The music world was rocked last night as news of the death at age 90 of iconic originator Chuck Berry spread over the internet. Berry’s monumental influence on generations of guitarists and bands is hard to measure, but not to quantify in importance to music. Chuck personally led to the wide-spread love and understanding of rock and roll through a string of hit songs and other anthems championing the nascent genre in the early 1950s. He died near his home of St. Charles County, MO and his death was confirmed by the St. Charles County, Mo., police department.
Known for penning the hit songs that won over scores of fans, record buyers, and even helped legitimize rock and roll to the music press, Berry, a.k.a “The Godfather of Rock `N Roll” is best known for tracks like ‘Johnny B. Goode’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ ‘Rock and Roll Music’, ‘Maybeline’, ‘School Days’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, ‘Little Queenie’, ‘Too Much Monkey Business’, ‘Nadine’, ‘You Can Never Tell’, Run Rudolph Run’, ‘No Particular Place To Go’, ‘My Ding-A-Ling’, ‘Shake Rattle And Roll’ and more. Not only this music, but Berry became the template for the bandleader/singing guitar player that was mimicked and copied until this very day. Although there was an upbeat positivity and clever sense of humor to Berry’s music, there was often a hidden subtext below the surface covering sexuality or the racism Berry faced.
After taking to music as a child Berry synthesized early Chicago blues, the rhythm and blues of Louis Jordan, the lead guitar style of Charlie Christian, country music and even some Jazz chord voicings to create his sound. Along with Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike Turner, Curtis Mayfield and other early progenitors of rock n roll, Berry toiled in relative obscurity nationwide, despite charting songs and non-stop touring. In a transition time when rock music was new and Jazz, Big Band and movie musicals were the popular music of the day, rock was not embraced by the press or the public as much until white artists playing the same style came along with hit songs. When white artists covered the hits of these original artists, they were far outselling the originals. That is until Berry released ‘Maybeline’ and had the biggest selling single of this era by a black artist.
Berry went on to considerable fame and adoration, mainly for writing about what he knew; best how awesome the indelible spirit of rock music was. With his skillful songcraft, buzzsaw-like guitar tone, and wild showmanship onstage, he was hard to rival as an entertainer at this time in America. With the rise of the British Invasion, many superstars such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and The Who had hits covering Berry’s songs, or other bands’ blatant ripoffs of his signature sound also reawakened fans’ appreciation.
Berry had many personal and legal troubles in his life, from lawsuits to jail stints. However, these issues should never outweigh the debt all of music, bust especially rock music owes to Berry. From Jimi Hendrix, The Ramones, Motorhead, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden to countless others were and are still heavily indebted to his music.