at the time of the fire. Berry's secretary and some staff were at the home at the time, but it was neighboring residents across the street who called in the report of the fire at the estate.

Worcester said the home is about 1,000 feet from the burned building.

No one was injured in the blaze, Worcester said.

Wentzville Fire Protection District and St. Charles County Sheriff's Department investigators are looking into the fire. Worcester said that he could not comment on what qualified this fire as suspicious. He said if it is found to be arson, a criminal investigation will be launched.

Fire at Chuck Berry's property is called arson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

September 26 / 2003

By the press stab

A fire that destroyed a building on legendary musician Chuck Berry's property was intentionally set, Wentzville fire officials said Friday.

The investigation is continuing, said Austin Worcester, assistant chief for the Wentzville Fire Protection District.

"Now it's a matter of trying to determine who and why," he said.

No one was injured in the blaze, which began about 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20. The building, a one-story wooden structure, was once a guest house but more recently had been used for storage.

Berry was in New York at the time of the blaze, Worcester said. The building is on Buckner Road, near Wentzville.

GM Hall opens motor memories

The Washington Times

October 03 / 2003

By Kevin Chaffee

Trains, boats and planes all have their allure, but when it comes to travel, America's heart truly belongs to the automobile. Who doesn't have a story about a favorite car or road trip that changed his or her life forever?

The listening and telling was part of the fun Tuesday night (Sep 30) at a lavish bash heralding the new $25 million, 16,000-square-foot General Motors Hall of Transportation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. No matter whom you talked to among the Cabinet members, senators, members of Congress, socialites, business executives ó everyone had a favorite tale to share.

For Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small, it was a coast-to-coast post-high school graduation trip with a pal in an Austin-Healey convertible.

"We had very little money, but gas was cheap, and the top was down," Mr. Small recalled as he greeted guests with his co-host, GM Chairman G. Richard Wagoner Jr., in a vast party tent adjacent to the exhibit.

Michael Berman remembered hitting the highway in a '51 Pontiac after finishing high school in 1959. Halfway across the country, "it got a flat and died. I had no money and no spare and ended up spending the night in a jail," courtesy of the local sheriff," Mr. Berman said as his wife, Carol, recounted happier moments looking at old Burma Shave signs from the back seat of her family's car.

Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa mentioned a fun trip on Route 66 in '61. Sen. Carl Levin had painful memories of "cracking up" his family's brand-new Oldsmobile. George Stevens Jr. grinned from ear to ear as he recalled a memorable car ride with Elizabeth Taylor in his father's magnificent Mercedes 360SL roadster.

Ken Burns' first car (always one's most fondly remembered) was a 1963 Rambler. His favorite trip? Well, that would involve a lot of storytelling. "I've got the best job in the country," the celebrated film historian said, "because I'm always on the road."

Mr. Burns' latest documentary also was celebrated Tuesday night. "Horatio's Driver: America's First Road," which airs Monday on PBS, tells the story of the first cross-country trek by automobile. Despite numerous breakdowns and the scarcity of roads and gas stations in 1903, car-crazed Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson finished the trip in a mere 63 days.

"He set the 20th century in motion in America," Mr. Burns told the crowd after a Fat Fifties repast of iceberg lettuce salad, beef tenderloin and fudge ice cream cake in the upstairs galleries. "Before his achievement, the automobile was denigrated as a rich man's toy."

Rock legend Chuck Berry's performance of "Maybellene" (among other hits) was bound to please Cadillac fans in the crowd, although local auto magnate Mandell Ourisman may have been somewhat disappointed with his choice of tune.

"You Always Get Your Way at Ourisman Chevrolet" would have provided the perfect local touch.

International legend is coming to St. Petersburg, December 10

The St. Petersburg Times

December 05 / 2003

By Sergey Chernov

The international legend that is Chuck Berry, is coming to the city. The man who brought you such classics as "Roll Over Beethoven", "Carol", "Back in the USA", "Little Queenie", "Memphis", "Johnny B. Goode", and "Rock and Roll Music", will play at the Sports and Concert Complex on Wednesday.

Reports saying that this is Berry's first Russian tour are not true, because he performed in Moscow five and a half years ago (our photo shows him playing in Moscow in February 1997).

Ironically, another veteran rock act, UK's Manfred Mann's Earth Band performs in the city the very same night, at Oktyabrsky Concert Hall.