Chuck Berry, rock'n'roll legend, dies at 90

Monday, 20th March, 2017

Chuck Berry died at the age of 90. Photo: AP/James A. Finley.

CHUCK Berry, whose roistering songs to teendom laid the ground work for rock'n'roll, was one of the last surviving giants who took the music out of America's Deep South to the world.

Berry, who has died at the age of 90, was a decade older than his fellow southerners, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, but as the only African American among the early all-stars, his songs were pivotal in fusing rock-a-billy with country and R&B and pushing rock'n'roll into the consciousness of white American teenagers.

His masterpieces, including MaybelleneJohnny B. GoodeSweet Little SixteenNo Particular Place to GoRoll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music, celebrated the joys of youth for early baby boomers.

But coming out of the mind of a 30-year-old who had grown up in segregated America, his music had an edge and double entendre singularly lacking in most of the other early rockers.

His guitar riffs, and onstage duck walk defined rock'n'roll during its early years and his music became the soundtrack for generations and inspired musicians across the world wanting to embrace the sound that celebrated youth.

Berry also laid the the template for the rock'n'roll lifestyle.

He did jail time. Three times. First for armed robbery. Second for transporting an under-age Apache girl "across state lines for immoral purposes". Third for tax evasion.

The Apache girl incident, resulting in his being jailed in 1962, threatened to end his career.

Rock'n'roll was entering a warm fuzzy period where manufactured rockers like Fabian, Ricky Nelson and Bobby Vee, were buffing the music's edges. 

The days when overt songs about sex sang by men from the wrong side of the tracks were over.

However, Berry's career was rebooted by other musicians.

The Beach Boys 1963 hit Surfin' U.S.A. used his Sixteen riff, the Beatles covered Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music, and the British Invasion post-1964 helped Berry and many Southern blues singers onto the world stage and Berry toured for years taking his riffs and duck-walk to any place that would pay.

He first visited Australia in January 1959, playing the Sydney Stadium on a bill with Bobby Darin, George Hamilton IV, Jo Ann Campbell and Johnny O'Keefe and the Dee Jays.

In 1973 - after returning to the record company that made him, Chicago's Chess Records and making a novelty recording about accoutrements, My Ding-a-Ling, that became his only US No.1  - he returned to Australia.

His Melbourne concert was delayed for nearly two hours as he refused to play until he was paid up front in US dollars.

Despite his often precarious life, Berry and his wife Themetta  remained married for 69 years but on the road he had a reputation as a tough loner who used backup bands, and demanded payment in advance, a specific kind of amplifier and a limousine (with no driver) for his shows. In 1986, one of his worshippers, Keith Richards assembled an all-star backup band (including Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, and sax player Bobby Keys) to play behind him in the documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. The old rocker was filmed intimidating Richards and demanding an extra cash payment of $25,000.

But when he died on Saturday at his home in Missouri not far from where he was born in 1926, rock's pantheon came out to mourn.

Ringo Starr was one of the first to post a tribute on social media, tweeting "R I P. And peace and love Chuck Berry Mr. rock 'n' roll music".

"Just let me hear some of that rock 'n' roll music any old way you use it I am playing I'm talking about you. God bless Chuck Berry Chuck" he wrote in a second tweet. 

"Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived. This is a tremendous loss of a giant for the ages," Bruce Springsteen posted on his Facebook page and on Twitter. 

The Rolling Stones said they were "deeply saddened" to hear of Berry's death.

"He was a true pioneer of rock & roll and a massive influence on us. Chuck was not only a brilliant guitarist, singer and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter. His songs will live forever," the band said in a statement. 

In his own statement, Mick Jagger said: "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 and threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck, you were amazing, and your music is engraved inside us forever."

Keith Richard said it all: "One of my big lights has gone out". Hail Hail Chuck Berry!!! None of us would have been here without you. Rock on brother!"

The Sydney Morning Herald

Related Articles

Related Article

Related Article

Related Article



View Puzzles Puzzles