Rock ‘n’ roll legend dies at 90
Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll’s founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music’s joy and rebellion in such classics as “Johnny B. Goode,” ”Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” died Saturday at his home west of St. Louis. He was 90.
Paramedics were summoned to Berry’s home by his caretaker early Saturday afternoon. They found him unresponsive and the police in St. Charles County said attempts to revive the legendary early rocker failed. Chuck Berry was pronounced dead shortly before 1:30 p.m. according to the police statement.
Berry’s influence on many early rock music stars would be hard to deny. Many famous groups in the late 50s and throughout the 60s would say they got interested in the songs that Chuck Berry made famous. His core group was some three dozen songs,and many were 'covered' by others including the Beatles. “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,” Beatles drummer Ringo Starr tweeted, quoting some lyrics from a Berry hit.
“Chuck Berry was a rock and roll original. A gifted guitar player, an amazing live performer, and a skilled songwriter whose music and lyrics captured the essence of 1950s teenage life,” The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said in a statement.
John Lennon once commented about Chuck “He was singing good lyrics, and intelligent lyrics, in the ’50s when people were singing, “Oh, baby, I love you so,'”
Berry, in his late 20s before his first major hit, crafted lyrics that spoke to the teenagers of the day and remained fresh decades later. “Sweet Little Sixteen” captured rock ‘n’ roll fandom, an early and innocent ode to the young girls later known as “groupies.” ”School Day” told of the sing-song trials of the classroom (“American history and practical math; you’re studying hard, hoping to pass…”) and the liberation of rock ‘n’ roll once the day’s final bell rang.
“Roll Over Beethoven” was an anthem to rock’s history-making power, while “Rock and Roll Music” was a guidebook for all bands that followed (“It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it”). “Back in the U.S.A.” was a black man’s straight-faced tribute to his country at a time there was no guarantee Berry would be served at the drive-ins and corner cafes he was celebrating.
“Everything I wrote about wasn’t about me, but about the people listening,” he once said. “Johnny B. Goode,” the tale of a guitar-playing country boy whose mother tells him he’ll be a star, was Berry’s signature song, the archetypal narrative for would-be rockers and among the most ecstatic recordings in the music’s history. Berry can hardly contain himself as the words hurry out (“Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans/Way back up in the woods among the evergreens”) and the downpour of guitar, drums and keyboards amplifies every call of “Go, Johnny Go!” We are told the song was likely inspired by Johnnie Johnson, the boogie-woogie piano master who worked with Chuck on many of his early hits, but the Johnny B Goode story could have easily been Berry’s, Presley’s and many others. One more interesting note - we read that Berry had meant to call Johnny a “colored boy,” but changed “colored” to “country,” to make the song more general in audience. This resulted in more radio play and musicians of any color to imagine themselves as stars.