Like me, there are quite a few St. Louisans who believe that the names of Chuck Berry and Joe Edwards have become indelibly linked in our city’s lore. As we sit at a table inside Blueberry Hill, Edwards and I can look outside and see the newly unveiled statue of the ‘Father of Rock and Roll.’ The figure of a young Berry in a tuxedo looks as though it is just about to swoop down into the famous ‘duck walk.’ Just like most of the other things he has brought to life on The Loop, the statue is much the way Edwards envisioned it.
There’s a lot going on inside of Joe Edwards’ head. He focuses on everything from the smallest details of the day at hand to the long, strange trip that has brought him to where he is today. And he’s taken a big part of that journey right alongside the world-renowned rock-and-roller.
The first time Edwards met Chuck Berry was after one of his concerts in the mid-1960s. Berry was already a superstar, inspiring a generation of young people and musicians like The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. Edwards was just one of his many fans. Berry was ushering in a new era—the era of rock and roll era, while Edwards was just a music-loving kid.
Fast forward more than four decades to the summer of 2011: Edwards is standing next to Berry as a larger-than-life statue of the rock and roll icon is officially dedicated. Edwards says there are times he still can’t believe that he’s grown so close to the music pioneer, the first person inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “It’s one of those things in life you never expect. If you had asked me years ago if I would become good friends with Chuck Berry, I would have said, no,” he says. “But life takes funny turns, and it’s one of those friendships that just evolved over time.”
Even though Berry will always be remembered as a founding father of rock and roll and Edwards will always be remembered as The Loop’s most prolific entrepreneur and promoter, I can’t help but wonder how different their lives would be today if they had never become friends. Would Berry have endured as one of St. Louis’ most beloved and intriguing hometown symbols? Maybe not. Berry’s reputation was never spotless, but it took a beating in the early ’90s when he found himself fighting off allegations that he secretly videotaped women in the restroom of a restaurant he owned in Wentzville. Berry was exonerated, but it could have been the end of his story.
At the same time, Edwards was working his magic in The Loop, almost single handedly transforming it from a tired, old neighborhood to a vibrant, eclectic entertainment and shopping district.
The men got to know each other when they negotiated a deal to use Berry’s picture on a collectible can of Edwards’ now-defunct Rock and Roll Beer. But the growing friendship between the two continued, and the rest, as they say, is history
“One night, Chuck was reminiscing about the early days of his career and the early days of rock and roll, and he turned to me and said, Ya know, Joe, I’d like to play a place the size of the ones that I played when I first started out,” Edwards recalls. “We looked at each other for a second, and I said, Let’s do it, let’s do it at Blueberry Hill!” To date, Berry has performed at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room more than 170 times. He puts on a show almost every month, and Edwards says it’s not unusual to have people from around the world in the audience.
Chuck Berry turns 85 next month, and his shows have made Blueberry Hill a legendary venue. Edwards downplays the role he’s played in Berry’s comeback but considers it gratifying to see his idol’s career continue to move forward. “Not only is he dynamic, putting on great shows. Right now, he’s 84 and performing hour-long shows that would tire people in their 30s!”
Joe Edwards never seems to get tired. He keeps pumping out ideas and making them reality. The Walk of Fame, Pin-Up Bowl, Moonrise Hotel, The Tivoli, The Pageant, the Berry Statue and on the horizon, a trolley. Not just a trolley for tourists and nostalgia buffs, but one that he hopes will spur even more economic development and be a key part of a viable transportation system.
I wouldn’t bet against him. Who knows, maybe someday there will be another statue outside Blueberry Hill, next to the legendary father of rock and roll: that of a son of the rock and roll era who’s become rather legendary in our town in his own right.