Coming off the duo's debut album, Swear I'm Good At This, Diet Cig are one of the biggest breakout bands of 2017 and the defining sound of the breakout genre they call "slop pop." Alex Luciano (guitar/vox) and Noah Bowman (drums) met at a show that Bowman was playing in at New Paltz, NY. Then Luciano's offer to make a music video for Bowman ended up turning them into one of the most exciting acts in indie music today. Before their show Friday, June 2 at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, I had a chance to talk to Alex and Noah about festivals, adulthood, and the precision skills needed to properly pack a van.
Matt:: So you're at Bled Fest and from social media I see you've just finished a show.
Alex: Yeah, it was a really fun set, the festival is really cool.
Matt:: You’re in Michigan right now?
Alex: Howell, Michigan at an old high school, I think. It's pretty wild.
Matt:: Is it an actual festival or a DIY kind of festival?
Noah: It’s kind of like a hybrid, somewhere in the middle -- it has real sound systems and everything and there’s many stages but we’re spread out through the building.
Alex: Like we just played a stage in the big cafeteria. There’s other stages in classrooms and other rooms. It’s run by real production companies and it’s very organized, just smaller than a typical festival.
Matt:: That seems simultaneously really cool and "Oh my god, I’m back here -- I thought I was able to leave this place so long ago."
Noah: Yeah! It kinda feels like when we walked because it’s just a bunch of kids since it’s an all age thing. It feels like you’re in some 2000s music video.
Alex: There’s pop-punk in the background and kids in the hallway. There’s lockers and everyone’s hanging out and it’s really weird. So definitely music-video vibes.
Matt:: That didn’t come to mind but as you said that I thought, "How did I not get that right away?!"
Noah: [laughs] We just had a beer.
Matt:: I have a couple of questions for you guys if you’re ready to answer them.
Alex & Noah: Sure!
Matt:: So my first question is that I feel like recently there's been this huge wave of young songwriters essentially writing about their transition into adulthood that I think your band is definitely part of with the album title Swear I’m Good At This. Being a part of this generation, I feel like we’re being forced to grow up but we don’t quite know how to because it feels like we weren’t properly taught. So I guess my question is how has this transition into adulthood affected your outlook on life and in turn, your songwriting.
Alex: I mean I'm only 21 and so as I was writing these songs I was kinda in that transition like you’re saying. All of my songs are really very honest and about experiences that I've had. Because of that, I think this kind of transition into adulthood that I've been going through has really affected the songs. Honestly, when I write songs I take situations that have happened to me and different things that have happened in my life and kind of take them and reclaim them in a way -- turn them into something that I can be proud of and excited to share with people. So I think a lot of the hard things and the shitty things that have gone on in my life that I feel like I’m inclined to write songs about have been these transitional periods and not knowing where I fit in the world or with anyone else. I think those feelings are really intense for a lot of people who are going through that phase and I definitely felt them and just decided to own them and be like, "This is real and this is my life, and I'm gonna turn this into something I’m excited to play and share and that I'm proud of."
Matt:: So this next one is a bit of a small question but one I wish others would ask more often. Since you have been touring for two or three years now, how down is your unpacking and packing method for the van?
Noah: Oh, let me tell you that is my favorite thing and I appreciate that you asked that question because no one ever cares about that part and I live for the pack and the unpack -- I’m not even being sarcastic, I love it! I think we have it down to a science.
Alex: Oh yeah, it's like Tetris.
Noah: It is. It's like Tetris and our van I’ve kinda built out to fit our needs, so we have a bed in our van too and a lock chamber for all of our stuff.
Alex: There's only one way it all fits.
Noah: Yeah, there’s really only one way it all fits and I know it and our tour manager Nate knows it, and if you put something in the wrong place…you’re fucked.
Alex: Hey, this time I know something, okay? So interesting enough, on this tour we added a whole big speaker cab and we were like, "How is this all gonna fit?" We had it down perfectly before and funny enough, the first time I help figure out the Tetris move to pack the van, we pack the giant cabinet and have extra space.
Noah: Yeah, she nailed it.
Alex: So I was pretty proud of that.
Noah: Yeah, that was good.
Alex: But that’s really kind of Noah’s territory and his pride and joy on tour.
Noah: I'm such a neat freak and like to have things just organized so I love that part of the day.
Matt:: I'm glad you appreciated the question. Actually, there's a video out there that A.V. Club did where Pinegrove and Into It. Over It. compete to see who can pack their van the fastest.
Alex: Oh my god, we should do that! We would freaking win against anybody.
Noah: I'd do it in like what, 45 seconds? No?
Alex: I don't know about that.
Noah: No, but that's a fun thing I didn’t even know that they did that.
Alex: I'll have to look that up, I like that.
Matt:: Speaking of vans and driving, what's been some of your favorite music to listen to on this tour?
Noah: I've been driving a lot and as lame as it is I just don't put any music on because everyone sleeps and I usually drive in the morning. But if I am going to throw something on, I really like that Pinegrove record, their newest one, and today I threw on some throwbacks. I listened to Local Natives, that first record they did, Gorilla Manor, that's a good one.
Alex: You listened to Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American like every day.
Noah: Yeah, that's a really good record.
Alex: I have some newer bands that I love like Sylvan Esso and some other ones but I feel like we're just sick of all the songs we listen to constantly, so I've been trying to throw it back to some '70s jams. The other day we had a really good time listening to "September" [Earth, Wind and Fire] and "December, 1963" [The Four Seasons].
Matt:: So what are you excited to do in St. Louis?
Alex: City Museum! We want to go and play in a ball pit…really bad. We’ve heard from friends that this is the only thing that we have to do when we’re there and that’s all I want to do.
Matt:: I agree, City Museum, you gotta go.
Alex: Yeah, that's our goal. We didn’t get to go last time and we really want to so…catch us in the ball pit!
Warren Haynes is easily one of the hardest working musicians in the business. At certain points in his long and successful career, the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter has been known to perform in three or four different bands at a time, from the Allman Brothers Band to The Dead and Phil Lesh & Friends, to his own Warren Haynes Band and, of course, as the anchor of Gov't Mule, which he co-founded more than 20 years ago.
Fully focused on the later at present, Haynes and Gov't Mule are set to release their tenth studio album (and first in four years), aptly titled Revolution Come... Revolution Go, on June 9 on Fantasy Records. The band, which features Haynes on lead vocals and guitar; original drummer Matt Abts; Danny Louis on keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals; and Jorgen Carlsson on bass, makes a stop at The Pageant on Monday, May 22.
Via phone from the road, Haynes chatted a bit about the new album, which the band began recording on Election Day in Austin, Texas.
"We were setting up and preparing to record, and the first day is always a little boring and tedious, so occasionally we would get a break and glance at the TV news," he says. "Like the rest of the world, we were pretty convinced that Trump was not going to win. I think even he and his supporters were convinced of that. It just kind of changed our perspective on things."
Though a handful of the songs including the title track are somewhat political in nature, Haynes says they were already written by Election Day, so the outcome didn't necessarily affect the songs themselves so much as the recording process.
"For me, I guess it just forced me to put my head down and focus on the music. I didn't read the paper or watch the news for two weeks. I just concerned myself with making music."
The final product is as strong and diverse as any album the band has made -- expanding on its signature heavy blues-rock sound, anchored by Haynes' soulful vocals, familiar guitar tone and strong songwriting that touches on the dark aspects of our current political climate balanced with messages of hope, unity and personal introspection. The title song provides a sort of musical and thematic centerpiece.
"It's very long and goes through a lot of changes and musical directions. The lyric for it was definitely inspired by what was going on," notes Haynes. "I think a lot of us kind of predicted what's starting to unravel now and at least predicted that the divide would get bigger and bigger. Some of the songs are kind of taking a humorous glance at it, but it's serious business. But we're a rock 'n' roll band. It's about the music first and foremost."
The music speaks clearly, particularly heavy-hitters like "Stone Cold Rage" and "Pressure Under Fire," the later of which Haynes worked on with legendary producer Don Was, along with the more soulful and inspiring "Dreams & Songs." Though they have performed together, most recently on The Last Waltz 40 Tour, this is the first time the two collaborated in the studio.
"Don and I have become really close friends the last four or five years. We first met when we did the Red, White and Blues performance at the White House for the Obama Administration," says Haynes. "Don was there with Mick Jagger and we hung out and became friends. He's just so fun and easy to work with and such a pro. He adds a wonderful vibe to the overall thing and has great suggestions, but is just really good at getting the best out of people and creating a nice mood."
Guitar legend Jimmie Vaughan makes a guest appearance on the blues-heavy track "Burning Point." Vaughan lives in Austin where the band recorded, so Haynes says it just made sense to invite him to contribute. "You can hear my guitar in the right side and Jimmy's guitar in the left side and they're very conversational. Our styles are so different, but I think that's one of the things I really love about his playing -- it's extremely unique. I've been a fan for a long time and we've been friends for a long time, but this is the first time we've actually recorded together."
One of the lighter songs on the album, "Traveling Tune," is a sweet and melodic ode to the road and the shows and all of the people the band has met along the way. Haynes pays respects to "those who didn't make it through life's challenges," singing "We've got to keep on rising, singing in their honor."
Over the past several months, he's personally experienced the loss of two notable fellow musicians with whom he shared a bond and a stage with over the years -- Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks and, more recently, Col. Bruce Hampton. Haynes and Trucks toured the world and played thousands of shows together in the Allman Brothers Band.
"He was one of a kind as a musician and a human being," Haynes says. "He was very passionate about everything that he did and it was a tremendous shock to all of us when and how he passed. It's a huge loss. He was kind of part of this dying breed where I'm not sure musicians like him are going to continue to be put on this Earth."
Haynes was actually on stage with Col. Bruce Hampton when he collapsed and died earlier this month at his own 70th birthday celebration in Atlanta, a shocking moment for all who were present.
Says Haynes, "He was one of those people that it was important to pay attention to what was going on when you were around him because there were little lessons to be learned all the time -- most of them cloaked in humor and craziness -- but you always walked away enlightened when you hung out with the Colonel. I was blessed to know him and he was a wonderful human being who influenced so many musicians. I guess in a bizarre way, I was honored to be on stage with him when he passed. It was the most extreme, surreal moment probably of my life. I don't know anyone who can say they've had that happen to them and we were all devastated; but in the light of day, what a beautiful send off for him."
Though Haynes has put out several successful solo records, most recently 2015's Ashes & Dust featuring Railroad Earth, he's remaining focused on Gov't Mule for the foreseeable future, he says. "I have enjoyed all of the stuff I'm doing, but Gov't Mule is really kind of the home base. When we reconvene, all my attention goes there for quite a period of time."
Gov't Mule appears at The Pageant on Monday, May 22 at 8 p.m.
This past year has been quite a crazy one for Chicago indie rockers Whitney. Since releasing their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, back in June, the band has been touring seemingly nonstop and generating even more critical acclaim for their modern take on the classic styles of rock and pop. A year after the release of their debut, Whitney has just recently kicked off a new tour that’s taking the band across the United States and Europe, including a stop at Delmar Hall on Tuesday, May 9th. I recently caught up with the band’s singer and drummer, Julien Ehrlich, to ask for his thoughts on heartbreak, tour life, and the art of mixing Gatorade with sparkling water.
Matt: My first question is what are the psychological steps you have to go through to be able to play the drums and sing at the same time as that seems really, really difficult to me.
Julien: I don't know, I basically just don't think about it anymore, but in the beginning it was pushing more of the movement to my arms and not using my entire core to drum which is what I used to do. And then learning how to calm my core so I can have a steady falsetto that isn't shaky and all over the place. It's a constant struggle still, but I think I'm pulling it off.
Matt: So Whitney's album last year, Light Upon the Lake, was one of my favorites, as it's a really unique look at heartbreak, especially in the sound which is much more upbeat compared to other artists and albums within the current indie music landscape. On a breakup album it seems like there's a certain sound you have go for, but I think you and Max [Kakacek] took a left turn and went in a new direction with it. What do you think were your influences in taking this direction?
Julien: I think it has more to do with the fact that me and Max are pretty positive people who were going through a trying time and a number of different, crazy life transitions. Almost like quarter-life crisis vibes. We aren't the types to get truly down in the dumps, we have to look up and feel a bit positive. I think that's where the juxtaposition comes in with sad-sack lyrical content and then a little more upbeat melodies. I guess we were still just writing pop songs, translating a weird awkward time into pop songs.
Matt: I think I've noticed that, and this might not be the most apt comparison, but it's the one that I'm thinking of right now and that's the new Paramore song "Hard Times" about struggling with depression but trying to be positive and about it and say, "Hey, we're going to beat this." I think Light Upon the Lake gives that vibe -- maybe not in sound but definitely in feeling.
Julien: Yeah, that's definitely where we were at too. We're just happy people at heart but we have our struggles.
Matt: You guys are playing a show at Delmar Hall next week, and it's in the middle of this absolutely massive tour you guys are doing right now, so I have to wonder two things: How do you guys think your live show has evolved over the years? And how are you able to survive on the road for as long as you are?
Julien: This current tour that we're on right now is about three straight months, which is the longest any of us have been out consecutively. We're going home right now for about three days, but after that it's another two months. Our live show -- I guess at this point we're just telling each other inside jokes on stage -- we just have little musical jokes that we'll add to our solos or fills. We're basically just having a conversation with each other. We still enjoy it and it still is evolving and it's getting a little bit more ridiculous and a little bit better in some areas. And I don't really know how we're still surviving right now, [if anything] some of us aren't surviving right now.
Matt: Yeah, being on the road for three months is just...
Julien: Dude, it's intense.
Matt: I think I remember reading an interview where you said that it's much easier to be in a big band doing tours rather than being in a small, three-piece band just because you have more people to talk to and not go as insane by the time it comes to an end.
Julien: Yeah, if it was just me and Max on tour or something, we would have probably ripped each other's heads off just because it helps so much to have an entire crew where you just float around and spend too much time with one person.
Matt: Since last year, you guys have been working on the follow-up to Light Upon the Lake, any updates on how the record is coming along? It seems like you've been working on it since that first album came out.
Julien: After finishing Light Upon the Lake, we definitely took a little bit of a breather when it comes to writing. But yeah, we have three songs that we're super, super happy with and are deep into the next one. We're taking the whole month of September off and going to Portland where we rented this insane looking cabin to go write in. We'll knock out a few more songs then. We also have a couple weeks off in July. We don't really write when we're on the road because we're completely busy, but not uninspired because your head is just in such a wild rollercoaster ride. We need alone time at home to process everything and then translate that into the new songs.
Matt: I don't really have that much time left with you so I'm just gonna throw some rapid fire questions at you and you can try your best to answer them. So my first one: what's the best Gatorade flavor to mix with sparkling water?
Julien: Ooh....I'm kind of a fan of just classic orange but maybe Fierce Grape too.
Matt: What are your favorite alcoholic beverages?
Julien: The Negroni Slushy at Parson's in Chicago that's right around the corner from my house.
Matt: Favorite record of the year so far?
Julien: It's so easy to say Kendrick's new record [DAMN.] -- that song "LOVE." just gets better with each and every listen.
Matt: Favorite kind of sushi?
Julien: I'm into just like... sashimi vibes.
Matt: How does it feel to have an LSD and mushrooms reagent testing kit named after you?
Julien: Oh, what?
Matt: I was asking my friends about what questions they wanted me to give to you and one of them told me that there's this test kit for LSD and mushrooms that shares your name called "Ehrlich's Regeant Test Kit."
Julien: Oh, really?
Julien: Dang, that's news to me. That's awesome though.
Matt: Slanted and Enchanted or Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain?
Julien: Woah...what are you referring to right now?
Julien: Oh, dude, I've never heard Pavement.
Julien: I'm sure I've heard their biggest songs but I have never really paid attention to them. Should I get into them?
Matt: Oh yes, I had friends who were obsessed with them for a while and eventually put me onto them and they're essentially the definitive indie rock band of the '90s. People usually describe them as essentially the Seinfeld of indie rock, whereas you know the "Seinfeld is bad" theory which is that people think it's bad, but mostly because of how much sitcoms took from Seinfeld. So basically there's a lot of indie rock that took from Pavement. At first you're wondering what's the hype behind this but then you realize how pretty much everything traces back to Pavement.
Julien: Like the Nirvana vibes. By the time I heard Nirvana, that was what alt radio sounded like all the time. So then when I heard Nirvana I was like, "This just sounds like mainstream." I just didn't understand how groundbreaking it was. So that's like the same Seinfeld thing. (I also don't like Seinfeld very much.)
Matt: Ok so, All Things Must Pass or Plastic Ono Band?
Julien: Oooh, oh man. Both of them have a lot of mediocre songs on them in my opinion, but probably All Things Must Pass because his cover of "If Not for You" is fucking insane, so good. Actually, All Things Must Pass all the way.
Matt: The last rapid fire question I have for you is, Six Flags or Dollywood?
Julien: Wait, Six Flags or what?
Matt: Or Dollywood.
Julien: What's Dollywood?
Matt: It's like Dolly Parton's theme park in Tennessee.
Julien: Woah... I would check that out before going to Six Flags. But also, I wanna give a shout out to this waterpark in McMinnville, Oregon that's also an aviation museum [Wings and Waves Waterpark]. If you up go to the top of the building you take a water slide out of a Boeing 757, as it's this massive plane. Yeah, it's a crazy water park so shouts out to that place.
Black Lips. The seemingly indefatigable garage-punk band from Hot-Lanta, GA who redefined the genre and helped spur a movement of bands who pirouette on delay pedals and project distortion as though it were a national anthem. Who took on an idea of what a punk band could be for millennials in a new generation still vying for a component of authenticity in everything they spin. Who don't just take the stage simply to perform but wholly take it over with live-wire antics that would make Sid Vicious blush. And who now find themselves a little older and wiser on their latest album, Satan's Graffiti or God's Art. After nearly two decades spent on the road, bassist Jared Swilley chats about working with Sean Lennon, being professional amateurs and never going back. Black Lips play the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill on Monday, May 15.
Kevin: I'm loving the new record -- what's the inspiration for the title?
Jared: I lifted that from a marquee outside of a church in northern Georgia. I just thought it was weird and hilarious and kind of neat. We were on a road trip so I couldn't stop to pop in and find out but I really wish I could have listened to the sermon. I think it's open to interpretation.
Kevin: Is the new record a tried and true Black Lips album or is there a sense of newness for you?
Jared: We were kind of stuck in a big time rut. We were going through personnel changes and things in our lives. We've been together 18 years and this really felt like our do-or-die record.
Kevin: Like, "The Death of the Black Lips"?
Jared: I mean, I don't think we would've broken up but when you're trying to put out new stuff, you really have to breathe new life into it somehow. We kind of found ourselves in this rut and then Sean Lennon came and kind of saved our lives.
Kevin: How did you get hooked-up with Beatles royalty?
Jared: We met Sean a few years ago through Mark Ronson. It really came together when we played this show at SXSW a few years ago. After that day, Sean just kind of started recording all of us and we became this really weird recording family.
Kevin: That sounds weirdly awesome.
Jared: It was great! We're weird guys and sometimes it's not easy to make friends and then sometimes you meet people -- when you automatically see someone or don't even talk for very long -- and just decide, you've got to friends with this person now, because that's just the way it works.
Kevin: Was he a big fan of Black Lips?
Jared: He must've been because he invited us to go live with him and record in upstate New York. But certain people -- especially when you're making art -- you kind of just know who your people are. It's kind of unwritten, there's no script. There's just this understanding that we're gonna do stuff together. Creating art can be really hard and very vulnerable. It's hard to even do it with people you grew up with.
Kevin: Black Lips isn't a band I think about being artistically vulnerable. Is that a result of getting older? Have you gravitated more towards maturity now or do you ever wish you could go back to some of your crazier days?
Jared: We're just us but I don't think we're that mature yet. I wouldn't go back to being a teenager. We did what we did at that time and it was good that we did that. But now we are where we are and it isn't that far from where we were before. Except now I don't get peed on or sleep in a frozen van anymore. That stuff that I dealt with when I was 17 was awesome and I wouldn't take it back for the world. But if someone told me that I could travel back in time, I would say, "Hell, no. Fuck that."
Kevin: Sounds like you guys are going full-steam ahead.
Jared: The struggle made us who we are now and I'm glad that we did that. Most people wouldn't do that because most people are pussies and can't deal with anything. The reason we worked so hard was so that we could have the luxury of doing this and creating cool music and be able to eat and sleep in the places that don't have dogshit in them. It made us tougher. That's why nothing can really affect us, nothing really fazes us.
Kevin: How about this new record being your 'do-or-die' record? Did that idea faze you?
Jared: Not at all. Because we've been there a million times. We've had band members die, we've had breakups, we've had deportations, arrests. If nothing had broken us before, nothing will now. But we were in this transitional period -- we weren't ever gonna break up, but I'm not about to put out a record that isn't good or that I don't feel proud of. If that certain spark isn't there, I'm just not gonna put out anything half-assed. I've worked a lot of shitty, manual labor jobs, but I did that with all my heart. If you're a garbage man, then fucking chuck that trash. Do your job well. Because that's what you do.
Kevin: Some might think of Black Lips as graffiti or art. How do you characterize of it?
Jared: I think it's both. We've always called ourselves professional amateurs. Art is really whatever it means to you, it's open to interpretation, that's why I've always liked it. People view things in different ways, it's all based on your perception. Some people think we're garbage, some people think we're good. And I think both -- I think we're shitty good.
Chuck Berry had to be smiling on Sunday, April 9. It was a beautiful spring day and the crowds had come to see him one last time at The Pageant on Delmar Avenue. They just wanted to say goodbye to an old friend they grew up with.
St. Louis is a city blessed with musical talent and history. Chuck Berry and Scott Joplin are its bookends. Both drew on the blues to change the course of twentieth-century musical history. Joplin took the blues as a base and urbanized it for an entirely new genre of music, ragtime, which influenced the development of jazz.
Fifty years later Chuck Berry took those same blues and added a bit of country, R&B, a hot piano, driving beat, sweet tunes and clever lyrics to create a new music, rock 'n' roll. When you hear the term "guitar-driven," think Chuck Berry. His dazzling six-string prowess and flamboyant stage style turned his instrument's usual rhythm and fill job in a band into the starring role. His playing and songs inspired generations of musicians across the world.
Collaboration was also a key ingredient in Berry's success. Long before Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards there was the duo that inspired them, Johnson and Berry. The Sir John Trio led by the legendary keyboardist Johnnie Johnson (the real Johnnie B. Goode) was a highly regarded St. Louis band in the early '50s. Johnson's guitarist had a stroke and he asked Berry to fill in for his 1952 New Year's gig.
Things would never be the same: Chuck joined the band, Muddy Waters hooked him up with Chess records, in 1955 "Maybelline" was born, and the band was renamed the Chuck Berry Band. Together they began cranking out the hits that put Berry in the Blues Hall of Fame and both Johnson and Berry in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Francis Johnson, Johnnie's widow, says "Chuck was the Maya Angelou of rock 'n' roll." Paul Shaffer (of David Letterman's Late Show) reminisced about the night Chuck asked him to play with him and said, "He was rock 'n' roll. His life coincides with its birth and, perhaps, its death."
Chuck Berry will always be alive in the memories of musicians and music lovers and especially St. Louisans. They remember him for the music, for staying true to his home town, and for making them happy and to want to dance. It is most apparent in the Delmar Loop area: the first star on the Walk of Fame outside Blueberry Hill, the memorabilia inside, the Duck Room downstairs, and the bronze statue covered in flowers and beads across the street. There is also a new portrait on the side of Vintage Vinyl that the owner, Tom "Papa" Ray, says "had been planned for some time but it was at the moment the artist began painting it that Berry died."
Joe Edwards, the owner of Blueberry Hill and a trusted friend of Berry's, has decades of memories. He calls Berry's music "a personal history book for all of us" and stressed how Berry "had a major effect on our culture with the ability to bring black and white together." The Kaldi's coffee gang (60+) remember how Berry seemed to be a constant presence on the radio: "It was like driving in the car with an old friend. There was a rhythm and a sound that fit with being young and a teenager." Dave Robinson (62) got to fish at Berry's farm and said "his whole family listened to him and the British invasion that followed." But for him, Berry "didn't get his just due until later in life. "
Today at the National Blues Museum, an entire section has been devoted to Chuck Berry and his influence. There, one can see his records, the records others made with his songs, the duck walk and the flow of his influence across the musical landscape. Terry Hardin (52) says he "grew up with the records my mother loved which started with Chuck Berry and Little Richard." Dr. Rosalind Norman grew up deep in the inner city and remembers Berry fondly: "I grew up near downtown in the late '50s and early '60s and Berry would send busses into our neighborhood to pick up kids and take us out to his farm to play and swim..... I had never been in the country. I got to go swimming in his pool. It was amazing. A person of his color who had all of this doing what he was doing. He was a role model for kids of color. He had his passion, pursued it and succeeded."
Museum visitor Regina Heard (44) said, "Chuck is music to me....the link in a chain that runs from rock and roll to hip hop." Ed Chappelle, a museum volunteer, finds "so much blues and rock 'n' roll history in each of his songs." Dave (58 -- NBM founder) and Renee Beardsley (53) "love their childhood memories of his music and the trace of Berry's pioneer roots from the Sir John Trio across the water to inspire everyone in England." And Zachary Ganet (37) simply said Berry "was a badass guitar player." Like a lot of Berry's audience from that generation, Ganet's encounter came through Back to the Future, "I first came to realize who he was when, as a kid, I saw Michael J. Fox do his guitar style."
Blueberry Hill was packed Saturday night with a crowd there to raise a glass with Joe Edwards and Johnny Rivers in a toast to the man who played 200 shows there. Many Berry family members and friends were there including Murv Seymour (52), Carl Brooks (59), Joe McKinney (75), and Charlie Cojak. Before toasting they reminisced about how good he was to his extended family and the good times at the Windemere City home and the farm. Murv said, "We loved Uncle Chuck. He was the starting point for the creation of a new genre of music that led others to copy his style. He was quietly admired." Carl chimed in saying, "He was family and he created rock 'n' roll from infinity to beyond." The family visited the Duck Room and later headed across the street for pictures with the statue.
Sunday the sky was blue and the breeze warm as limos arrived and crowds gathered outside the Pageant. Out front people entered for the open viewing, while a large line for ticketed guests formed. On the side there was another long line for the 300 public tickets that would become available at noon. Celebrities, family, friends, coworkers, musicians and the public easily co-mingled, a great representation of the way Chuck's music brought black and white fans together. It was easy to ask folk "Why did you come today?" or "What did Chuck Berry mean to you?" Their responses tell the rest of the story.
There was a large contingent of Berry family present. Eric Johnson (55) was there with his family. He recalls learning "My Ding-A-Ling" in the '70s but, he said, "You couldn't sing it around the house; you had to sneak outside." Cousins Diane Johnson (66) Marilyn King (79) and Eric Smith (46) all praised his lasting legacy and the doors he opened for other musicians.
David Selby (66) and Patrick Roche (64) worked for Berry. Selby said Berry was a role model: "He was very brilliant, dedicated to his family and believed in God. He taught me about business and life and how to treat people." Daniel Rossing, (32) a pianist from Norway, played with Berry in Europe. He grew up listening to his parents' records of Chuck. "Getting to play with him was a dream come true," he said, "I had to be here."
Stefano Francioso (51) loved the sound of his Gibson ES35 and Dual Show amps and his lyrics: "Everyone had shit lyrics and he could paint a picture -- 'I never seen a coffee-colored Cadillac but I know exactly what one looks like'." Michael Messey (59), a musician who played with Chuck for many years, recalled a memorable day: "I first heard My Ding-A-Ling at my cousin's. I never dreamed he would end up playing it with him years later."
Beth Zubal (55): "He was a native St. Louisan that brought great music, a new mode of upbeat music. He always stayed true to his roots living here and playing the Duck Room. People had access to his music." Antonio Scott (37) called Berry "a hometown hero," and plainly "awsometastic." Joe (68) and Jake Miklovic echoed a familiar refrain: "Chuck's music was everywhere growing up. I heard it on the river on the Admiral and at the CYC and sock hops..... Your hormones were moving and Chuck was grooving. You were young, in love and feeling great -- it made you want to dance."
Donna Diffley (67) and Dawn Smith (57) loved "his duck walk, the great hits and how he influenced all the big acts to follow and he never forgot his hometown." For Cathy Jacobs (59) and Carol Allen (57) "the music meant freedom of expression and was so much fun to dance to." Jerry Coleman (60), who played a couple of gigs with him, remembers Berry best for "breaking down racial barriers. His music brought people together and it will be here as long as we live." Tim Cladsen (51): "He influenced everyone, a pioneer."
Ray King (50) Sue Beck (61) and Eric Pritle (70) were first in line for the public tickets. Ray, a musician who "appreciated Berry's huge influence on modern music," and offered the reminder that "The Beatles and Led Zeppelin wouldn't exist without Chuck Berry." Sue says a she came to "support his family and pay respects one last time." Eric likewise came to "pay respects to one of the hardest working men in show business [who] lived a full life doing what he loved to do."
CC Winchester (40) credits Chuck Berry with making him want to be a musician. Laurie Ising (53) and Ann Smith (57) called him "the father of rock 'n' roll," and said, "As a music lover you've got to appreciate what he's done. It's important to us to pay our respects." Michelle McMurray (57) remembered the fun times she had at Blueberry Hill listening to "one of our own, a legend and always so friendly."
Ted Thien (72) remembered first seeing him in 1962 at the Gaslight Square: "He put the guitar as the lead instrument and changed music." Jeff Schieb (45) emphasized Berry's singular contribution: "It won't happen again -- breaking the norms and creating something new. You can take apart most any song and you will hear snippets of Chuck Berry." Praising the "hometown legend," Andre Louis (52), Karen (60), Ralph Morse, and Brian Flowers (61) said, "There is no better rock 'n' roll than Johnnie B. Goode. Anyone whoever picked up a guitar and played a bar chord owes it to Chuck to be here."
Gus Thornton (65), bass player with Marquise Knox, remembered Berry's early influence: "He was the first thing I listened to as a kid. Getting into the guitar, I tried to play like him. I knew Johnnie Johnson and he got me a gig with Chuck and he was always very nice to me." Elaine Foster (64) recalled, "Chuck used to play for the Sumner High Roundups. We loved his music as kids. All the girls would scream when he played and I would too." Jules Sardo (68) remembered the first time she saw the performer, "I saw him for the first time playing on a bill in '71 with Billy Peek at the Rainbow Lounge, where it cost 50 cents to get in."
Lynn Orman Weiss was in town from Chicago this week to pack up her Women of the Blues photography exhibit that had been showing at the National Blues Museum. She stayed over to attend the Chuck Berry events. When I asked her what Chuck Berry meant to her she answered with John Lennon's quote: "If they didn't call it rock 'n' roll they would have to call it Chuck Berry."
The Duck Room Stage sits empty. Chuck has left the building. He may be gone but the songs remain and St. Louis will always know the music by its real name... Hail, Hail, Chuck Berry!
To see Bob's photos of many of those quoted here in the order of the article, click the image below.