Tag Archives: Chuck Berry

RIP Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry has died at the age of 90.

Here are some posts about his history in Youngstown. 

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Fats Domino and a hit parade of stars

Fats Domino was a pretty big star already by the time he arrived for a pair of shows on February 17, 1957 at the Stambaugh Auditorium. The future Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Famer had a mess of hits from the R&B and pop charts to draw from including “Blueberry Hill”, “Ain’t That A Shame” and “I’m Walkin'”. He also had performed in such films as Shake, Rattle and Rock and The Girl Can’t Help It. Bill Doggett was second on the bill and he was famous at the time for his hit “Honky Tonk” which reached No. 2 on the pop charts in 1956. Clyde McPhatter, also a future Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Famer, was seemingly a regular on these sorts of shows in the late ’50s. LaVern Baker, the second female inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, was coming off a huge hit in “Jim Dandy” in 1956. It’s hard to believe that Chuck Berry would get booted down the list so far, but in Feb. of 1957 he still only had one huge pop chart topper to his name in “Maybellene”. Berry’s “School Day” released the next month was a bigger single on the pop charts and would propel him into a really strong year or two into the end of the decade.

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Stars align in 1956

Rock ‘n’ roll fever was in full bloom in Youngstown on October 25, 1956 when a show full of superstars from the era arrived to play what was billed as “The Show of ’56” at the Stambaugh Auditorium. On the top of the bill was Bill Haley and and The Comets along with The Platters. Whoever was designing the advertisement at the time was not using the groups most well-known songs to promote the show. The Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock” was more than 2 years old at this time and more than a year removed from topping the Billboard pop charts. Instead it was “See You Later Alligator” featured in the 1956 film Rock Around The Clock which was used as a hook to draw teens in. The Platters’ hit “Only You” was more than a year old at this point. Here there’s a push for “Magic Touch and “My Prayer”.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were pushing the Top 10 hit “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” released in April of ’56. Other doo-wop stars on the bill included Clyde McPhatter and The Clovers. Rocker Chuck Berry, back for yet another performance in Youngstown, was fairly low on the bill. His single “Roll Over Beethoven” peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard charts in June.

WHAT THE SHOW SOUNDED LIKE: Here’s The Comets on TV in 1956 performing their signature hit.

 

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Chuck Berry at the Elms

Chuck Berry’s career was really picking up steam after he returned to Youngstown on September 16, 1955 for a show at the Elms Ballroom. In less than a month after the Copa Club show here, he was thrust on a bill which included the jazz greats the Buddy Johnson Orchestra and his sister Ella, doo-wopers The Nutmegs, Four Fellows, The Spaniels, jazz singer Arthur Prysock, R&B singer Al Savage and “The Queen of the Quiver and Shake” Queenie Owens.

Berry had just come off a seven day, 38-show run at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theater. The shows, promoted by Alan Freed, grossed $154,000 according to Variety. In the book “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” by Bruce Pegg, the shows were said to carry an attendance of about 80 percent white teens and 20-somethings. Right after that successful stint in Brooklyn, Berry was booked on a seven week tour of one-night gigs across the country. The Elms show was one of those.

An ad similar to this one caused the show set for Sept. 15 in Pittsburgh to be rearranged. The superintendent of the building where the concert was initially set to go off reacted in horror over the sexualized appearance of Queenie Owens in the ad. The local promoter switched the show to a much smaller venue (a movie theater) to avoid a total loss.

The Elms, built in 1922, was best known as a top venue during the Big Band era. It was located at 529 Elm St. on what is now the campus of Youngstown State University. The building was razed in 1965.

 

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In the beginning, back in 1955

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“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.

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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.

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