Rock n Roll is about rebellion.
There is a famous quote by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.
“If you are going to kick authority in the teeth, you may as well use two feet …”
The modern day ‘bad boy of Rock n Roll ain’t got nothing on Chuck Berry.
Most ‘rebellious’ musicians gain notoriety and then get arrested. In Berry’s case, he was an ex con long before the hits came. For most – jail time means a black mark. For Chuck Berry, time behind bars the origins of insights which would make him the greatest songwriter in Rock n Roll history.
The structure, the chords, the melodic phrasing – the lyrics.
Never before (or since) have those elements been assembled with a combination of reality and dreams. Somehow – Berry managed to instill hope into generations of youth with ‘no particular place to go’.
Elvis Presley carried the African American Country, Gospel, Soul and R&B into kids who at that time – more akin to Perry Como than Big Mama Thornton. Elvis put the rhythm into white folks as did Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bill Haley and Jerry Lee Lewis. They all put the Rock into a generation but that music was missing it’s bride.
Abbott had Costello, Laurel had Hardy, Samson had Delilah and Burt Bacharach had Hal David. Rock music was at the prom alone. As solitary and lonely as Burns without Allen.
Suddenly, as quick as Elvis’ pelvis – along came the Roll. Along came Chuck Berry. Along came Rock n Roll …
With a suitcase filled with Big Band and Country influences, Chuck Berry arrived with Swing. A bounce in his guitar that brought music to a level which combined rhythm with energy. Twang with Bass. Two strings in lieu of one. Banjo strings in lieu of guitar strings. Attitude in words rather than actions. Actions and glances rather than talk.
Chuck Berry walked the ‘duck walk’ and talked the talk. Chuck Berry created the Rock n Roll attitude. Chuck Berry used his entire body to kick authority in the teeth. He used his lyrics to write about it and his guitar was the weapon to make sure authority stayed down for the count. Poetically.
Better guitar players exist. Berry was not the greatest player by far. Just as The Wright Brothers were not the best pilots. The caveman who invented the wheel was not the best driver. Without all the above – the world would not be the same. The world would be in Black and White.
Lennon and McCartney’s whimsy, Jagger and Richards’ menace, Hendrix’ skill and Joe Bonamassa’s strut on stage – all spawn from Chuck Berry. Imagining a world of Rock n Roll (music) without Berry’s influence is a world without soul. An orb floating through space while casting a cold shadow. A dull car filled with rust. Coffee without sugar.
People who do not listen to music know the name Chuck Berry. They have heard the name through his songs, The Beatles’ songs, The Stones’ songs, Pearl Jam’s songs, U2 songs and every note that has flew through the air in the past fifty years.
Aliens have heard or will hear Johnny B. Goode in space as that song was the only Rock n Roll tune to make the voyage into other worlds. David Bowie is listening to it today in his ‘tin can’ as we mourn the death of a pioneer. A rebel. A man of so many lows and a man of electrifying highs.
A man who was the true King of Rock and Roll.
Charles Edward ‘Chuck ‘ Anderson Berry
1926 – 2017
Please listen below to Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Chuck himself talk about Chuck. Hear some classic Berry tunes too !
Thanks for Listening !