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Chuck Berry celebrates turning 75

ST. LOUIS — Chuck Berry, the guitar-slinging man considered one of rock 'n' roll's most important architects, celebrated his 75th birthday, at a blowout that was one-part patriotism, a dozen parts old-school rock 'n' roll — and heaping helpings of an American music legend.

With ease belying his age, Berry scooted across the stage in his famous one-legged hop at The Pageant, a club in his hometown of St. Louis. Screaming guitar in hand, his duck walk wasn't far behind.

"In his whole career, he brought people together through his music," House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri said in introducing Berry. "We're in a day where we need America to be unified. Chuck Berry unifies America."

Berry worked the stage and crowd of about 1,500, at times kneeling while letting loose with the same screeching guitar riffs that made him famous in the days of sock hops and soda shops.

"You name it, we'll play it," he told the crowd warmed up by a performance by pal Little Richard that included "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and praise for a troubled nation.

"I love this country," he said. "This is God's country. Ain't nothing like America."

And to fans, there's nothing like Berry, whose dozen-song set began with "Roll Over Beethoven." "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode" and "Rock and Roll Music" soon followed.

"Is everybody happy?" he asked along the way.

The throng screamed ecstatically, some hooted and many whistled. All cheered a hometown hero.

"We ain't playing no blues," Berry said. "We're playing rock 'n' roll."

Berry pioneered a musical revolution decades ago, with guitar-driven hits like "Maybellene," "No Particular Place To Go" and the other classics he revisited Thursday night.

He helped inspire Elvis and the Beatles, was inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame and last year got one of the nation's highest awards as a Kennedy Center Honor recipient.

Together, Berry and sideman Johnnie Johnson — another St. Louisan and the inspiration for "Johnny B. Goode" — blended blues, boogie and country to help shape rock music in the early 1960s. Johnson composed the music on piano, and Berry converted it to guitar and wrote the lyrics.

Though Berry hasn't made an album in nearly two decades and now plays small venues, many music notables spanning generations, genres and genders hold him in high regard. In written kudos for his milestone birthday, they made that known.

"You are most certainly the inspiration for all of today's rock 'n' roll guitarists," wrote Motown legend Smokey Robinson. "Your music is timeless."

Other regards poured in from James "Godfather of Soul" Brown, Ray Charles, Leon Russell, David Bowie, George Thorogood, Bo Diddley and Aretha Franklin.

Anthony Kiedis of the modern-day Red Hot Chili Peppers called Berry "a musical scientist who discovered a cure for the blues." Rocker Joan Jett cast Berry as "the epitome of what it is to be a rock 'n' roll guitar player, songwriter and singer."

Stevie Wonder summed it up this way:

"There's only one true king of rock 'n' roll," Wonder wrote. "His name is Chuck Berry."