I remember dancing in Ralph Pryor’s basement to Sweet Sixteen, Reelin’ and a Rockin’, Rock and Roll Music, Johnny B. Goode, Maybelline, Slippin’ & Slidin’, Long Tall Sally, Tutti Fruiti and The Girl Can’t Help It. I could go on but Chuck Berry’s discography was long. It was coming of age—1958—the summer during which I gave up my fishing rowboat for girls, lying on the beach sunning and parties. It was dancing in the dark; slow dancing; making out—which just meant kissing; and being friends with a girl. It was so cool. Chuck Berry was pressed into my memory of my Junior High and High School years.
Jump ahead ten years to 1968—the years of Vietnam protest, hippies and psychedelic music—Chuck was still a tremendous draw; I invited my soon to be wife, Sharon, to go to a Chuck Berry concert at the Commonwealth Armory in Boston. In fact, it was two concerts—we had tickets to the second concert which was to begin at 9pm after the first concert. It was pandemonium as one audience tried to leave and the other audience was trying to arrive. The second concert didn’t start until after eleven o’clock.
Boston had a curfew of midnight after some rock band quasi-riots at the Boston Garden. Midnight came and went and Chuck rocked on. At one am some official came on stage and told Chuck Berry he could play two more songs. Berry brought the audience to a frenzy by playing what seemed like ten more and at 2am while playing “My Ding-a-Ling” the Boston Police came on stage and when he finished escorted him off.
Sharon and I stopped for an early breakfast at an all-night dinner. It was about 4:30am when I delivered her to her home. When we pulled into the drive her father, Chet, came out in his pajamas and began to give me a lecture about his rules on the front lawn and he said, “As long as you live in my house you follow my rules.” I said, “I don’t live in your house and I’m not following your rules.” It was the first time we met. It got better.
Jump ahead fifteen years Sharon and I have two daughters, Adrienne and Julia, 12 and 7, and we are going to Disney World in Florida. We have invited my father-in-law, Chet, and grandmother, Evelyn, to accompany us on our dime. All is well. I have two stores in the Cape Cod Mall—a Booksmith and a Musicsmith. In the Musicsmith the Chuck Berry bin is always full. Farewell Chuck Berry. I’m sure there is a gig for you in heaven.