“If you had to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry”
– John Lennon
The absolute legend of a guitarist, who pioneered rock’n’roll with his indelible blues licks and slick grace, passed away in his Missouri home on Saturday at the age of 90.
From Keith Richards and Ringo Starr to a teenage kid in their bedroom, Chuck Berry is an idol to every guitarist out there. He is unbeatably the founder of rock’n’roll, blending the zesty twang of country with smooth blues hooks and eternal charisma. Rising from shady St Louis clubs in the 1950s and into the bright lights of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Chuck Berry’s music rings with a sense of freedom that transcends generation and race.
“He was a master craftsman; his songs will live forever.””
– The Rolling Stones
Born in St. Louis on October 18th 1926, Berry grew up soaking in blues and country and worshipping blues legends Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters. It was them who inspired him to pick up his first guitar and, in 1953, after moonlighting in blues clubs and developing his sound in his own trios, Berry caught his idol Muddy Waters at a club in Chicago. Waters pointed him in the direction of the blues record label Chess Records and, in the summer of 1955, Berry was signed.
‘Maybellene’ was his first hit with Chess Records, with it reaching no.5 in the charts, yet it is the masterpiece that is ‘Johnny B. Goode’ that cemented Chuck’s place in music history.
“Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived,”
– Bruce Springsteen
Chuck Berry’s presence is eternal, and his shadow casts far over both the history and the future of music. Marty McFly playing ‘Johnny B. Goode’ at his parents’ high school dance, and John Travolta and Mia Wallace dancing to ‘You Never Can Tell’ in Pulp Fiction, shows just how everything Chuck Berry graces becomes iconic, epitomising his transcendental legacy. Although he will be dearly missed, Chuck Berry’s influence and pioneering finesse will live forever.
“In my universe, Chuck is irreplaceable.”
– Bob Dylan
Words by Meg Firth