Rock and Roll pioneer Chuck Berry died on Saturday at the age of 90. Okemos-based musician “Boogie” Bob Baldori was a close friend and collaborator for many years.
It was 50 years ago when Bob Baldori first met Chuck Berry. Bob and his band The Woolies went to see the rock legend at The Dells on Lake Lansing Road. Chuck Berry didn’t take a band with him for shows, leaving the hiring of side musicians to the promoter. Baldori says “When you booked Chuck, you got Chuck, the guitar and the duckwalk.” That night, the promoter had hired a heavy metal band, a bad fit to play with Chuck Berry, so he asked the Woolies to do the second show. Just like that, Bob Baldori found himself backstage with Chuck Berry.
The band wound up playing six nights with Chuck Berry, and went on to do hundreds of gigs with him. "We ended up recording with him," Baldori recalls, "two albums over the next several years."
Berry would sometimes host Baldori in his home in what Baldori describes as "a southern gentleman sort of way. He liked to see himself as the perfect host. I'd wake up in the morning and he'd be making me breakfast or bringing me coffee. I'm thinking 'this is Chuck Berry!'"
Baldori remembers Chuck Berry in his show "Boogie Stomp." "At one point in the show," he explains, "I talk about all the great artists that came up in the same era as Chuck...Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters, and Elvis." He emotionally concludes "and I end this list of greats with Chuck Berry, and then say 'the only one who mattered.'"