Chuck Berry

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.

16 thoughts on “Chuck Berry

  1. On ‘Hail Hail Rock n Roll’ the interviewer asks Springsteen about backing Chuck up in the early days. Bruce says ‘Chuck shows up right before he’s supposed to go on. Bruce asks him what songs they’re going to play. Chuck says, Chuck Berry songs”. Beautiful.

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  2. Here’s another good one. Recall that years ago, NASA sent a disc into outer space loaded with music and other artifacts to try to communicate with any possible aliens. Most of the music was classical but a Rolling Stone editor convinced Carl Sagan to put some Chuck Berry on there.

    Saturday Night Live later claimed that the aliens heard the record and their first communication to Earth was, “Send More Chuck Berry.” 😂

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  3. Jim S – in a word, “foundational” is how I would describe his legacy. Many a rock and roll house was built upon his cinderblocks.”He could play a guitar just like a ringing a bell.”

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  4. Well this was crappy news to wake up to. Don’t get me wrong – ninety is a bloody good innings but it’s a shame nonetheless. One of, if not the, most influential players to ever pick up a guitar

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  5. Yeah, or for that matter, write a song, sing, perform, create an image, etc. Chuck had it all, no question. He is one of my musical heroes. There isn’t a bar (or pub) band anywhere that can’t play his songs. (If I recall correctly, this was minimum entry to Bruce’s bands.) I heard this news last night so I got up this morning, grabbed my guitar and played every Chuck Berry lick I could think of. So thank you Chuck Berry and thank you Marty McFly for inspiring Chuck. 😂 Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!

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  6. Love Chuck Berry – there was really no other guitarist who sounded like him when he emerged!

    When I heard Johnny B. Goode for the first time, I was immediately hooked and tried to figure it out, but never ever learned to play and rock so well! 🙂

    Anyway, the sheer number of great classic rock & roll songs this man wrote is just unbelievable. Sure, if you listen to a bunch of Chuck Berry tunes, his guitar parts sound a bit repetitive, but who cares when it’s great music! There was also something really cool about the groove his songs had – they simply made you move!

    Perhaps the best commemorative comment I saw about Chuck Berry came from Little Steven, who wrote on his Facebook page:

    “Chuck Berry.

    Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an Artform. He led the teenage takeover of Pop Music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented Rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them Respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting.

    – Little Steven, March 18 2017”

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