Friday, March 31, 2017

Thoughts on Chuck Berry, 1926-2017

Chuck Berry, 1926-2017.

Rock and roll lost one of its greatest musicians when Chuck Berry died on March 18th. Berry was one of the most influential artists from rock and roll’s first wave of popularity. One measure of how influential Berry was is the long list of artists who covered his songs: Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Rivers, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, and many, many more. 

I’ve enjoyed Berry’s music since I was a kid. I remember back at the beginning of 6th grade, in the fall of 1992, just before I discovered the Beatles, being asked for a science class project who my favorite musicians were. I said Antonio Vivaldi and Chuck Berry. I’m betting I was the only kid who mentioned those two artists. (I’m not sure why I didn’t say the Beach Boys, who were one of my favorite groups before I got into the Beatles.) My Dad and I went to see Chuck Berry at Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota in 1996. (The internet told me the exact date was July 11, 1996.) We had really good seats, very close to the stage. I can’t remember a lot about that concert, but he played all of his hits and did the duck walk. It was fantastic to see a living legend of rock in person.

I can’t say that I’ve explored Berry’s music much beyond the hits-my memories of his music will always be tied to his 1982 compilation, “The Great Twenty-Eight,” which my Dad and I listened to on road trips, first on cassette, then on CD. But wherever I’ve been over the last twenty-five years, Chuck Berry’s music has always put a smile on my face. 

Chuck Berry really pointed the way forward for rock and roll. He was more typical of the direction that rock music would take than Elvis Presley. Elvis was a great singer, but he wasn’t much of a guitar player or a songwriter. Chuck Berry, on the other hand, wasn’t much of a singer, but he was a great guitar player and a great songwriter. The future of rock, for the most part, would be with people who wrote their own songs, and/or also played an instrument. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but I think there’s some truth to it-that Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly were more typical of what we now think of as rock and roll than Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. I think that’s one of the reasons why Chuck Berry has remained so influential after all these years. He also wrote some damn fine songs.

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