Chuck Berry to headline Elvis festival in Tupelo
Jan 8 / 2005
By Associated Press
TUPELO (AP) Rock'n'roller Chuck Berry, known for his hits "Johnny B. Goode" and "Roll Over Beethoven," will headline the 2005 Elvis Presley Festival on June 3-5 in Tupelo.
Berry will perform Friday, June 3, and the headliner on Saturday, June 4, will be country singer Tracy Byrd.
The festival will feature Mississippi native Steve Azar and Lee County native Paul Thorn.
Travis LeDoyt, an Elvis tribute artist who has performed at numerous festivals, will be master of ceremonies.
Gary Bailey, festival chairman, said fans should expect changes this year, including a carnival and a different stage configuration.
"The festival is expanding this year," Bailey said. "We're kicking it up a notch".
On Saturday in Memphis, Tenn., more than 500 Presley fans gathered on the front lawn of Graceland to celebrate the king of rock'n'roll's 70th birthday.
They sang "Happy Birthday" and cut a cake in honor of Presley, who was born January 8, 1935, and died at Graceland in 1977.
His fans gather each year on the anniversaries of his birth and death.
This year is special, though, for many because it would be Elvis' 70th birthday.
Jerry Engelby of Jefferson City, Mo, said age doesn't mean much when you're talking about Elvis.
"He's immortal. There's no age to him", she said.
Sweet little 78
The granddaddy of rock just keeps on rolling
The Prague Post
Jan 13 / 2005
By Will Tizard
One of NASA's better all-time moves was to put a Chuck Berry recording on the Voyager space probe -- which is bound to start a craze with 25th-century Aldarians (or whomever comes across it first).
Fortunately, Prague won't have to wait that long.
Berry's first concert in the city headlines a night billed "Rock'n'Roll Never Forgets" that celebrates everything he's wrought. That isn't so much, really, if you don't count the vast majority of rhythms, lyric styles and song structures that have formed the framework of rock since 1955. Oh, and Elvis, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
That so many people still believe Elvis Presley invented rock'n'roll is one of modern music's great injustices. Yet that myth persists over much of the world, even half a century after Elvis closely copied Berry's first hit recording, "Maybellene", to help launch his career.
Berry himself was listening to the old blues masters and even seminal jazz pianist and crooner Nat King Cole, growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, where he demonstrated his gift early on, moving from high school talent show prizes to bars like East St. Louis' Cosmopolitan Club, where he began to develop his style. Clubs were segregated in those days, so it was black audiences that first welcomed Berry's reaching for styles beyond traditional blues and Cole's lyrical pop and swing.
As his confidence, vocals and guitar licks developed, Berry set his sights on the big time and headed off for Chicago, where Leonard Chess, of Chess Records, was impressed enough to make that first recording - a move that helped the small blues label break through to a wider audience. Berry soon showed that his hit, which broke ground as white teens nationwide went wild, was no fluke. "Johnny B. Goode", "Nadine", "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Sweet Little Sixteen" were just the tip of the iceberg of seminal hits that followed, and rock'n'roll as we now know it was born.
Taylor Hackford's 1987 film "Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll" gave some insight into Berry's influence, as Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen lined up to pay tribute. Shot in 1986 on Berry's 60th birthday, the film also showed a side of the granddaddy of rock that his millions of fans would never have guessed as they twisted and shouted the years away: Chuck Berry's not a guy to fool with. He thinks nothing of dressing down Keith Richards if he can't get a riff right. When playing live, he plays for the allotted time and no longer. And he is openly bitter about not getting his share of recognition in the rock world.
There's no arguing the last point, nor his business-like approach to music. Scores of other artists have made and lost fortunes, but Berry's outlived them all and still makes music on his own terms in St. Louis. Much of his bitterness can be traced back to his time in prison, when the white community of his home town - who felt threatened by the mixed-race club he opened there in 1958 - set out to make trouble. They finally found an underage employee running a prostitution sideline, and the superstar got two years. In 1979 he was sentenced to prison again, this time for tax evasion.
None of which put a significant dent in Berry's seemingly inexhaustible career. In 1986, he was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Though recordings have been scarce - his last release was in 1981 - the dynamo of American rock continues touring, still doing shows with various backing bands all over the U.S. - and now Europe. In fact it's surprising that it's taken him this long to get to Prague.
Berry's appearance has been packaged by concert organizers as the climax of a rock gala taking up both the Velky sal and the Lucerna Music Bar, with supporting performances by The David Murphy Band and The Joe Richardson Express, the latter slated to back Berry in concert. A '50s and '60s DJs Radio Show is also set for the Music Bar, along with "Jackrabbit Slim's Twist Contest", with the winning couple taking home a weekend at the Hotel Praha Presidential Suite with gourmet dinner and champagne for two valued at 110,000 Kc.
In short, we're talking big. After all, as John Lennon said, "If you were going to give rock'n'roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry".
Chuck Berry plays sold out show in Prague
Durant Daily Democrat
Jan 19 / 2005
By Associated Press
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) Rock'n'roll pioneer Chuck Berry enjoyed a sold-out show in what was billed as his first appearance in the Czech capital.
"Czech me out", Berry told thousands of fans Sunday night in the Lucerna Palace in downtown Prague.
Berry charmed the crowd, which included President Vaclav Klaus, with his hits including "Maybellene" and "Johnny B. Goode" and glimpses of his famous duck walk.
"He may be 78, but what an entertainer", Klaus said after the concert.
Czech fans have waited a long time to see authentic rock'n'roll stars such as Berry, whose music wasn't appreciated by the communist authorities before the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
Come on Chuck, where's our royalties
Jan 20 / 2005
By Mike Malyon
Memo to Chuck Berry: Whatever happened to our royalties?
This is a question being posed on behalf of myself and all the other music fans who gathered in the old Locarno Ballroom in Coventry in February, 1972.
We were there to watch the American rock and roller, who even then was something of a legend.
He was performing at the city centre venue as part of the Lanchester Polytechnic Arts Festival - which also that year featured Monty Python playing live for the first time at the Belgrade and an up-and-coming singer-songwriter by the name of Elton John.
Chuck Berry was on the first half of a double bill, with Pink Floyd appearing later in front of a separate audience. But it was Berry who had the Rock House reeling. Strumming his famous cherry-red Gibson and wearing a psychedelic shirt with white trousers and shoes, he gave a star-spangled show. Two decades of hits flowed - Roll Over Beethoven, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Route 66 - as the energetic 46-year-old sang, played guitar and duck-walked across the stage.
Then Berry decided to have some interaction with the 2.000-strong crowd for what became a defining segment of the concert.
"This here's a little song that I used to sing in my school days and I'd like you all to help me out with it", he announced.
The man hailed as "the father of rock'n'roll" then spelled out the chorus, for the audience to repeat:
"My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling, I want to play with my ding-a-ling".
After a couple of run-throughs, Berry launched into the song - with everyone in the hall, including me, joining in enthusiastically. What we were not told at the time was that the performance was being recorded. A few months later, the Locarno live version of My Ding-ALing was released - to become Berry's only No 1.
The Locarno is now a library. My Ding-A-Ling remains in Berry's repertoire, as he continues to tour 32 years on - and we're still waiting for our royalties...
Blues scene is alive and well in this musical town
Feb 27 / 2005
By Betty Lowry (Special to the Herald)
If St. Louis isn't the home of the blues, it is at least the home of the signature song of the blues and can also claim a piece of the history of ragtime and rock'n'roll.
Chuck Berry is playing his monthly gig at Blueberry Hill, and the club's Duck Room is sold out. The 78-year-old rock'n'roll icon is still packing them in, honored in his hometown even on a rainy night.
Here in St. Louis the history of American music is long and unbroken.
Even so, in the city where St. Louis Blues - the all-time signature song of the blues - was inspired, you won't find so much as a token memorial to its composer W.C. Handy.
Maybe with so many musicians working the city in the here and now, the blues is beyond memorializing. Stop by places like BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups around 3 a.m. any night, and you hear it being created.
You might get some argument from Memphis, the Mississippi Delta or Chicago, but here people brag that St. Louis is not only the city where the blues were born, it's also where ragtime was cradled and rock learned to walk.
Legend has it that Handy was leaning against a lamp post on the wharf one day in 1914 when a black woman deserted by her husband told him ''Ma man's got a heart like rock cast in de sea.'' Her anguish became part of St. Louis Blues; Handy later put it to music in a Memphis bar.
Bronze stars on the St. Louis Walk of Fame on Delmar Boulevard in the University City Loop neighborhood carry the names and accomplishments of 107 famous natives from T. S. Eliot to Dizzy Dean. In rag, rock and blues it honors current performers like Tina Turner and Chuck Berry as well as the late Miles Davis, Josephine Baker and Scott Joplin. Handy doesn't have a star - he wasn't born here.
The Loop is six blocks of bars, clubs, restaurants and nightlife - more than 100 venues they say - named after an old street car route.
The landmark is Blueberry Hill - part club, part café and part museum. There's an Elvis Room full of Presley paraphernalia plus displays devoted to the Beatles and exhibits like Chuck Berry's first Gibson guitar. Anyone with time to spare can work through the 2,000 songs on the antique ``world's greatest jukebox.''
St. Louis, along with Memphis and New Orleans, is part of what's being promoted as America's Music Corridor. It highlights venues for music old and new, including the century-old St. Louis Union Station. What was once the world's largest and busiest train station has become a marketplace where blues and rock concerts are held spring, summer and fall.
In the Scott Joplin House museum on Delmar Street, Maple Leaf Rag is background music. The Academy Award-winning theme song from The Sting, was written here on a piano much like the one in the museum. So were Elite Syncopations and The Easy Winners. Some of the player piano rolls were cut by Joplin himself.
Joplin came to St. Louis around 1890, making his living playing piano in brothels and saloons while creating his own tunes on the side. Local music store owner John Stark agreed to publish his sheet music, giving him a penny a sheet (Stark resold it for a quarter).
The bridge to rock'n'roll was rhythm and blues. St. Louis was even called the ''City of Gabriels'' for all the horn players in its music scene.
In the 1950s, Chuck Berry was working as a hairdresser by day and playing local rhythm and blues clubs at night. He had his first breakthrough when he met bluesman Muddy Waters upriver in Chicago. Waters sent him to Chess Records where he recorded Maybelline, the song that launched his career. You can still see him perform here, usually once a month, at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.
Today more than 30 music clubs, restaurants and taverns line the streets of the old south-side Soulard neighborhood by the brewery. Soulard is the city's oldest and still most ethnically diverse neighborhood.
At Laclede's Landing, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, the 19th century waterfront warehouses are now home to blues and jazz.
Down where the boats still come in, The Landing is the site of the Rockin' on the River fete every July 4 and Big Muddy Blues Festival every Labor Day Weekend.
Historic preservation aside, if there's no room for a statue of Hardy on the waterfront, maybe someone could at least find the approximate spot where Handy heard the lament that became St. Louis Blues. A plaque might read simply ``Here you could hear the Blues.''
Still can. Just listen.
Chuck Berry leads cast of stars in honor of Johnnie Johnson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
May 1 / 2005
By Kevin C. Johnson
Tom "Papa" Ray called Friday night at the Pageant "the hippest place to be on the whole planet," while Joe Edwards summed it up as the "greatest assemblage of blues musicians you will ever see on stage."
The reason for the overwhelming absolutes was the tribute concert to rock-blues pianist Johnnie Johnson, who died last month. Dozens of mostly blues acts gathered at the Pageant Friday in recognition of Johnson, with many of them honoring him through dedicated song choices to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer or his widow, Frances Johnson, seated with family and her husband's old friend, Henry Townsend.
The event, hosted by Ray and Bernie Hayes and organized in about a week's time by St. Louis Blues Society's John May, was a sell-out. "Johnnie Johnson is still packing the house," a teary Rondo of Rondo's Blues Deluxe said after his winning rendition of "Hootchie Coochie Man."
Chuck Berry headlined the late-running, five-hour event, and while he was the rare act who didn't talk about the man (Johnson gave Berry one of his first breaks), his show-closing set was among the most magnetic. "Roll Over Beethoven," Johnny Be Goode," "Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Little Queenie" were among the tunes in Berry's uplifting rock 'n' blues set. Berry, clad in his trademark sailor cap and a rhinestone-studded country/western shirt, also gave ample room for his daughter Ingrid Berry to sing and perform blues harp, most splendidly, and son Charles Berry to play guitar. Berry closed out his set with a little duck walking.
Berry was far from being the only show-stopper. Kim Massie, always a treat, delivered with her take on Etta James' "At Last," a song she said was a favorite of Frances Johnson's. The song fits Massie as well as her signature dirty little ditty about the sale of a chair (or something). Mae Wheeler, with pianist Tony Simmons and Massie's band, seemed to handpick "Just the Way You Are" for Johnson.
Co-host Hayes joked about his once thinking "white boys" can't play the blues until Billy Peek proved him wrong. Peek proved him wrong once again with "Let the Good Times Roll" (later performed by Beau Shelby and Erma Whiteside) as well as on "Play That Boogie Johnny," a great song Peek wrote that ran down Johnson's musical life. Peek said he had never performed it publicly until Friday. "I was a little shaky doing that," he admitted.
The Johnnie Johnson Band represented Johnson well with the aid of Marsha Evans and Barbara Carr. Benny Smith with Stacy Johnson delivered, too. Rich McDonough, with guest Larry Thurston, offered some of the night's meanest guitar licks. Uvee Hayes, performing with McDonough's band, was another highlight on "Built for Comfort."
Butch Wax & the Hollywoods, dressed like a bowling team, performed "Knock on Wood" and "Dancing in the Streets." Pianist Gene Ackmann said Johnson sat in with the band 73 times. Jimmy Lee & the River City Blues Band brought its country edge to the night during its set that featured J.R. Reed. Pianist Kelley Hunt, performing solo on piano, sang of the other side where she knows she'll see Johnson again.
Living legend Townsend, introduced as the only artist alive to record in every decade since the 1920s, briefly addressed the crowd. He said he was advised not to perform as scheduled, but didn't elaborate.
Soulard Blues Band, Silvercloud, and Oliver Johnson were among the acts to perform early in the evening.
KSDK's Art Holliday, who is producing a documentary on Johnson, was introduced to the crowd, as was original Ink Spot Earl Gibson.
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