March, 2017 Issue

In This Issue

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The legendary Chuck Berry has died. The 90 year old rock and roller, singer, songwriter, and guitarist, defined rock and roll with songs like "Johnny B Goode," "Rock 'n' Roll Music," "Maybelline," "Roll Over Beethoven," and dozens of more classics.

According to "The New York Times":


The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said it responded to a medical emergency at a home and he was declared dead after lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.

In 1986, Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards. At the time, Richards said I lifted every lick he ever played." It wasn't only Richards who studied from the master Berry, but almost everyone who ever played guitar in a band knows at least one of Berry's classic songs.

Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (October 18, 1926 - March 18, 2017) was an American guitarist, singer and songwriter and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive. Writing lyrics that focused on teen life and consumerism, and developing a music style that included guitar solos and showmanship, Berry was a major influence on subsequent rock music.

Born into a middle-class African-American family in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry had an interest in music from an early age and gave his first public performance at Sumner High School. While still a high school student he was convicted of armed robbery and was sent to a reformatory, where he was held from 1944 to 1947. After his release, Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant. By early 1953, influenced by the guitar riffs and showmanship techniques of the blues musician T-Bone Walker, Berry began performing with the Johnnie Johnson Trio. His break came when he traveled to Chicago in May 1955 and met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess, of Chess Records. With Chess, he recorded "Maybellene" Berry's adaptation of the country song "Ida Red" - which sold over a million copies, reaching number one on Billboard magazine's rhythm and blues chart. By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star, with several hit records and film appearances and a lucrative touring career. He had also established his own St. Louis nightclub, Berry's Club Bandstand. But in January 1962, he was sentenced to three years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act: he had transported a 14-year-old girl across state lines. After his release in 1963, Berry had several more hits, including "No Particular Place to Go", "You Never Can Tell", and "Nadine". But these did not achieve the same success, or lasting impact, of his 1950s songs, and by the 1970s he was more in demand as a nostalgic performer, playing his past hits with local backup bands of variable quality. His insistence on being paid in cash led in 1979 to a four-month jail sentence and community service, for tax evasion.

Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986; he was cited for having "laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance."Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine's "greatest of all time" lists; he was ranked fifth on its 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll includes three of Berry's: "Johnny B. Goode", "Maybellene", and "Rock and Roll Music". Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is the only rock-and-roll song included on the Voyager Golden Record.

Chuck Berry had early exposure to music at school and church. He began producing hits in the 1950s, including 1958's "Johnny B. Goode," and had his first No. 1 hit in 1972 with "My Ding-a-Ling." With his clever lyrics and distinctive sounds, Berry became one of the most influential figures in the history of rock music. Legenadary performers of his time will tell you that he was most famous for his "duck walk" which he performed while singing and playing guitar on stage.

Many campus music lovers probably will not remember just how influential Chuck Berry was and he got the thumbs up from the younger generation when he recorded the somewhat suggestive song, "My Ding-A-Ling" a song which reach gold status for Berry.

Think of just how many times "Johnny B. Goode" has been performed along with "Maybellene." Almost any modern Rock 'n Roller will give Berry credit for opening up the market for many to follow. He was at the height of his career, when "white" kids were falling in love with his distinctive sound and probably a forerunnner to the American Rock playlists that would follow from a myriad of black performers playing to mostly white audiences in the 1960's and early 70's.

" I personally grew up listening to kids play Chuck Berry songs on the jukebox in school hangouts including drive -ins, clubs and school parties. Certainly his popularity could have easily been noted during the time of "American Graffiti".

He lived a long life but certainly, he will be missed.

W.C. Kirby