Roll over Beethoven, make room for Johnny B. Goode
March 18, 2017 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Only a few months after releasing a new album at age 90, rock legend Chuck Berry has passed away. He was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll (149 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
• I know he was old and lived his life blah blah blah... but the world is a poorer, sadder place without him.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:41 PM on March 18 [11 favorites]


I don't think the album is out yet.
posted by waitingtoderail at 3:41 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


🎶

Chuck Berry had a monumental effect, both by way of his own music as well as through his influence on other musicians. He will be missed, but I am grateful to have his music to listen to and remember him. RIP.
posted by Silverstone at 3:45 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Long live Rock 'n' Roll
posted by wabbittwax at 3:46 PM on March 18 [8 favorites]


I hope they finished tracking his parts and can release the record.

This moment puts me in mind of a well-known Johhny Cash quote. An interviewer asked him about how he felt his trademark boom-chicka rhythm guitar style compares to other guitar players, and Cash said "They're still looking; I found it". And so with Berry: he did, for the most part, one thing, and he did the hell out of it.

.
posted by thelonius at 3:46 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]




.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:48 PM on March 18


.
posted by 4ster at 3:48 PM on March 18


.
posted by drnick at 3:51 PM on March 18


I will always regret not just sucking it up and buying a ticket to see him play when I was back in St. Louis for grad school. I understand it was a hell of a show.

.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:53 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


.
posted by askmehow at 3:55 PM on March 18


So long, Chuck.

.
posted by bondcliff at 3:58 PM on March 18


.
posted by shockingbluamp at 3:58 PM on March 18


.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 3:59 PM on March 18


The nation's ding-a-ling is at half mast.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:00 PM on March 18 [15 favorites]


I saw Chuck Berry in St Louis! It was weird as hell, finding out he still did once-a-month shows at Blueberry Hill; people would casually mention it like it was just a fun little quirk of the city, like if everyone in Fargo was like, "oh yeah, Jesus lives here, he does a Last Supper from time to time... i guess i should get around to seeing that sometime?"

Anyway, he was apparently like super jetlagged and sick at the show I saw; he like wandered around the stage, fucking up a bunch of songs, while his kids (his daughter sang, his son also played a hell of a guitar) tried to keep him on track. I hope when I'm eighty-eight years old, I can annoy my kids half that much.
posted by Greg Nog at 4:00 PM on March 18 [24 favorites]


The obit doesn't say, is he survived by his cousin Marvin?

.
posted by Aznable at 4:01 PM on March 18 [31 favorites]


My wife and I got comped tickets to a Chuck Berry concert in the late 1990's courtesy of a gulf coast casino. It was a small thing, about 300 guests in a ballroom rather than an auditorium. We weren't quite sure what to expect but we were blown away when he started performing; he had the energy and stage presence of a man 40 years his junior. Most of the audience was older than us and he had old ladies and their gents stepping up and dancing in the aisle. It does not come through on the TV or radio what a radiant man he was, how much he loved performing and loved life and in the moment loved his audience.

That band in Rock'n Roll Heaven just got a hell of a new performer.

.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:02 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]


.
posted by PussKillian at 4:03 PM on March 18


He had a lot of great songs, but Johnny B. Good *is* rock and roll...the perfect Platonic archetype of rock and roll. So I'm sure there are fascinating, learned discussions about who really invented rock and roll, but we all know that Chuck Berry was patient zero for this magnificent fever.
posted by uosuaq at 4:04 PM on March 18 [20 favorites]


.
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:06 PM on March 18


Chuck Berry is rock 'n' roll

.
posted by thecaddy at 4:07 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


A true legend.

.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 4:12 PM on March 18


.
posted by threetwentytwo at 4:14 PM on March 18


"If you tried to give rock'n'roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'" --John Lennon

Goodbye, Chuck. And thank you. So much.

.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:18 PM on March 18 [13 favorites]


.
posted by droplet at 4:18 PM on March 18


.
posted by young_simba at 4:18 PM on March 18


When the Stones toured in 1969 they had various opening acts. The show I saw in Chicago had Chuck as their opener. When I found this out I was actually dismayed. "Oh no, who wants to see this dinosaur when it's the Stones, man, The Stones!" Well, Mr. Berry was astonishingly amazing. With a pickup band of kids provided by the local musician's union backing him he owned the house. The Stones were dreadful, out of tune, bad timing, etc. by comparison, but even before they took the stage I don't think that there was a person in that audience that night who would not have gladly had Mr. Berry just play the whole night.
posted by Chitownfats at 4:18 PM on March 18 [36 favorites]


They don't get much bigger or iconic than Chuck Berry.

.
posted by dbiedny at 4:23 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


And the heavens said "SEND MORE CHUCK BERRY."
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:27 PM on March 18 [16 favorites]


🎸
posted by TedW at 4:29 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Sorry heavens, I'm pretty sure we only made one of him.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:29 PM on March 18


Johnny B. Good *is* rock and roll...the perfect Platonic archetype of rock and roll.

I'mma let you finish, but "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" is the most rock and roll song of all time.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:30 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


He has a song on a gold record on Voyager or something, right? It's still out there. RIP Chuck.
posted by fixedgear at 4:33 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


.
posted by dannyboybell at 4:35 PM on March 18


Damn, this one is big. There aren't too many artists who can make the claim to have defined a genre and who have influenced basically every single performer in that genre for the last sixty years. He's like one of those platinum bars that they used to use to define what a metre was, everything else is measured against him.

Is there a better collection of rock'n'roll songs than The Great Twenty Eight? I don't think so.
posted by octothorpe at 4:37 PM on March 18 [10 favorites]


.
posted by foodbedgospel at 4:37 PM on March 18


.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:38 PM on March 18


fixedgear, you are correct.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:39 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Pretty cool he made it to 90, still performing, doing it his way and without becoming a caricature of himself or lazily cashing in on his image. And married for 68 years! There won't be another like him.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 4:42 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


.
posted by comealongpole at 4:44 PM on March 18


.
posted by condour75 at 4:45 PM on March 18


With a pickup band of kids

This is what he did when he toured. His engagement contracts always required the promoter to provide the backing band. Can you imagine any other major performer who could show up at any venue in America (or probably around the world) and pick up a band that would know his or her entire repertoire? And put on a first-class show with no rehearsals? Amazing.

.
posted by ogooglebar at 4:45 PM on March 18 [12 favorites]


Little Queenie is the best! Meanwhile I'm still thinkin'
posted by readery at 4:45 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Can you imagine any other major performer who could show up at any venue in America (or probably around the world) and pick up a band that would know his or her entire repertoire?

Sure. Bo Diddelly, for example, did the same thing. When I saw Albert King, I'm pretty sure it was that kind of deal too.
posted by thelonius at 4:47 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


How sad am I that I didn't even know he was still alive. I loved listening to him and the Beatles when I was growing up but I drifted off into other music. May he duck walk into heaven.

.
posted by jabo at 4:47 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I'm afraid for this year. I'm 70. All my favorites are my age or older. Hopefully it won't be as bad as last year. You'll be missed.

.
posted by jgaiser at 4:48 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]


Goddamn it.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:49 PM on March 18


.

The list of musical performers with this amount of influence is extremely short.

Having said that, it is interesting which celebs Metafilter deems forgivable, Berry illegally videotaped women going to the bathroom in his restaurant, including minors, and kept a collection of these tapes in his home.
posted by Cosine at 4:50 PM on March 18 [24 favorites]


The first song The Beatles played in concert in the U.S. — Roll Over Beethoven. And despite the deafening screams and some mic problems, they nailed it. They made no deal about this, because they had been covering the song for years, but it was still a tribute to Berry that they opened with this song. They knew whose shoulders they were standing on.

(Also worth watching for some fantastic, ferocious work by Ringo on the skins.)
posted by young_simba at 4:50 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]


.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 4:50 PM on March 18


.
posted by Fizz at 4:51 PM on March 18


Having said that, it is interesting which celebs Metafilter deems forgivable

*burns all his rock and roll records and listens to ray coniff and mike curb for the rest of his days*
posted by pyramid termite at 4:52 PM on March 18 [10 favorites]


Berry illegally videotaped women going to the bathroom in his restaurant, including minors, and kept a collection of these tapes in his home.

I'm willing to say that was extremely fucked up and bad, yes
posted by Greg Nog at 4:53 PM on March 18 [17 favorites]


"C'est la vie", say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell
posted by pyramid termite at 4:55 PM on March 18 [13 favorites]


.
posted by key_of_z at 4:56 PM on March 18


Let it Rock
posted by stevil at 4:58 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 5:07 PM on March 18


.

The Vulture link posted by 1970s Antihero above is very good! Also, his touring M.O.--driving up solo, with his axe, relying on unrehearsed locals and picking up local women when he felt like it (presumably a little less at age 90)--was pretty rad. Not a nice guy, but there have been plenty of not-nice artists/musicians to fill the list of superstars over the years. He was one of them. Nice not-really-knowing you, Chuck!
posted by kozad at 5:08 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Chuck was really a great American poet and storyteller. His best writing is so strong, well-constructed and colorful.
Havana Moon
posted by Jode at 5:10 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Beethoven had nothing on him. I've been playing rock and roll guitar for 45 years and to anyone who knows Chuck Berry was the Alpha and Omega. Jimi and Stevie would have agreed.

.
posted by spitbull at 5:11 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


He spent a good chunk of his 90 years locked up for armed robbery, a Mann Act offense, and tax evasion.

But he also wrote and played some great rock and roll. The Beatles and the Stones and pretty much everyone else playing rock in the 1960s loved and built on his stuff.

You could try to weigh that shit on either side of the scales of justice, but zombie Chuck Berry would probably just sneak his thumb (or some other appendage) on to the music side while you weren't looking.
posted by pracowity at 5:16 PM on March 18 [8 favorites]


I think there is no other person more responsible for inventing the vocabulary of rock and roll, and pretty much all pop music since. Truly one of the greats of the 20th century.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:18 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Chuck Berry was who I was watching when I learned that black people created Rock and Roll. Like so many lies I was taught growing up, even when you learn the truth, it's still matrix-like to believe. I watched the footage, saw the man, saw other black performers, and I realized this is one of the bigger music lies that got taught to kids.

.
posted by cashman at 5:20 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


He spent a good chunk of his 90 years locked up for armed robbery

He spent 20 months behind bars for that. He lived to 90 years, or as it would be counted in Genesis 1,080 months, which is incidentally longer than Methuselah lived. So 20/1080 = 1.8 percent, is "a good chunk" nowadays?
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:23 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


He could play a guitar just like a ringin' a bell.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:30 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


He needed the gig to be that way, too many promoters would fail to pay up so he put the band and the hall and everything on THEM. He then rolled up, took his fee IN CASH in advance and told the band to follow him and away he went.

Saw him in 1970, so long ago.
posted by Freedomboy at 5:31 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]


.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 PM on March 18


So 20/1080 = 0.18 percent, is "a good chunk" nowadays?

The way I read it, he spent three years in reformatory for a string of armed robberies, a year and eight months for sex both interstate and underage, and another four months for tax evasion. That's five years, which sounds like a good chunk of anyone's life.
posted by pracowity at 5:41 PM on March 18




.
posted by wiskunde at 5:46 PM on March 18


.

Guess he can let go of the grudge he had on that safetybelt.
posted by Catblack at 5:48 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I've been playing rock and roll guitar for 45 years and to anyone who knows Chuck Berry was the Alpha and Omega

Well, that kind of gives short shrift to the people, like T-Bone Walker, who Berry took his style from.
posted by thelonius at 5:50 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Then there was the time he got banned in Boston (along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Alan Freed and rock concerts in general).
posted by adamg at 5:52 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


No offense to Cliff Richard, but if there ever was a Total And Utter King Of Rock & Roll, it was this guy.

.
posted by farlukar at 5:56 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]



posted by bz at 5:57 PM on March 18


I remember reading that he never traveled with a band because he new that any rock and roll musician worth his salt lnew how to play his songs and could be had cheap.

Music, America and the world is feeling a huge loss. this is up there with losing Elvis. RIP, Chuck.
posted by jonmc at 5:59 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Interesting to read that account adamg. I first heard Berry by way of the Electric Light Orchestra, and I was marveling at how sedate the crowd was. To hear that the Boston concert-goers weren't allowed to dance is kind of mind-blowing.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:05 PM on March 18


To my mind, the ur-'car song' is No Particular Place to Go, so The Beach Boys are among the performers deeply in his debt. No Chuck Berry, no Good Vibrations, no God Only Knows, no Pet Sounds.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:15 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Well, that kind of gives short shrift to the people, like T-Bone Walker, who Berry took his style from.

All due respect to T-Bone, whom I love, but "took his style from" is an overstatement. It's all a long chain and at some point we owe it all to a Kora player in Mali (etc.) but were it not a derail in this context I'd be happy to debate the technical ways Berry innovated the instrument beyond Walker and created not just a vocabulary of licks but a specific musical persona that all subsequent rock guitarists drew on.

So ok a bit of hyperbole perhaps to call Berry "Alpha and Omega" when one could say Robert Johnson and Prince could occupy those polarities too. Seemed appropriate to the occasion. But let's call it even at sine qua non.
posted by spitbull at 6:15 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


We've lost one of our innovative giants. His ripples continue to reflect across our pond.

.
posted by hippybear at 6:22 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Chuck! Chuck, it's Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you're looking for? Well, listen to this:

Berry illegally videotaped women going to the bathroom in his restaurant, including minors, and kept a collection of these tapes in his home.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:23 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I only saw him live once. Moody Coliseum in Fort Worth. He was the warm-up for the 1969 Stones tour. The Stones were late and he did over an hour covering. White shoes. White slacks. Tangerine shirt. Red Gibson...

.
posted by jim in austin at 6:47 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


waitingtoderail: "I don't think the album is out yet."

Wikipedia says it's still pending.

Also, while we're on the subject of Chuck Berry's massive influence and covers of him, you might like to remember that time when Bruce Springsteen and his band started arranging a cover of "You never can tell" on the spot.

.
posted by andycyca at 6:49 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


I said, Elvis Presley ain't got no soul (huh)
Chuck Berry is rock and roll (damn right)
You may dig on the Rolling Stones
But they ain't come up with that style on they own (uh-uh)


- Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) 'Rock N Roll'
posted by Pink Frost at 6:59 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Berry illegally videotaped women going to the bathroom in his restaurant, including minors, and kept a collection of these tapes in his home.

Bob Crane high-fives Chuck on his way to the Rock'n Roll Heaven stage.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:02 PM on March 18


.
posted by filtergik at 7:05 PM on March 18


Chuck Berry is singularly great to the point where it isn't necessary to take potshots at his peers to prove anything. His music does the talking.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:08 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


FWIW, Chuck expected (rightfully) his place in the pantheon, but he was pretty dismissive of the idea he'd created anything out of thin air. He spoke on a number of occasions about who his influences were, which included blues​ and R&B greats you might expect, but also Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. By weird chance, I was listening to them right as I got the news about Chuck. Going right from that to The Great Twenty-Eight, it was really neat to hear the kind of gliding, propulsive riffing they did get fitted with an R&B backbone and become something so fresh all over again.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:14 PM on March 18 [8 favorites]




I bought a brand-new Air-mobile
Custom-made, 'twas a Flight De Ville
With a powerful motor and some hideaway wings
Push in on the button and you will hear her swing

You can't catch me, baby you can't catch me
'Cause if you get too close, you know I'm gone like a c-oo-ool breeze

New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours
I was rollin' slowly 'cause of drizzlin' showers
Here come a flat-top, he was movin' up with me
Then come wavin' good-bye in a little' old souped-up jitney
I put my foot in my tank and I began to roll
Moanin' siren, 'twas the state po-trol
So I let out my wings and then I blew my horn
Bye bye New Jersey, I' become airborne

Now you can't catch me, baby you can't catch me
'Cause if you get too close, you know I'm gone like a c-oo-ool breeze

Flyin' with my baby last Saturday night
Wudden a gray cloud floatin' in sight
Big full moon shinin' up above
Cuddle up honey, be my love
Sweetest little thing I've ever seen
I'm gonna name you Maybellene

Flyin' on the beam, set on flight control
Radio tuned to rock 'n' roll
Two -- three hours passed us by
Altitude dropped to 505
Fuel consumption way too fast
Let's get on home before we run out of gas

Now you can't catch me, no baby you can't catch me
'Cause if you get too close, you know I'm gone like a c-oo-oo-ool bree-ee-eeze . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 7:19 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:44 PM on March 18


Neil Young was wrong.
posted by TDIpod at 7:46 PM on March 18


A letter from Carl Sagan.
posted by bondcliff at 7:50 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


What a fantastic lyricist he was.

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin' toward a coffee-colored Cadillac
I was pushin' through the crowd to get to where she's at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat

Nadine, honey is that you?

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:50 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


.
posted by angelchrys at 7:56 PM on March 18


.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:59 PM on March 18


All my favorites are my age or older.

Same here... Next time the Stones are on tour and come anywhere close I am buying a ticket no matter now much it costs. I've put off seeing them for years because of the expense, but there comes a time...

Hopefully it won't be as bad as last year.

I kind of figure that 2017 knows we've got Trump, and so is dialling back on the celebrity deaths a little.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 8:01 PM on March 18


so The Beach Boys are among the performers deeply in his debt. No Chuck Berry, no Good Vibrations, no God Only Knows, no Pet Sounds.

Which Star Trek series was that episode from?
posted by juiceCake at 8:06 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


.
posted by DaddyNewt at 8:32 PM on March 18


.
posted by Ber at 9:16 PM on March 18


.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:46 PM on March 18


Ah, you sweet man. RIP and thanks for the memories.
posted by lometogo at 10:07 PM on March 18


Having said that, it is interesting which celebs Metafilter deems forgivable, Berry illegally videotaped women going to the bathroom in his restaurant, including minors, and kept a collection of these tapes in his home.

I thought I must have been mistaken about that element of Chuck Berry's history because it was the first thing I learned about him as a child and no one was even mentioning it.

.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:39 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


.
posted by mikelieman at 10:50 PM on March 18


.
posted by lapolla at 11:31 PM on March 18


I'm just gonna go and play with my ding-a-ling.

:(
posted by mazola at 12:28 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I first heard Berry by way of the Electric Light Orchestra yt , and I was marveling at how sedate the crowd was.

I'd heard him before ELO, but it was their take on Roll Over Beethoven that first really grabbed me, particularly as performed live ... * which I was lucky enough to experience twice. Roll over indeed.

* seriously, that is one mad and scorching version
posted by philip-random at 12:36 AM on March 19


“I am so sad to hear of Chuck Berry’s passing. I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us. He lit up our teenage years, and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers. His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck you were amazing & your music is engraved inside us forever.”

You and me both, Mick.

.
posted by Mister Bijou at 12:37 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


.
posted by infini at 12:41 AM on March 19


.
posted by riverlife at 12:45 AM on March 19


Thelonius: You're thinking of Luther Perkins, Cash's guitarist in The Tennessee Three.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:00 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:30 AM on March 19


I feel like anything I'd have say about Chuck Berry, his importance to rock 'n roll, or the greatness of his songwriting has probably already been said, so let me share this instead.

As it happens, I know one of the musicians who played in Chuck Berry's St. Louis backup band at Blueberry Hill for more than 15 years. While Berry did do a single on tour for many years, working with pick-up bands in the various cities he visited, the St. Louis group traveled with him sometimes in the late stages of his career. I've heard stories from my acquaintance of his trips with Berry for gigs in NYC, London, Germany, and Brazil, for which the band members got paid good money plus expenses.

Some other tidbits: The stories about Berry demanding payment for gigs in cash, up front, in a brown paper bag, are totally true (although alternative containers - manila envelopes, for example - may have been accepted from time to time).

Berry had been in failing health for several years even before giving up his monthly shows at Blueberry Hill, and for his last couple of years of performing needed increasing amounts of help from his daughter and son.

Nevertheless, there was still some hope up until about six months ago that he might be able to go on stage one more time for an official farewell show, which of course never happened and now never will.

When I saw my acquaintance most recently a couple of weeks ago, I asked specifically about the album, and he told me that it was supposed to be done and set for release in June, though I suppose that could change now.

From what he's told me about Berry as a boss, it sounds like he was a mixed bag - sometimes difficult and cranky, but also (before his health started to go) a very smart performer and businessman, who had a sense of humor and made sure his band was well-paid, fed & housed.

As a musician, my acquaintance felt privileged to play with Berry, and while things did get a little awkward occasionally as he got forgetful onstage in the last years of his performing career, those episodes did not fundamentally alter what was otherwise a life-changing experience.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 3:02 AM on March 19 [11 favorites]


Here's Berry's obit from his hometown daily newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and a story from the city's largest African-American weekly, the St. Louis American, that features comments from Berry's friend and last manager Joe Edwards, proprietor of Blueberry Hill and various other St. Louis establishments.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 3:07 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


.

His most well known song helped inspire me to start trying to make money from songs and music when I was fifteen, so this loss means something personal to me, even though it's not a big surprise to see him passing on.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:31 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


No one ever created anything "out of thin air." That's a straw man authenticity argument. Geniuses come along in the long histories of instruments and genres and cultures and peoples and traditions and styles and synthesize and innovate with the whole breadth of that prior art as their foundation.

It is petty to debate Berry's significance in terms of whether any particular accomplishment at the technical level of his art was "original" or "unique" to him. It was his synthesis of blues and R&B (which was not distinct from jazz or blues either) and country and for that matter ring shouts and field hollers and talking drums into a holistic persona that enjoyed mass success at a critical historical moment of confluence (including aspects as diverse as the electric guitar, the Civil Rights Movement, and the rise of youth consumerism) and thus had the kind of influence many other geniuses did not achieve. We can't go back and readjudicate the charts from 1951, or choose a canon different from the one that actually emerged in those years. We can tell more complex stories and humble the Great Man theorists a bit and point out that many great influential innovators never saw themselves that way (Pathetic Fallacy ftw!) because they were obsessive technicians and not historians of the future. Berry practically made his celebrity schtick a denial of intentional effort to do anything more than make a buck. (See his R&R hall of fame induction.)

As a 50-something electric guitarist who has been hacking away at the vocabulary Berry synthesized since I was 9 years old, and as a scholar of American popular music, my intuitions combine to support the narrative that Berry deserves the status he is being accorded by most today far more than Elvis ever did. For guitarists specifically, and I speak as someone *steeped* in the river of African-descended vernacular guitar playing as a now globally dominant musical language, I don't care that Chuck Berry demurred when credited with inventing anything. He invented Chuck Berry. Without him, rock and roll would have been very different over the next 60 years. And not nearly as compelling as an extension of the trickster spirit that defiantly survived slavery to take over the world.
posted by spitbull at 6:38 AM on March 19 [13 favorites]


.
posted by detachd at 7:05 AM on March 19


The two pieces you linked are fantastic, Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner. Thanks.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:28 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


May Little Richard turn out to be the immortal one.
posted by hawthorne at 7:30 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I follow the writer Roddy Doyle on Facebook. A lot of times, when he makes a post giving his opinion on something - usually it's commenting on a news piece - it takes the form of a converation between a pair of middle-aged Dublin blokes sharing a pint and discussing it (I think they have been so popular that some are being gathered into a book). Here's what the lads are sayin' about Chuck Berry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:57 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Every guitarist plays his licks and always will.
posted by tommasz at 8:04 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]




Of course the irony is that he won't be around to enjoy any royalties from his last album, which will probably sell pretty well. Not that there's that much money in "record sales" anymore but still... most of the greats enjoy their best sales as soon as they die!
posted by keys at 9:28 AM on March 19


.
posted by evilDoug at 10:20 AM on March 19




.
posted by marxchivist at 11:38 AM on March 19


.
posted by Splunge at 12:43 PM on March 19


.
posted by eclectist at 12:57 PM on March 19


All due respect to T-Bone, whom I love, but "took his style from" is an overstatement.

you are right, it is very much so. But I do think he was an influence.
posted by thelonius at 1:10 PM on March 19


His sex tape is pretty grim.

Cracking tunes though.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 1:11 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


I do think he was an influence
There is no doubt of that. The other figure of note -- and much less well known or credited -- was the brilliant Carl Hogan, Louis Jordan's guitarist. Berry absolutely lifted a few Hogan leads note for note.
posted by spitbull at 1:13 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Can we get a wellness check on Little Richard?
posted by Ber at 1:14 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Carl Hogan, with Louis Jordan -- "Ain't that just like a woman?"

Johnny B. First. Guitar lead starts at 2:17.
posted by spitbull at 1:17 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


And where credit is due: T-Bone Walker, "Strolling with the bones." Check out guitar ride starting 1:34 and at about 2:10 for the syncopated octave jump Berry made a signature sound.
posted by spitbull at 1:21 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


The thing I notice about Hogan and Walker is that both played with more finesse than Berry, on wider-bodied guitars with cleaner tones and much more rhythmic drag. Berry took their licks and dirtied them up. and also integrated them into songs with more narrative form (derived from country music as much as anything) such that there was a seamless interplay between vocal and guitar and physicality in his performances. He didn't have the straight up chops of a Hogan or Walker, no way. But he had a more driving and aggressive tone and rhythmic concept.
posted by spitbull at 1:23 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


Ave! Ave! Petram et Volumen!

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescat in pace.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:00 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]




.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:06 PM on March 19






It isn't just the riffs, I think, but the double-stops that make his sound, which is nothing short of brilliant. Also, not to take away from his musicality, but his physical gifts; his hands (like Jimi Hendrix's, another player with remarkable double-stop facility) were YUUUGGE! Fingers of a size and length to make Paganini probably want to renegotiate his putative deal with the devil.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:26 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


the double-stops

making heavy use of the difference between the fourth you get from the B and E strings, and the major third from the G and B strings
posted by thelonius at 3:34 AM on March 20


Great story from Bill Graham's memoir about Chuck Berry:
By now, he was strapping on his case to leave.

‘They want you, Chuck,’ I told him. ‘You can’t leave. They love you.’

He leaned over to me. ‘They love me?’ he said. ‘They want me? I’m going out there.’ He opened up the case. ‘I’m comin’,’ he said. ‘I’m here. And I love you.’

He went back to the microphone, and said, ‘Yeah, you love me, you want me, yeah, and one, two, one, two, three.’

What he was really saying to me was ‘They want me, they love me, but you’re not paying me enough money. Why aren’t you paying me more money? Next time, you’re gonna pay me more, right?’

And I was saying: ‘Right.’
Chuck Berry was the author not only of rock'n'roll, but rock'n'roll attitude. Think of all the rock stars since him (who owe their careers to him) who have copped the same tude. Prince is the first one who comes to my own mind, but you can fill in the blanks with whomever you choose who was a bona fide star or even a minor flash-in-the-pan music celebrity in the past 60 years.
posted by blucevalo at 7:20 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I love how his songs were not only great songs but spoke to the life experiences of people before and during the civil rights movement. "You can't catch me" was written in 1956 and is about how he can fly away from any other car. He also did the amazing and meloncholy "Memphis" which has similar themes. Fantastic music and an amazing artist.

Long distance information, give me Memphis Tennessee
Help me find the party trying to get in touch with me
She could not leave her number, but I know who placed the call
'Cause my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall

Help me, information, get in touch with my Marie
She's the only one who'd phone me here from Memphis Tennessee
Her home is on the south side, high up on a ridge
Just a half a mile from the Mississippi Bridge

Help me, information, more than that I cannot add
Only that I miss her and all the fun we had
But we were pulled apart because her mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis Tennessee

Last time I saw Marie she's waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee
posted by caphector at 3:08 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Was Chuck Berry the first pop singer-songwriter?
posted by Jode at 4:49 PM on March 20



posted by Gelatin at 2:26 AM on March 21


Chuck Berry was the author not only of rock'n'roll, but rock'n'roll attitude

The stories you'll hear about Berry or other old-timer giants of rock n' roll doing things like refusing to play until given a briefcase stuffed with cash are rooted in their knowledge and experience of promoters robbing artists blind.
posted by thelonius at 2:49 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


The bit of Hail, Hail Johnny Wallflower linked to is hilarious (as is much of the film) and is the greatest troll in music since Syd Barrett played a different version every time of "Have You Got It Yet?" Also features quite a lot of Johnnie Johnson rolling his eyes saying "yeah, this is _you_ right Chuck".
posted by hawthorne at 7:59 AM on March 21


.
posted by On the Corner at 5:29 AM on March 22


« Older Col. Ben Skardon march   |   This Article Won’t Change Your Mind Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments