God Bless Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry died yesterday.  He was 90.

With accolades rolling in from world leaders and music icons, there is little more for me to add, except this: I think they are getting it wrong.

People speak of Chuck Berry as the seed from which Rock and Roll was born.  I see him differently, as a man who stood at the confluence of many great streams of American music and transformed them into a larger collective truth that represented the times and attitudes of his own era.  And unlike others who accomplished this before (and after) him, his "truth" united black and white music in a way that had never been done before, making its result more powerful and more lasting.

As music flowed north up the delta, it picked up more influences along the way.  Being from St. Louis, he was exposed to a broader range of music than those from places like New Orleans, Mississippi, or Memphis.

You can't have Chuck Berry without having T-Bone Walker first.  I urge you to go back and watch T-Bone's performances with his technique of bending two guitar strings and his magnificent showmanship.  These are core to Chuck Berry.

So is the music of Bob Wills and Big Joe Turner.

Another major influence on Chuck Berry were the Chicago blues of Chess Records and its legendary threesome of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Willie Dixon.  Chuck's greatest records were recorded at Chess.  When you listen to the opening measures of Maybellene, that muscular bass line is Willie Dixon.

The other thing I find myself taking exception to is the assertion that Chuck Berry was a 1950's artist.  I believe that he continued to evolve well past that time.  Consider his 1964 album St. Louis To Liverpool.  Undoubtably, the title serves as a reminder of his influence on The Beatles, but this record stands out as being a "complete work" as opposed to a "collection of singles and b-sides."  It is unlike any prior Rock & Roll record.  A truly great album.

Do yourself a favor and consume all the Chuck Berry you can.  You will be richer for it.

God Bless Chuck Berry.

Click Here to watch Chuck Berry perform Maybellene live in 1958.

Click Here to listen to the album St. Louis To Liverpool.

Click Here to read my October 2016 reaction to an announcement that a new Chuck Berry record will be released in 2016.

Comments