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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Happy 80th birthday Chuck Berry! you're THE man!

(reproduced from email i sent a few friends)

clink a glass for chuck berry!... he turns 80 this wednesday!!!!!!!...

obviously i love the man very much (with all his many many kinks foibles and pecadillos) and i think wednesday should be a national holiday..i really do....the ideal day would be preceded by chuck berry throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the cardinals mets championship series baseball game tuesday night in st louis..obviously there would be a 10 minute standing ovation.. then on his birthday wednesday during prime time a simulcast would broadcast from blueberry hill (bar chuck still plays once a month) in st. louis as the rolling stones, ac dc, bruce, bob and just about everyone else sang him happy birthday...chuck would take a few bows...the president of the United States would call and thank chuck for his invaluable contributions to the nation (he could apologize for some of the ridiculous shit that went down over the years but lets say a call is enough)... .chuck would say a few words (knowing chuck he'd probably spoil it all by saying "show me the money!" or proceed to rip angus young a new one for not playing his song correctly or punch out keith richards yet again but thats life)... then chuck would get the party started with a few guitar riffs.......preferably his first song would be maybellene which would then be justifiably proclaimed the first rock and roll song....his backing band would be bruce and the e street band reprising something they did in the early to mid 70s when they backed him in a show at cole field house just down the road in college park (bruce's telling of this event is the hands down highlight of the movie hail hail rock'n'roll and one of my favorites rock n roll stories.....see it if you havent)..

as things stand i'll give a few of my original chuck berry lps (chess black label) a spin, and top if off with some rolling stones and ac dc before heading over to the irish times to cheer on his hometown st louis cardinals against the new york mets. join me if you feel like or celebrate in your own special way...above all spread the word.. chuck's alive and lets celebrate him while he's here and not via some hollywood biopic when he's gone..

from all music guide:

Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none is more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He is its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, without him, there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones , Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor a myriad others. There would be no standard "Chuck Berry guitar intro," the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have been mainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, the whole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote "all of the great songs and came up with all the rock'n'roll beats." Those who do not claim him as a seminal influence or profess a liking for his music and showmanship show their ignorance of rock's development as well as his place as the music's first great creator. Elvis may have fueled rock & roll's imagery, but Chuck Berry was its heartbeat and original mindset.

By Bill McClellan
This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Oct. 9, 2006

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.

It isn't as if St. Louis has always embraced him, either. Quite the contrary. He was born in California in 1926 and came here as a young child. This 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."

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