Chuck Berry died this past Saturday at age 90. A musician whose influence can't be overstated, a founder of Rock and Roll, his loss will be keenly felt. The BBC obituary says,
Chuck Berry's trademark four-bar guitar introduction and quickfire lyrics reflected the rebelliousness of the youth of the 1950s. He was one of that exclusive group who took rhythm and blues from its black roots and "crossed over" to make it part of most teenagers' lifestyle. He influenced generations of succeeding rock stars, most notably the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.Nadine, released in 1964:
Nadine, honey is that you?
Honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I see you
Darling you got something else to do
I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin' toward a coffee colored Cadillac
I was pushin' through the crowd to get to where she's at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat
Notice that coffee-colored Cadillac in the lyrics? That's my connection to the weekly T is for Tuesday gathering at Bleubeard and Elizabeth's blog. We share a drink (and I admit this post stretches the point); but please join me in a cuppa coffee (I take mine black, but I have white and brown sugar cubes and Swiss mocha for flavoring if you like) while we stroll down memory lane and appreciate some more of his music.
He wrote Memphis, Tennessee in 1959, though the Johnny Rivers 1964 cover is better known:
"If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry." - John Lennon
Rock and Roll Music (1957):
The New York Times obituary calls him "genre’s first true superstar" and says, "Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” wasn’t the first rock ’n’ roll song, but it was the best and brashest of the genre’s early advertisements." Roll Over Beethoven (1956) is #97 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Berry isn't, as some assume, the inventor of rock. True, he was its most important early architect, but by the time his debut single "Maybellene" was unleashed into the world in 1955, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Bill Haley & the Comets already had iconic hit singles on the Billboard charts. Elvis Presley's rocked-up version of the blues song "That's All Right" dropped in 1954, and "Rocket 88" -- an Ike Turner-helmed recording some historians hail as the first true rock n' roll release -- actually came out in 1951, years before the rock revolution started in earnest.Maybelline (1955):
So why, if rock was already on the charts, is Chuck Berry most commonly cited as the single most important figure in rock music's creation? Simply put, unlike Domino, Presley, Haley or even the immensely influential Diddley, Chuck Berry helped codify what rock music would become.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a nice biography and says, "it's not an exaggeration to say that he's the most influential figure on modern rock & roll: Name any major band—the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith—and they'll have cited Berry as an inspiration," and is quoted by Wikipedia as saying
While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together. It was his particular genius to graft country & western guitar licks onto a rhythm & blues chassis in his very first single, "Maybellene".A couple more of note are No Particular Place to Go from 1964:
and, of course, Johnny B. Goode from 1958, one of the musical selections chosen for inclusion on the record sent into space on Voyager:
Not ready to stop? Here's an hour of him, a Greatest Hits album:
R.I.P. Chuck Berry.