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A year without Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill

Chuck Berry
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File Photo
Chuck Berry

This month marks one year since Chuck Berry wrapped up his iconic run at Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop. The musician’s performing status is up in the air, according to Blueberry Hill owner Joe Edwards.

“The fact he’s almost 89 years old, who knows? He has the interest in doing it but he’s also working on some songs,” said Edwards. 

Berry began his Blueberry Hill residency in 1996 and played more than 200 shows until he decided to take a break last October. His final performance to date was the musician’s 88th birthday celebration.

The concert series has been heavily documented in influential media outlets like Rolling Stone, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. For performances, the singer was often joined by daughter Ingrid Berry Clay and son Charles Berry Jr. For each show, Edwards would craft an original introduction. Edwards’ friendship with the rock 'n' roll legend was instrumental in instituting Berry’s regular gig in the Loop. The two friends were hanging out one night in the mid '90s discussing the musician’s early gigs when a simple idea came up in conversation.

“He kind of turned to me and said, ‘You know Joe, I’d like to play a place the size of the ones when I first started out.' And we looked at each other for about a half a second and I said ‘Let’s do it. Let’s do it at Blueberry Hill,’” said Edwards. 

Berry began his career in playing clubs in St. Louis but recorded his first successful track "Maybelline" for Chicago label Chess Records in 1955. His performing style and musicianship would come to redefine rock and roll and launch the singer and guitarist into international acclaim. Later his career declined as bands influenced by his style took off and controversy surrounded hisbehavior. For his 60th birthday, Berry played The Fox Theater, on his 75th birthday he played with Little Richard, for his 80th birthday show Aerosmith’s guitarist Joe Perry played with him. On his 85th birthday he played with local musician Gene Ackman’s band Butch Wax and the Hollywoods.

Chuck Berry
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI | 2011
Chuck Berry

“The house would be rocking from the first note to the last,” said Ackman who also saw Berry play numerous times over the course of his Blueberry Hill run.

One of Ackman’s favorite memories of Berry comes from a shared experience off stage. Berry, Edwards, Ackman and Johnny Rivers shared a lunch that was intended to last for half an hour, but continued for hours. During their conversation Berry discussed songs he wished he’d written including “Me and Bobby McGee” By Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster and made famous by Janis Joplin. 

“He said there’s a line in there, something like ‘I would give up all my tomorrows for just one yesterday,’ and he just thought that was a great line and he wished he’d written it,” said Ackman.

As Berry nears his 89th birthday, both Edwards and Ackman remain unsure when he’ll next perform.