Thoughts on Chuck Berry (1926-2017)
When you hear the guitar rev up “Johnny B. Goode”, Chuck Berry’s seminal song, you immediately think, "Oh yeah! I’ve heard that before!”
It’s not only introducing your ears to one of rock’s greatest songs, but it's also introducing you to Chuck Berry, someone who many consider to be the Father of Rock N’ Roll. (I’m not exaggerating with this claim. Check out the reaction Berry’s death generated from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, among many others.)
Chuck Berry was found unresponsive in his home state of Missouri on Saturday, March 18th, 2017 at 12:40 local time. He could not be revived and was later pronounced dead.
Rock legends do not tend to survive as long as Chuck Berry has. It’s even more surprising to discover that, apparently, Berry was still touring and performing before he passed.
To no one’s surprise, like many of us, Berry was not perfect. In December of 1959, he was arrested for transporting an underage woman across state lines for immoral purposes under the Mann Act; he was sentenced to three years but ended up serving only 20 months. He then served three months on tax evasion charges in 1979 and was sued in 1989 for allegedly videotaping female employees at his restaurant.
Berry, though, was always considered one of the genre’s best and purest guitarists. He was also immensely lauded for his lyricism, and the ability to infuse humor and social commentary from one song to the next, all while getting the crowd to groove to his everlasting tunes.
I happily stumbled upon The Ringer’s Micah Peters' tweet regarding Chuck Berry. It was just a YouTube link to his song “The Thing I Used To Do”. I’m not close to being remotely studious about Chuck Berry's music as a whole, but for whatever reason, I feel like this is all you need to watch if you want to familiarize yourself with the legend.
You can see that Berry had it in this video; the way the circled crowd sat still and watched greatness unfold before them; the duck walk, the bopping of his body and the one-legged steps as he played; the close-ups of his handsome face, barely-there moustache and smooth hair capturing his aura; the captivating, closed-eyed guitar riffs as it felt like Berry forgot he was performing before millions of people and was by himself just jamming for the love of music; how he yelled “Alright?!” to the crowd right after his song finished to make sure people dug it and understood what they just witnessed and, if they were in fact, all right.
My introduction to Chuck Berry was through the form of cinema, by watching Quentin Tarantino’s undeniable classic Pulp Fiction. It came in the iconic scene where John Travolta and Uma Thurman famously dance in the middle of Jack Rabbit Slim’s to one of Berry’s greatest hits, “You Never Can Tell”.
It’s quite telling that Travolta’s Vincent and Thurman’s Mia are both laid back, chilled out, casually eating their dinner – while on substances – and it’s only until Berry’s music is played that they come alive and connect even more with each other. I’m sure Berry, in real life, had that effect on millions of people.
Rest In Peace Mr. Charles Edward Anderson Berry (October 18th, 1926 – March 18th, 2017)
written by The W