Welcome
Login

Chuck Berry, rock 'n' roll pioneer, dead at 90

 "the Father of Rock 'n' Roll," died Saturday at his home outside St. Louis,  He was 90.

A post on the St. Charles County police Facebook page said officers responded to a medical emergency at the residence around 12:40 p.m. (1:40 p.m. ET) Saturday and found an unresponsive man inside. Resuscitation efforts failed.
"The St. Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry."

A musical legend

 
Berry wrote and recorded "Johnny B. Goode" and "Sweet Little Sixteen" -- songs every garage band and fledgling guitarist had to learn if they wanted to enter the rock 'n' roll fellowship.
Berry took all-night hamburger stands, brown-eyed handsome men and V-8 Fords and turned them into the stuff of American poetry. By doing so, he gave rise to followers beyond number, bar-band disciples of the electric guitar, who carried his musical message to the far corners of the Earth.
Some of his most famous followers praised him on social media.
Bruce Springsteen tweeted: "Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived."
The Rolling Stones posted on their website: "The Rolling Stones are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Chuck Berry. He was a true pioneer of rock 'n' roll and a massive influence on us. Chuck was not only a brilliant guitarist, singer and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter. His songs will live forever. "
But it was perhaps John Lennon -- who died in 1980 -- who put it most succinctly. "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"
The list of Berry's classics is as well-known as his distinctive, chiming "Chuck Berry riff": "Maybellene." "Around and Around." "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man." "School Days." "Memphis." "Nadine." "No Particular Place to Go."
They were deceptively simple tunes, many constructed with simple chord progressions and classic verse-chorus-verse formats, but their hearts could be as big as teenage hopes on a Saturday night.
His music even went into outer space. When the two Voyager spacecrafts were launched in 1977, each was accompanied on its journey to the outer reaches of the solar system by a phonograph record that contained sounds of Earth -- including "Johnny B. Goode."

Rock wordsmith

 
Berry, though, was modest about his influence.
"My view remains that I do not deserve all the reward directed on my account for the accomplishments credited to the rock 'n' roll bank of music," he wrote in his 1987 autobiography.
He had a facility with lyrics others could only envy, words and phrases tossed off with a jazzman's cool and a surgeon's precision.
In "You Never Can Tell," he summed up a newlywed couple's life in fewer than two dozen words: "They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale / The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale."
 

Hail Hail Chuck Berry!!! None of us would have been here without you. Rock on brother!

A post shared by Lenny Kravitz (@lennykravitz) on Mar 18, 2017 at 4:03pm PDT

His delivery was often marked by humor, but he could also insert the scalpel when needed. After all, Berry -- a black man who grew up in Jim Crow America, who was close to 30 when he had his first national hit -- knew that those high schools were sometimes segregated, and those diners and highways didn't always welcome him.
"Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" could be read as the story of a brown-SKINNED handsome man, as rock critic Dave Marsh and others have noted; the Louisiana country boy of "Johnny B. Goode" wasn't necessarily Caucasian.
Or consider "Promised Land," the story of a man escaping the South for California. He rides a Greyhound bus across Dixie, moves to a train to get "across Mississippi clean," and finally enters the Golden State on a plane, dressed in a silk suit, "workin' on a T-bone steak." It was the American dream in miniature, a success all the sweeter for overcoming racial prejudice -- never overtly mentioned but present all the same.
There was also a darkness and suspicion in Berry, for those who cared to look. He was notorious for making concert promoters pay him in full before his shows, cash only. In his late teens he served three years in a reformatory, and after becoming famous did jail time on a charge of transporting an underage girl across state lines. Years later he was convicted of tax evasion. He had the showman's talent for saying much and revealing little.

Grew up in St. Louis

For all Berry's mystery and commercial sense, however, at bottom he truly loved the music.
"Rock's so good to me. Rock is my child and my grandfather," he once said.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 1926. (Some sources say he was born in San Jose, California.) His parents -- grandchildren of slaves -- were accomplished in their own ways: father Henry was a successful carpenter, and mother Martha was a college graduate -- rare for a black woman at the time. Young Chuck, the fourth of six children, grew up in a middle-class African-American St. Louis neighborhood.
He was inspired to pick up the guitar after singing in a high school talent show. A friend accompanied him and Berry decided to learn the instrument.

Post your comment

Related Articles

RSS