Since the news broke last night of his death, there have likely been a million blog posts written about Chuck Berry. Here’s one more:
The above single, which I purchased as a young teen during the late 1970s, was my first Chuck Berry purchase; I was in my early teens. A few years later, like many other music fans, I picked up The Great Twenty-Eight, a double-LP set that collected his classic songs. The last Chuck Berry purchase was likely in 1987, when I picked up the soundtrack to the Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll film, which spotlighted two all-star concerts celebrating his 60th birthday. In between, and before and since, I’ve enjoyed his music in its original form as well as via covers and borrowed (aka stolen) tunes –
Like every other fan of rock music, in other words.
To describe his importance to the genre is just about impossible. However, he was not – as too many of the obits I’ve seen are headlined, the “father of rock ’n’ roll.” That’s a simplistic, and just plain wrong, summary of rock history. His first single, “Maybellene,” was released in 1955, a year after Elvis Presley’s seminal “That’s Alright, Mama” – and, as Elvis told Jet magazine in 1957, “rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along.” (This Wikipedia entry does a solid job of showing just how long.) That said, he was instrumental to its success – as its first poet laureate and guitar great. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame puts it in their bio of him, “If Elvis Presley cracked open the door for rock & roll, Chuck Berry kicked it wide open—and did his signature duck walk over it for good measure.”
Here he is with, perhaps, his most famous pick-up band: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert in 1996.
And here he is on The Mike Douglas Show in 1972. Following the interview, he performs with John Lennon, who was co-hosting the weekday talk show’s that week.
Here’s Chuck with Keith Richards and an all-star band (via the 1987 Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll movie):
And now, for today’s top 5, Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets:
1) Bob Seger – “Carol” (1971).
2) Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band – “C’est La Vie,” 1977.
3) George Thorogood & the Delaware Destroyers – “No Particular Place to Go,” 1979.
4) Paul McCartney – “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” From Later With Jools Holland in 1999 (with his Run Devil Run band, including Dave Gilmour and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice).
5) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “You Can Never Tell” (2013).
And, finally, one of the greatest non-Chuck Berry songs to both channel him and explain his influence (“all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks”):
Bob Seger – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets”