On Sunday I was saddened to hear of the death of rock ‘n’ roll icon Chuck Berry, 90, who was found unresponsive on Saturday 18th March in St. Charles, Missouri. He was one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, and he influenced generations of musicians, most notably The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys. He received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1984, and was among the first to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Chuck Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on 18th October 1926, the fourth child in a family of six. His father was deacon of a local Baptist church, and his mother was a high school principal. He had an interest in music from an early age, and played concerts at his school, Sumner High School, as a teenager. However, he then spent 1944 – 1947 in a reformatory school for young offenders after being convicted of armed robbery. Chuck’s account was that his car broke down, and he flagged down a passing car and stole it with a non-functional pistol. He performed with other singers in the reformatory school, and the authorities let them give concerts outside the detention facility. On his release he married Themetta (whom he stayed married to for the rest of his life), and worked as a hairdresser and also at a car assembly plant.
After performing with local bands, his break came in 1955 when he travelled to Chicago and met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess, of Chess Records. In that same year he had his first hit with ‘Maybelline’. By the end of the 1950’s he was a high profile established star. He also appeared in several rock films.
From February 1962 – October 1963 he served another jail sentence for transporting a minor across the state line for immoral purposes. Chuck’s version was that he had brought the 14 year old prostitute across the state line to check hats in his St. Louis nightclub. She then complained to the police when he fired her.
Chuck continued to perform right up until the present day. He embarked on a European tour at the age of 82, and announced on his 90th birthday that his first new studio album in 38 years, Chuck, would be released in 2017. The album features his children Charles Berry Jr. and Ingrid, on guitar and harmonica. He dedicated it to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry.
For me the highlight of any Chuck Berry concert was the ‘duck walk’, an extremely difficult manoeuvre for him to carry off whilst playing a guitar solo at the same time! R.I.P Chuck, and continue duck-walking wherever you are.
My favourite Chuck Berry song of all time is ‘Johnny B. Goode’; my feet just itch to dance whenever I hear it. My son and I even tried to do the duck walk to this song at his wedding in 2010, but it was never quite the same as the original!
What’s your favourite Chuck Berry song?