I just heard that Chuck Berry died today, March 18, 2017. He was one of the very first people I posted on when I started my blog. What can I say? He didn’t invent rock and roll but he might as well have. I’m re-posting my write-up from a little over a year ago. RIP Chuck.
Today is Chuck Berry’s birthday and he is 89 years old! After all these years, what can one say about Chuck Berry? That he “invented” rock and roll? Or that if he didn’t invent it, he at the very least perfected it? Or maybe that he created the blueprint for it. For me, that last one works. Chuck not only came up with great songs that you can listen to till this day but he also was a clever lyricist, terrific guitar player and master entertainer. What more could you ask for?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that if there was no Chuck Berry there would be no Keith Richards. Keef had far too many influences to say that. But if not for Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones might have sounded a whole lot different. And to this day there is no bar band in the world that cannot play “Johnny B. Goode,” or “Maybellene” or “Rock and Roll Music.”
If you ever get a chance to go to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, there is an interesting video that is well worth seeing. Shortly after you enter the museum, there is a room that plays the 10-or-so minute video. It’s not silent but there is no narration. And so it takes you from the early days of American music from country and bluegrass to blues to lounge music to gospel. And then after all this – bam! – Elvis Presley and then – bam! Chuck Berry. And so then you realize all the influences these two guys were privy to in order to create the sound that they did.
If you can find it, there’s a great 1987 documentary about Berry called “Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll.” It’s not just about Chuck’s life per se but about Keith Richards doing his best to accommodate his hero for a live concert while at the same time Berry gives him nothing but grief. (Keith recently told a story about how he touched Chuck’s guitar and got punched in the face for his troubles!).
In tribute to Chuck’s way with a lyric, no less a personage than Bruce Springsteen says of a line in “Nadine,” “I’ve never seen a coffee-colored Cadillac, but I know exactly what one looks like.” Yes indeed. Happy birthday Chuck you cranky old bastard. If not for you we might well be listening to today’s equivalent of Pat Boone.