RIP: The King of R'n'R Songs, Mr. Chuck Berry

The history books confirm Elvis Presley as the King of Rock and Roll, but it was Chuck Berry who wrote the songbook and forged the backbeat for a pantheon of bands that included the Stones, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Sex Pistols.

In Bob Seger’s 1977 single “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” he reminds us that “all of Chuck’s children are out there, playing his licks.”

Seger didn’t need to drop the last name: Chuck could only be Chuck Berry.

Charles "Chuck" Edward Anderson Berry died at his home outside St. Louis, MO on Saturday, March 18 at the age of 90.

The family issued the following statement: "We are deeply saddened to announce that Chuck Berry – beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather – passed away at his home today at the age of 90. Though his health had deteriorated recently, he spent his last days at home surrounded by the love of his family and friends. The Berry family asks that you respect their privacy during this difficult time."

An album of mostly new material -- recorded in several studios in St. Louis with his longstanding backing band that included son Charles Berry Jr. on guitar and daughter Ingrid on harmonica -- has been scheduled for release on Dualtone Records but has no date affixed to it. It was to be the legend's first release of new material in 38 years.

Berry’s death has necessarily spurred a wellspring of accolades for a man praised variously as a legend, pioneer, king and songwriter of the genre. His masterful if simplistic verse structure ably sings the praises of the genre he lived and died by on his popular and enduring 1958 hit song, "Rock and Roll Music.”

Just let me hear some of that
Rock And Roll Music
Any old way you choose it;
It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it,
Any old time you use it.
It's gotta be Rock And Roll Music,
If you want to dance with me,
If you want to dance with me.

I've got no kick against modern jazz,
Unless they try to play it too darn fast;
And change the beauty of the melody,
Until they sounded like a symphony,
That's why I go for that
Rock And Roll Music ...

© Chuck Berry/Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

No singer before or since created as much from three simple chords as Chuck Berry. His bent-note guitar style, oversized Gibson hollow-body and duckwalk have become signatures, and the tightly scripted teen romsongs he wrote and recorded in the late '50s and early '60s have since been widely copied and remain popular today.

 

Over a dozen best-of and compilation CDs and vinyl, including a boxed-set, can be found on Amazon.ca. The greater part of Berry's hit-making career was recorded for Chess Records. He later recorded sides of varying quality for Mercury. Both catalogues are owned by Universal Music.

Worth noting:

Randy Bachman remembers Chuck Berry, whose every record was a guitar lesson -- Globe & Mail

Chuck Berry Lives! -- David Remnick, The New Yorker

Chuck Berry didn’t invent rock n’ roll, but he turned it into an attitude that changed the world – Joe Lynch, Billboard

Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll's Rock, Chuck BerryJere Hester, NBC

And the tributes pour in – Nicola Harley, The Telegraph UK

Why Chuck Berry is greater than you think – Peter Guralnick, Rolling Stone

Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll’s founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music’s joy and rebellion -- Hillel Italie and Jim Suhr, The Associated Press

Chuck Berry, the father of rock and roll -- Bob Lefsetz