“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry‘.” – John Lennon
I suppose we should start at the beginning or rather the beginning defined by this author. In late August of 1955, Chuck Berry along with pianist Johnnie Johnson and drummer Ebby Hardy pulled into Youngstown for a series of shows at the Copa Club at 1214 Wilson Avenue. Now, this little tidbit of information regarding this particular show initially came from the book “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” by Bruce Pegg. It’s just a brief throwaway line in the book, but it led to finding an advertisement in the Youngstown Vindicator.
In the book, the Copa Club is referred to as the Copa Casino. That’s the way it appears in other publications of the time and it sounds like a fitting name for the club that housed Youngstown’s first rock ‘n’ roll show. Now, of course, I can’t be 100 percent certain that this was indeed the first rock show in the city because there were other R&B artists of the time who disc jockey Alan Freed would surely call “rock ‘n’ roll” who probably played here well before 1955 (and if I come across anything of significance in the future, I’ll see to it I post it). For all intents and purposes, though, Chuck Berry was the man that got things rolling. So, I’m giving him the credit and this show was ground zero.
The show was in support of the “Maybellene” single which was recorded on May 21 in Chicago. The Vindicator ad for the show misspells Chuck’s last name as well as the name of the song.
As for the Copa Club, it would seem it disappeared (or changed into something else) in the late ’50s or early ’60s. The building at 1214 Wilson Avenue today is an auto dealership (I use that term loosely) of some kind. There’s an outside chance that the shell of the building could be what once was the Copa Club. Mahoning County property records indicate that building as it stands today was built in 1900. If the record is accurate, Youngstown has one heck of a rock ‘n’ roll historical landmark tucked neatly into the post-industrial grime of the East Side.
As for this blog, it will be dedicated almost exclusively to major rock acts who made their way through the city and the venues they played in. I don’t plan on writing about shows that happened in neighboring communities, nor do I have any desire to pursue much local rock lore (other people do it much better than I could). I figure there’s enough in Youngstown’s rock past to keep me busy for a while.