remembering the king

During the spring of 2001, a few months before America changed for the worse, Shane and I were working on a dream trip. We were going to Wrigley, and taking my grandson with us. The feeling reminded me of Christmas the year I got my first 26” bicycle.

The plans had been made; tickets for game and plane confirmed; hotel rooms reserved. About to bust from anticipation, I looked up activities for that weekend just to occupy my time. The Chicago Blues Festival, long on my bucket list, was happening the same weekend we’d be there. Talk about happenstance.

Chuck Berry by Dena FlowsThe headliner would be the King of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry. I wasn’t sure the schedules would mesh; we were visiting Chicago for baseball. The prime time performers would be playing while we were watching either the Cubs or the White Sox. Oh well.

On game day, during pregame festivities, an old dude with Jheri curls dick walked out to the mound. It was Berry, throwing out the first pitch. Later, during the Seventh Inning Stretch, Chuck led an enthusiastic rendition of “Take Me out to the Ballgame” – a version that included three generations of Cox Boys doing there everlovin’ best.

I’m going back to Chicago this summer. Terry has never seen Wrigley and I haven’t seen it enough. Our tickets are bought. Other final plans are still to be made. I’m pretty sure we’ll be too late in the summer for the Blues Festival. Anyway, I just found out Chuck Berry definitely won’t be there; at least not in the flesh.

The King of Rock and Roll passed away early this morning, ninety years of age, good health to the end, unlike so many of his contemporaries. Berry joins Guy Clark, Glenn Frey, David Ruffin, and Leon Russell; people I genuinely grieved for when I heard the news.

Famous people pass away every day. Those that leave a big, gaping hole in the remaining planet can’t be replaced. And while the list is subjective for us all I’m pretty sure Chuck Berry’s passing is painful for many, many people.

If he didn’t invent Rock and Roll, he at least had an assist. He played everywhere and with almost everybody. The list of performers he encouraged is longer than anyone else in the industry. I can’t imagine the television synopsis done by modern day musicologists can do the man justice.

The Beatles recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” on an early album. Several other budding British bands paid audio homage to their musical heroes. The British invasion of the early Sixties might not have happened if not for the influence of Chuck Berry, and other nearly forgotten Rock and Roll pioneers.

The Loose Ends played “Johnny B. Goode” at Friday night Elks Club dances, frat parties, and swimming pool publicity gigs, fronted by a skinny singer with ordinary talent, scant range, and lots of guts. I still get chills when I hear the opening riff.

Seeing Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Albert Pujols and many other major league stars was a lifetime thrill for me. Seeing them with my son and grandson at Wrigley Field was monumental.

But singing a duet with Chuck, now that was a lifetime achievement.

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Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.