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Chuck Berry: A Living Legend

Fans go wild at Chuck Berry concert; statue to be dedicated

Chuck Berry performs July 13 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room in University City. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
July 27, 2011

When Chuck Berry takes the stage, people get on their feet.

He gets a standing ovation before playing a note – as a rock and roll legend should. His monthly performances at Blueberry Hill on Delmar Boulevard in the Loop sell out fast as people vie for a chance to see the man who established rock and roll as a musical art form.

"Chuck Berry is the epitome of rock and roll – he's a music legend and a St. Louis icon," South City resident Becky Solakian said as she waited for Berry to take the stage in the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill on July 13. "I wanted to take this opportunity to see him in this amazing venue."

So did the 340 people who packed into the sold-out show that night. Ed Berkheimer Jr., 67, made the trip from Chicago to take in the concert with his son, Ed Berkheimer, 41, who lives in Barnhart. The father and son have bonded over Berry's music for decades.

Considered the founding father of rock and roll, Chuck Berry, right, performs regularly at Blueberry Hill in the Loop. His son, Charles Edwards Berry Jr., left, and his daughter, Ingrid Berry Clay, often perform with him. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
"I was there for the birth of rock and roll – Chuck Berry invented the rock and roll beat," Berkheimer Jr. said, adding that he remembers buying Berry's music on eight-track tapes, then cassettes and CDs, and now has it on MP3s.

He passed his love of Berry's music on to his son.

"I grew up listening to my dad's records," his son said.

Both Berkheimers were thrilled at the chance to see Berry perform.

"It's getting to see a live piece of history," the younger Berkheimer said.

And at a fitting time, as an eight-foot statue of the "father of rock and roll" was just put in across the street from Blueberry Hill bar and restaurant, where he has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Many of the concert goers said they planned to be at the official dedication of the statue at 10 a.m. Friday, July 29.

"It's always an honor to be in the presence of a living legend, especially at a time when the statue is being dedicated," Elonka Dunin of St. Charles said.

Solakian echoed that sentiment, adding she hopes the statue will bring people to the Loop.

"Chuck Berry has done a lot in connection with St. Louis and the Loop – he's one of the reasons people come to Blueberry Hill," she said. "If his statue can contribute to the vitality of the Loop, then I'm all for it."

But feelings about the statue have been mixed. A few have cried foul, raising issue with its approval process and the criminal record of the man it honors. Early in his career, Berry did time in state and federal prisons on robbery and prostitution violations. Still, there's no denying his place in rock and roll music.

In 2000, Berry received the Kennedy Center Award, which is considered to be the highest form of recognition America bestows on a performer. He also was the first artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a singer, songwriter and guitarist, Berry has been one of the most influential artists in the history of rock music.

"The guy is a rock and roll god," Berkheimer Jr. said. "I'm offended that there's been any controversy surrounding it (the statue)."

Aaron Watson, 32, of South City, agreed, saying the statue is an appropriate tribute to Berry.

Nationally-known recording artist and St. Louis native Billy Peek, who toured with Berry when he had a number one record and played lead guitar for Rod Stewart for several years, is thrilled about the statue.

"If anybody deserves a statue in this town, it's him," said Peek, who was in the audience during Berry's July 13 performance at Blueberry Hill. "It should have happened a long time ago."

The statue will be the highlight of a renovated plaza at the entrance to a greenway and biking trail that heads north from Delmar. The tribute also will feature hollow illuminated stainless steel walls with laser-engraved musical notes. A blue-light LED system in the interior of the walls will illuminate the music notes of "Johnny B. Goode," one of Berry's biggest hits.

His greatest hits of the 1950s and 1960s such as "Roll Over, Beethoven," "Maybellene," "My Ding-A-Ling," "Reelin and Rockin," and many more, are still popular today. The audience went wild as Berry, sporting his trademark sailor's cap and a purple-sequined shirt, performed those hits at his concert earlier this month. At 84 years old, Berry can still wow a crowd.

"This man was rockin' the house," Dunin said.

Part of the charm is that Berry's children perform with him. His son, Charles Edwards Berry Jr., is on the guitar, and his daughter, Ingrid Berry Clay, plays a mean harmonica.

"Chuck's daughter is amazing – she's been a highlight of the show," Dunin said. "It's so reassuring to see the next generation has his talent, and I hope they continue performing."

Solakian said she's amazed Berry still enjoys performing. It was clear he was having a great time on stage, but he admits it's not as easy as it used to be.

"I'm workin' hard tonight, baby," Berry said toward the end of the evening, taking a seat by the piano.

The audience showed their overwhelming appreciation and support with another lengthy standing ovation at the show's end. Afterward, people lined up to get Berry's autograph.

It's the only place in the world Berry will sign autographs, according to Blueberry Hill owner Joe Edwards, who also is a personal friend of Berry's.

The music icon has been playing at the restaurant and bar on a regular basis since 1996, but had performed there several times before that.

"It's a legendary concert series," Edwards said. "People come from around the world to see him here. It's pretty exciting that a great St. Louisan stayed in St. Louis."

Statue Dedication

Friday, July 29

•Charlie Brennan/KMOX live broadcast - 9 to 11 a.m.

•Centennial Greenway dedication - 9:30 a.m.

•Chuck Berry statue dedication - 10 a.m.

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Barbara Balossi - KW
Tracy Hess

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