“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry”
Remembering the Legendary Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18th, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri. Berry is regarded as one of Rock’s founding fathers, he had a major role in bringing Rock music to the masses during the 1950’s. Between 1955 and 1959 he had a string of hits that became absolute rock classics including “Maybellene”, “Rock and Roll Music”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and his signature song “Johnny B. Goode”, songs that during a period of heavy racial segregation in the United States, awoke the deepest conservatives in the country. Like other fellow Rockers at the time, such as Little Richard, labels would have white singers doing their songs in order to reach a wider audience, however, Berry’s fame had already became too big, on his early TV performances he created his signature move “The Duck Walk” which consisted in assuming a low partial squatting position and walking forwards, maintaining the low stance while playing the guitar. By the late 1950’s Rock N’ Roll was everywhere and already had crossed borders, however, in the U.S, there were some forces still trying to shut down what was considered the “provocative” and “outrageous” music style brought up by African-Americans. Similar to a witch hunt, several Rock musicians and singers started to see their careers going down due to personal scandals, or simply drafted to the army such as Elvis Presley. With Berry, was a personal scandal that sent him away to prison for one and a half year in 1962. Berry was sentenced to three years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act due to transporting and having sex with a 14-year-old girl across state lines, he was released from prison in 1963 but that scandal took a toll on his career. As we all know, Rock music was never shut down and only grew stronger during the 1960’s, and Berry quickly regained his audience and made new fans, he noticed that a whole new generation of Rockers were highly influenced by his music, among them, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who recorded several songs of Berry during their early albums. But by the 1970’s, like many of the 1950’s Rockers, 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. During the 1980’s Berry was still a very active performer, and in fact, he did performed in public until 2014 and did his last tour in 2011, which included Europe. Chuck Berry was inducted by one of his biggest fans, Keith Richards, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986 together with most of Rock’s founding fathers, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Little Richard, he was cited for having “laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance. Chuck died earlier this year at age 90 on March 18th, still active, and still performing. He finished a new album in 2016, “Chuck”, that was released posthumously in June 2017.
Chuck Berry’s legacy for Rock music and pop culture is immense, he is one of the first real Rock icons, an enduring influence on several generations of Rockers and with timeless music that has been traveling around the globe since the 1950’s. Bob Dylan called Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll”, John Lennon said, “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” Today Chuck would have turned 97.
Watch Chuck Berry performing “Johnny B. Goode” on TV in 1958
Listen to some of Chuck Berry’s best songs compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify
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