Monday, March 20, 2017
CHUCK BERRY (1926 - 2017)
Chuck Berry, the guitarist who took country and rhythm and blues and merged them with his inventive guitar solos and dynamic showmanship to help create what we know as rock & roll, passed away on March 18th at the age of ninety. With his signature "duck walk" he did when he played, Berry was an innovative artist who broke down the deep musical and racial divide at the time in this country and helped integrate teenagers through his music.
Berry was born and raised in St. Louis, MO and was interested in music at an early age, performing for audiences while a student in high school. However, his fledgling career as a professional musician was briefly derailed after he was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to a reformatory for young men until he was twenty-one. Berry formed a singing group while there and was so good, he was allowed to perform occasionally outside of the detention facility. After he was released, Berry started his music career again, developing his unique guitar style and played with giving country music a blues makeover.
Maybellene", a reworking of a traditional country tune, "Ida Red" that was made famous by Bob Wills in 1938. The song went straight to number one on the R&B chart and sold over a million copies. The following year a song Berry wrote, "Roll Over Beethoven" actually crossed over and reached the top forty on the pop chart. Berry soon went on tour with other popular rock acts of the day like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers and he became a major music star.
More hits followed, "School Days", "Sweet Little Sixteen", "Rock and Roll Music", "Little Queenie", "Back In The U S A" and his most famous, "Johnny B. Goode". Berry even made appearances in two early rock & roll films, "Rock Rock Rock" and "Go, Johnny, Go!". But his successful career took a hit when he was convicted of violating the Mann Act and eventually sentenced to a year and a half in prison in 1962.
By the time Berry was released from jail, the British Invasion in the U.S. had begun and these acts were covering many of his hit songs which brought interest back to the originator. While he did record several albums during this period, they were not nearly as successful as in his glory days. But Berry remained a top concert draw and went around the globe performing. In 1972, Berry released a live recording of an innuendo-laden, novelty song, "My Ding-a-Ling" and this would become Berry's first and only number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Chuck Berry received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984, a Kennedy Center Honor in 2000 and was one of the first group of musicians to be inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Berry had continued to perform all these years although he was recently only playing once a month at a restaurant bar in St. Louis.
Here are a few classic moments from the pioneering musician, Chuck Berry performing live:
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