RIP Chuck Berry

Rock n' Roll pioneer Chuck Berry died over the weekend. He was 90 years old.

Berry was one of the earliest architects of rock n'roll and defined the genre for a generation to follow. John Lennon said, “If you tried to give rock ’n’ roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’” Bob Dylan once called Berry "the Shakespeare of rock n' roll." His famous riff-based style influenced the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Ramones and more.

Life and Career

Born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Berry grew up listening to gospel, blues, R&B, and country. In the early 1950's he started playing guitar and pioneered the "Chuck Berry lick," a 2-string bending technique influenced by Texas guitarist, T-Bone Walker.

In 1955, Berry headed to Chicago and began working with Chess Records. The owner, Leonard Chess, saw potential in "Ida Red," a Berry song with 2/4 backbeat and a car chase narrative. He renamed it "Maybellene," and the rest is history.

"Maybellene" eventually reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart and was a No. 1 R&B hit, launching Chuck Berry into stardom.

Throughout the 1950's, he churned out hits that would inspire future songwriters like Lennon and Dylan. "Johnny B. Goode," a top-10 hit in 1958, would become Berry's signature song and an archetypal narrative for future rockstars. In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager I spacecraft, and included an album of music that would explain Earth's music to extraterrestrials. The one rock song included was "Johnny B. Goode."

Berry received a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1984 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He continued to perform well into the 1980's, including a 1995 appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum grand opening, backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

The New York Times published a wonderful article about Chuck Berry and his legacy. We think one quote sums it up quite well:

"While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.
His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment." Powered by Blogger.