CHUCK BERRY – a founding father of Rock N Roll, a totally unique talent –died on Saturday 18th March. He was aged 90 and his death was confirmed by police in the US state of Missouri. They said; “The St. Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry,”
Berry was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1926 and had an interest in music from an early age. While still at high school he was convicted of armed robbery and was sent to a reform school (1944-1947). After his release, Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant. But music was his passion and after travelling to Chicago and hooking up with Muddy Waters, he contacted Leonard Chess owner of of Chess Records. At Chess he recorded ‘Maybelline’—(an update of a C&W song, ‘Ida Red’) which went on to sell over a million copies, and reached number one. Berry was on a roll…by the end of the fifties he’d enjoyed a slew of hits (amongst them ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Memphis’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, ‘Johnny B. Goode’, ‘Rock n Roll Music’, ‘Carol’ and ‘Come On’); he’d appeared in several movies and was a highly paid live artist. He even had his own club in St Louis… Berry’s Club Bandstand.
The secret of his success? In one word… his music was “unique”. Though in his thirties by the time he found success, Chuck Berry understood what “Young America” wanted. He wrote songs that kids could identify with…. songs about school, about cars, about ambition, about first romance and delivered them in the new rock and roll style with solid back beats and a ringing guitar sound. His songs spoke the language of teenage America. Many were mini soap operas played out via Berry’s clever and particular lyrics and like many great poets he was prepared to take liberties with language, often inventing his own words… like “motorvatin‘” (remember that Cadillac in ‘Maybelline’) and “coolerator” (one of the first things Pierre and his mademoiselle bought in ‘You Never Can Tell’)
Berry went on to have more hits in the mid-1960s, cuts like ‘No Particular Place To Go’ and ‘Nadine’, but by the mid 70s, he was more in demand as a live performer. By then though he had achieved an iconic status with scores of rock stars acknowledging their debt to him – most notably the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.
Chuck Berry received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1984 and was among the first inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. It’s difficult to underestimate Berry’s part in the evolution of modern popular music. One commentator described him as “being on the Mount Rushmore of pop music pioneers” and though many will argue who is/was the “King of Rock N Roll”, there can be no debate about who was the “King of Rock N Roll Songwriters”…. Chuck Berry.
Interestingly just last year Chuck announced he would be releasing his first album in nearly forty years. It was to be dedicated it to his wife of 68 years, Themetta “Toddy”. The album, ‘Chuck’, was recorded in St Louis, Missouri and it will be released later this year.