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Tribute to Chuck Berry 10/18/26-3/18/17

March 19, 2017

 

I love music and I love to dance. I have been to Burning Man almost 20 times and danced many days and nights away. I have gone to Coachella twice and I am going this year to hear Radiohead and Lady Gaga. I attend Lucidity, Lightening in a Bottle, Live Oak, the Joshua Tree Music Festival, and lots of summer concerts in LA. I have danced to The Who at the Santa Barbara Bowl, and to Bruce Springsteen at a bunch of different venues. I have danced to blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, and B.B. King as well as African musicians like Baaba Mal and Angelique Kidjo not to mention contemporary groups like Thievery Corporation, Massive Attack, Flaming Lips, Talking Heads, B-52s, Spearhead and many many more. I love music and I love to dance.

But nothing beats the night I danced on stage while Chuck Berry played live.

About thirty years ago or so, I was in college at UC Santa Cruz when my former husband Ken Alley told me he had a surprise for me: we were going out and I should wear something nice. We had just finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada and money was tight, so I didn’t know what to expect. I put on my best clothes: a very dressy cream pleated skirt, a pink silk blouse, and a pair of nice sandals. We drove to the Bay Area where we were joined by my swing dance partner Bill Tinsley (we used to do the Kofy TV 20 50s Dance Party show!)  and my mother-in-law Bunny Blake-Gray.

That’s where I learned that at this fancy theater Chuck Berry was going to take the stage.

It was impossible to keep still but we were required to stay in our seats. I couldn’t believe that I was actually hearing Chuck Berry play his classic hits but I was a dancer and I was itching to dance!

When Chuck Berry invited us on stage, I couldn’t believe my ears but Bill grabbed my hand and we dashed up there — we were one of the first couples on stage and we had plenty of room at first then more and more people joined us including Ken and Bunny until it was a huge joyous dance party on stage. I had learned how to swing dance listening to tapes Bill made of the original 45s from the 50s with songs by Chuck Berry, practicing the footwork until I didn’t have to think about it, dancing with my fingers to get the rhythm down and then my feet. I must have listened and danced to Chuck Berry’s songs a million times.

And I got to dance on stage with him playing live. Unforgettable. So much joy. 

“Chuck Berry, without doubt the greatest rock and roll songwriter of all time,” wrote Elton John on Facebook. “The architect of how rock and roll guitars would sound forever. A true giant of a talent. Thanks for making all those wonderful records that will define rock music forever.”

“If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name,” said John Lennon, “you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'”

Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry (October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017)
by guest blogger Ron Wells

For many of us it is impossible to imagine a world in which Chuck Berry songs didn’t exist. They were everywhere on our transistor radios, stereos, or tape decks whether they were done by Chuck or by the hundreds of other musicians who covered his songs.

One can argue about who was the founder of Rock and Roll, but one cannot leave Chuck Berry out of the discussion. His three minute masterpieces were so bold as to tell Beethoven to roll over because the “jukebox is blowin’ a fuse.” He set the world “reelin’ and rockin’”, and the world would never be the same.

The poetry of his lyrics was seemingly simple, funny, and more often than not insightful. He had his finger on the pulse of being a teenager and more importantly, living in America. His guitar playing in the key of “B Goode” allowed, even demanded, that everyone dance and sing while the ol’ folks sang in French and English, “C’est la vie, it goes to show you never can tell.”

I saw Chuck Berry play three times between the early 70’s and the late 90’s. The shows were sometimes a bit sloppy, sometimes powerful, and always fun because whatever he played, the songs were instantly recognizable and the rhythmic dynamics impossible to ignore. It was Chuck Berry music and you couldn’t take your eyes off of the man duck walking across the stage. Chuck played his guitar “just like ringin’ a bell.”

He was strong willed and sometimes got into trouble with the law. Yet he never backed down from anyone or anything. He was an African American musician living in a white man’s world, but that couldn’t stop him. He asked for cash payment to be put in a suitcase before any show, and promoters did as he asked. Or, he would go home. Chuck was smart, proud, and often extremely difficult (just ask Keith Richards.). That is, he was like most other musicians. He was an artist and all that goes with being one of those.

“Hail, hail rock and roll!
Deliver me from the days of old!”

Chuck did just that. He steered music in a new direction based on big band music, blues, and country and western. He melded them together and was one of the cornerstones of rock and roll.

So when you’re “cruisn’ and playin’ the radio, with no particular place to go,” just make sure that there’s a Chuck Berry song to sing along to, just in case you can’t “unfasten your safety belt.”

 

Hail, hail, rock and roll. Hail, hail, Chuck Berry, and bless his artist’s soul. Just some of Chuck Berry’s songs:

Maybellene
You Can’t Catch Me
Too Much Monkey Business
Brown-Eyed Handsome Man
Roll Over Beethoven
Rock and Roll Music
Reelin’ and Rockin’
Sweet Little Sixteen
Johnny B. Goode
School Days
Around and Around
Carol
Memphis
Sweet Little Rock and Roller
Little Queenie
Almost Grown
Back in the USA
Let It Rock
Nadine
No Particular Place to Go
Bye Bye Johnny
You Never Can Tell

In his own words:

“It amazes me when I hear people say, ‘I want to go out and find out who I am.’ I always knew who I was. I was going to be famous if it killed me.”

“The Big Band Era is my era. People say, ‘Where did you get your style from?’ I did the Big Band Era on guitar. That’s the best way I could explain it.”

“Rock’s so good to me. Rock is my child and my grandfather.”

“I would sing the blues if I had the blues.”

“I grew up thinking art was pictures until I got into music and found I was an artist and didn’t paint.”

‘That’s all there was in our house: poetry and choir rehearsal and duets and so forth; I listened to Dad and Mother discuss things about poetry and delivery and voice and diction — I don’t think anyone could know how much it really means.’


To the man who gave us the music and feelin’, body and soul, Rest in Peace, Mr. Chuck Berry.

— Ron Wells

To the man who schooled us… thank you for the lessons, Mr. Chuck Berry.

Cheers!

Art Predator aka Gwendolyn Alley

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