Letters Column

Week of January 26, 2006

Chuck F—kin' Berry
Hail! Hail! Last week's "You Are Here" was really, really funny. Hats off to Tim Lane for having the same attitude many of the patrons of Blueberry Hill on Chuck Berry night have. I read the article to my son with the expletives and his eyes lit up and he jumped to attention. My wife on the other hand did not like the language being used and made it known. I tried to explain to her it was the inflection using the word but she was not going for it. I substituted the errant F—kin' with "expletive" and I finished the story.

Tim has captured the moment well. He has the best backing band behind him ever (with the exception of his original bandmates Johnnie Johnson, Ebby Hardy and occasionally Willie Dixon; everyone agrees with that). The Chuck Berry Blueberry Hill concert series has become a near institution in St. Louis. People from all over the world come to see him play at Blueberry Hill. I've seen the passports and round-trip tickets to prove it. I've also seen some of these same people in Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland in their hometowns, to remove all doubt. Many of Mr. Rock & Roll's local fans keep coming back for more each month. They know they will not see the same show. Everything is spontaneous, from what songs are played to who gets some (a solo) during a song. His shows are more an art with a big piece of science thrown in for flavor. A new experiment can be added at a moment's notice and a jam session breaks out. Or a note-for-note rendition of one of the hundreds of classics could be waiting. It does not matter; Mr. Rock & Roll will have it waiting for you as it's transmitted from his brain to his fingertips.

Drummer Keith Robinson is the newest to the band, but it's like he's been there forever. With the fluidness of the Mississippi and the ear of an NSA eavesdropper, Keith picks up everything and lets it melt right into the sticks and his feet. Mr. Robinson has played with just about everyone on the planet, and it shows. Check him out during "Nadine," you'll understand. Keyboardist Bob Lohr has been all over the world and mastered the instrument long ago. A veteran player of over eight years with Mr. Rock & Roll himself proves it. Mr. Rock & Roll loves to challenge and respond to Bob's playing and he sticks in the groove perfectly. Jimmy Marcella — is there anything to say? He's been there for over 30 years, keeping the beat, reading that big left hand on the neck of that 355, finding the key before a note has been played. This is the man that keeps the sidemen and woman in the cut and ready for anything. James Brown would have loved to have this guy in his band. Upbeat/downbeat on the one OR the four, Jimmy is right there helping the Captain guide the ship.

The lovely vocalist and harmonica player never looks like she just came in after walking down Delmar — rather from a buyer's viewing at the next big fashion trend for Neiman Marcus. With the blues in her veins from her mother and rock & roll in her arteries for Mr. Rock & Roll himself. The silky flow of her voice and the wail of the harmonica proves Ingrid Berry Clay has what it takes to mesmerize and entertain a crowd with her lifelong love of her dad and the music he's given the world.

Then the court jester, the guy that's still figuring all the music stuff out. From a truly horrid guitarist a few years ago to one that's starting to understand the power of an electric guitar and how it can sing. Mr. Rock & Roll's son, usually with a Stratocaster and sometimes an ES-345, his goal is to learn from the master, inject his own bit of flavor and stay in the cut with everyone else. He thinks he's still the worst player on the planet, but the people in the crowd are telling him otherwise. He's starting to get a bit more used to this rock & roll and blues stuff. Other musicians he really respects and admires are telling him he's getting pretty good at it, so it must just be his own self-critique telling him to keep pushing.

Most of us do dress just like we were walking down Delmar; for me in many cases I had been walking down Delmar earlier that same day. The fans could care less how we look, just as long as we play well and don't get in the way of who they came to see. The man that always gives more than you came to see.

To answer Tim's pondering, "So why doesn't he play it?" To quote from the movie Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll: "That's how Chuck Berry plays it!" One of Mr. Rock & Roll's big fans, John Lennon, put it very well: "Oh my God, Chuck Berry, my hero."

I agree but at the same time can top that one. To my father, the coolest Dad on the planet, from his son.
Charles E. Berry Jr.
Ladue

Erratum
Last week's news story "Big Chill" incorrectly stated the amount of money raised through Laclede Gas Company's Dollar Help program in 2005. Laclede Gas customers donated $841,207; the company contributed an additional $48,000. The utility disbursed approximately $985,000 to 3,110 families in 2005, according to Laclede Gas spokesman George Csolak.

 
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