When I was in college, I read an article describing how Chuck Berry still performed regularly and with energy at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis. I promised to go and see him before he stopped. It seemed like one of the few ways I could create an authentic link between myself and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll: To witness, in person, the founding father of the medium that defined the second half of the 20th century. It would have been something distinctly American, almost sacred.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next. I thought about it a lot. But I was in college and had no money. Then I was out of college and had a job and responsibilities. It just seemed like an increasingly implausible aspiration. Maybe I could do it next year, or the year after that, but not now.
And then in 2014, Berry stopped performing, and last year he passed away. Part of me will always regret not taking the initiative to go see him in the promised land of St. Louis.
Despite the missed dream, I still appreciate his stunning catalog of influential songs and tremendous innovations. He’s not just a part of the rock and roll idiom; he practically defined it.
I don’t have a definitive favorite Berry song. But I have found myself frequently listening to the rollicking “Promised Land,” which serves as a heart-of-America travelogue as much as a bustling rocker. It features the vintage Perry sound, with driving guitar lines accompanying Berry’s engaging southern drawl. Lastly, I’ve always said that the piano in Chuck Berry’s music is hugely underrated in injecting the tracks with relentless energy, and it’s as great here as ever.