Chuck Berry, the unfounded absolute legend and major crafter of much of the archetypical sounds and styles of the genesis of rock and roll, was found dead today in St. Charles, MO. He was 90.
Without question, the superlatives that have been foisted upon Berry ever since he exploded onto the scene in the early 1950s have never been placed incorrectly. It’s a simple equation: Without Chuck Berry, there wouldn’t be rock and roll, period. He made a blueprint (born from his love of players like T-Bone Walker and the like who came before him) that plays out like a true blue American songbook of the rock and roll idiom. Those songs are as well known as any other in any genre in any sound any human being has ever made, and the influence has stretched long and wide, influencing a chain link of titans of the rock genre who followed, like John Lennon, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, the list goes on and on endlessly.
No matter what the style someone plays, no matter how much reverb, or amped up, puffed up histrionics they manifest on their guitar, the soul and spirit of Chuck Berry pervades and hovers over, like an elder statesman and a lord of the highest honor. It’s a sort of right on the sleeve influence that boils right down the bar chords and technically simple, yet superbly memorable and influential chords that created songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Maybelline,” the later in his career but super successful “My Ding-A-Ling,” and the one-two punch of the etched in proverbial and endless stones of glory songs like “Roll Over Beethoven” and the anthemic “Rock and Roll Music.”
It was in all these songs, and the countless others that filled up countless albums, that delighted everyone from the casual fan to the absolute stalwart diehards that showcased the the St. Louis native’s ease and propensity for fusing old school R&B into a kind of more raucous sound that not only was aural but visual as well, replete with Berry’s famed and now iconic “duck walk” and flashy but not pretentious guitar solos and charismatic showmanship. But most importantly, Berry was at the forefront of creating a sort of racial harmony, albeit through music, which he himself had exclaimed that because of the explosion of the novelty of rock and roll at the time, that “cultures began to come together, and you began to see one another’s vein of life, and then the music came together.” All of these things remained elements that when put together, highlighted a man who until his dying day, was a living legend of the highest art, a musician of the highest order, true royalty which walked the earth among common men.
His death leaves a huge void, one tantamount to when Sinatra, Lennon, Hendrix, or Elvis had died. It pushes now into the endless ether a man and a legacy that will remain sky high and whose influence will never secede, never ebb, in any form, no matter what the current trends and sounds may be. Sounds and legacies like the one Chuck Berry manifested remain cyclical and will always eventually remind us of the man and the unbridled legend, a real true life one he was and will always be. Regardless of one’s memory of him, be it from hearing scratchy 45s that your parents or grandparents owned, seeing the multitude of well-deserved tributes of the man over the years during his final decades, or even by way of Marty McFly’s memorable rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future, it’s a loss of huge proportions.
John Lennon put it best when he was asked to sum up his feelings about Berry and his overall global influence when he said in his usual eloquent and direct style, that “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.” In a way, rock and roll has never really had another name, than the mighty Chuck Berry.