The pioneering rock ‘n’ roll guitarist and songwriter Chuck Berry died. He was 90 years old.
I saw him perform at his St. Louis club Blueberry Hill. He must have been in his 80s. But what energy he showed! What joy! What connection with his audience!
After the jump, a link to an obituary story that goes into detail about just what it was about his guitar playing and his songwriting that made them so good.
Also, read this interview from 1987, in which Berry confessed that his favorite kind of music is big band. Also how he wrote from a teenager’s perspective even though he was an adult and far older than his rock musician peers such as Elvis. And why he wasn’t bitter that white musicians like Presley and the Rolling Stones made much more money from his music than he did.
In memory of “the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” here is a clip of him playing at Blueberry Hill in his 80’s. Yes, his voice is about gone, but listen to him playing the guitar. Like ringing a bell.
Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis in 1926, Berry grew up singing in church and listening to blues and country music on the radio. An admirer of Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker and Nat “King” Cole, Berry began playing guitar in high school. As a teenager, he was sent to a reformatory after being convicted of attempted robbery. He moonlighted as a beautician in St. Louis and worked on an auto assembly line to support his family. While in his 20s, he led a three-piece blues group during regular weekend gigs.
Berry developed a sound that synthesized genres and created the most popular template for rock ’n’ roll: a small, guitar-led combo performing original songs. A half-century before, country guitarists borrowed riffs and runs from blues performers. Berry flipped the formula; he was essentially a country-music guitarist who added blues inflections and a faster rhythm-and-blues beat. Plus, he played electric guitar, and the amplification enabled him to simulate the sound of two or three guitars playing at once. He thickened the sound by employing a two-string technique, sliding along the frets and bending them to create enormous power and drive. His tone evoked a trumpet.