Date
24 July 2017
Chuck Berry, shown here performing at a concert on Canary Islands on March 28, 2008, was emulated by white performers who came to dominate popular music. Photo: Reuters
Chuck Berry, shown here performing at a concert on Canary Islands on March 28, 2008, was emulated by white performers who came to dominate popular music. Photo: Reuters

Music stars pay tribute to rock ‘n’ roll icon Chuck Berry

Music stars paid tribute to Chuck Berry, one of the most influential pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll who died on Saturday at his Missouri home after a seven-decade career. He was 90.

American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen tweeted: “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.” 

Berry “lit up our teenage years, and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers”, BBC News quoted Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones as saying.

Considered one of the founding fathers of the genre, Charles Edward Anderson Berry was present at its infancy in the 1950s and emerged as its first star guitarist and songwriter – a nearly 30-year-old black performer whose style electrified young white audiences and was emulated by white performers who came to dominate American popular music, Reuters said.

Although Elvis Presley was called the king of rock ‘n’ roll, that crown would have fit just as well on Berry’s own carefully sculpted pompadour, the news agency said.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr quoted one of Berry’s own lyrics on Twitter, saying: “Just let me hear some of that rock ‘n’ roll music any old way you use it.”

He said he was playing Berry’s 1961 song I’m Talking About You, which was recorded by The Beatles at the BBC in 1963.

Rocker Alice Cooper tweeted that Berry was “the genesis behind the great sound of rock ‘n’ roll”.

“All of us in rock have now lost our father,” he added.

Berry hits such as Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, Sweet Little Sixteen, Maybellene and Memphis melded elements of blues, rockabilly and jazz into some of the most timeless pop songs of the 20th century, Reuters said.

Among those who acknowledged Berry’s influence on their musical career are Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen.

Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan called Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll”.

Both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, as well as the Beach Boys and scores of other acts – even Elvis – covered Berry’s songs.

“If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name,” Lennon once said, “you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”

Berry’s death came five months after he announced plans to release his first album of new music in 38 years some time in 2017 – a collection of mostly original material recorded and produced by Berry, titled Chuck and dedicated to his wife of 68 years, Themetta “Toddy” Berry.

“My darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes,” Berry wrote in a statement for the occasion, coinciding with his 90th birthday.

Berry listed T-Bone Walker, Carl Hogan of Louis Jordan’s band and Charlie Christian from Benny Goodman’s band among his guitar influences, but his lyrical style was all his own.

Punchy wordplay and youth-oriented subject matter earned him the nickname “the eternal teenager” early in his career.

His legacy was tarnished, however, by his reputation as a prickly penny-pincher and various run-ins with the law, including sex-related offenses after he achieved stardom.

Berry came along at a time when much of the United States remained racially segregated, but it was hard for young audiences of any color to resist a performer who delivered such a powerful beat with so much energy and showmanship.

Berry said he performed his signature bent-knee, head-bobbing “duck walk” across more than 4,000 concert stages.

He said he invented the move as a child in order to make his mother laugh as he chased a ball under a table.

Some critics suggested it was his former pianist, Johnnie Johnson, who composed the tunes while Berry only penned the lyrics.

Johnson sued Berry in 2000 for song royalties, saying they were equal collaborators on many of the hits, but the case was dismissed on grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

Berry and Johnson collaborated for some 30 years on such rock anthems as School Days, Roll Over Beethoven, Back in the U.S.A., Reelin’ and Rockin’, Rock & Roll Music, No Particular Place to Go, Memphis and Sweet Little Sixteen.

However, Berry’s only No. 1 hit was My Ding-a-Ling, a throwaway novelty song that seemed to be a juvenile sex reference.

Berry was born Oct. 18, 1926, the third of six children whose father was a contractor and church deacon and whose mother was a schoolteacher.  

He received a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1984 and his 1986 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made him part of the inaugural class.

Illustrating his influence, a recording of Johnny B. Goode was included in a collection of music sent into space aboard the unmanned 1977 Voyager I probe to provide aliens a taste of Earth culture.

Watch Chuck Berry performing Johnny B. Goode on YouTube:

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CG

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