Chicago Eddie Berner: 1932-2007
I've always said that I could go 20 more years without having to hear "Sweet Home Chicago" again - without question it is the most frequently covered song in recent Chicago blues history. But I would have made an exception in the case of Chicago Eddie Berner. Everybody who attended blues and jazz shows regularly in town probably remembers him - a short, squat white guy with a thick film of Homer Simpson stubble on his face, always quick to dance, and yell his approval of the musicians on the bandstand or the ladies in the audience. Every so often, someone would hand him a mike, and he'd wail the first verses of the famed song that has come to define the city: "Come on...baby don't you want to go..." Although diagnosed with mental illness, Berner still made time to show his face at various shows around town. He was just as much a part of the scene as the bands themselves.
Unfortunately, this is past now. Berner passed away on September 10, after surgery at St. Joseph Hospital, and the local blues/jazz world is a lot poorer for it.
While he had been ill for some time, he didn't let it slow his roll for a minute. The last I saw him, it was just three months ago at a Fred Anderson outdoor show, at the Museum of Contemporary Art (part of the "Tuesdays On The Terrace" series). Even in that impossibly diverse crowd (the summer was still young and everybody was out), Berner still found a way to stand out, acting the fool without upstaging the band. Sure didn't seem like a "last time."
The public can pay respects at a special memorial service at B.L.U.E.S. (2519 N. Halsted) on Sunday, September 16 from 6-9 PM.