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Chuck Berry & Other Beloved Legacies Of Rock

March 23, 2017
It was an ironic moment. We were exiting the Repertory Theatre after seeing the splendid show, "Million Dollar Quartet." The show centers on an impromptu gathering of early rock 'n' rollers, 20-somethings Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records in Memphis in 1956. The live music performances are great. The Jerry Lee Lewis character alone is worth the ticket price.

As we were walking out, a friend glanced at her phone and said, "Chuck Berry died."

St. Louis rock 'n' roll icon Chuck Berry, 90, has often been crowned the Father of Rock 'n' Roll. That title was sometimes shared and often a rivalry between Berry and another famous St. Louisan, Johnnie Johnson.

"The hard-driving, boogie stylings on Johnnie's piano playing pushed Chuck's guitar picking and took the music places it had never been," said Dan Warner, a former owner of Webster Records in Webster Groves. "Add in Chuck's poetry and stage charisma and charm and you have the ingredients for what became rock 'n' roll. Where Chuck Berry excelled was writing songs that captured and engaged teen-aged audiences."

South County writer Linda O'Connell had a chance meeting with Berry in 1966 when she worked part-time at Stanley Photo downtown.

Berry came in to pick up some photos. O'Connell went up to him and asked if he was really Chuck Berry. He scrawled his autograph on a piece of paper for her.

At her bus stop, Linda pulled the piece of paper out of her purse to gaze at the celebrity signature.

"The wind whipped it out of my hand and swirled it into the gutter," wrote O'Connell in a story published in the St. Louis anthology, "Reflections." "The paper came to rest in a pile of debris at the curb. Just as I bent to retrieve it, the wind whisked it 10 feet further down the street. I chased Chuck Berry's autograph half a block as it rose and fell like the crescendo of one of his songs … When I tried to grab the paper, a city bus whizzed by and created a vortex and swirled my treasure right down the storm sewer.

"Alone, I stood on that corner with no particular place to go, except home, empty-handed. I was the saddest 17-year-old in town."

On my birthday in 2013, my son Nick and I went to hear Chuck Berry at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill in the Loop. Berry forgot lines and lost his way during songs, but the standing-room -only crowd cheered him on. He was beloved. And I am grateful to have been in the presence of legend.


In a recent column, I incorrectly stated the last name of Sappington Garden Shop proprietor Annie Stanley. I apologize, Annie!

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