F. Kenneth Taylor
On Saturday, March 18th, 2017; the music industry lost the ‘Father of Rock-n-Roll,’ some would rightfully argue, and music legend and icon, Chuck Berry. The St. Louis, MO native and music pioneer died at his Wentzville, MO home from natural causes, and currently no autopsy has been planned. Born, Charles Edward Anderson, on October 26th, 1926, music entered Berry’s life very early as he discovered inspiration from Gospel, Blues, and even Country.
Chuck Berry stepped on stage for the first time at Sumner High School, a well-known landmark among St. Louis natives and residents. Unfortunately, as a teen, Berry was mischievous and troublesome, and soon found himself spending three years in reform school for his actions. Upon his release in 1947, he settled into normal life, earning degrees in Hairdressing and Cosmotology, before landing employment as a Beautician and auto assembly worker. In 1948 he married and began a life with Themetta Suggs, the mother of his kids; Ingrid, Aloha, Melody, and Chuck Berry Jr., she survives him today.
It wouldn’t be until the 50s while he was performing with The Johnnie Johnson Trio, that music would take center-stage in Berry’s life. While in Chicago in 1955, he met Blues Icon, Muddy Waters, who referred him to seek a recording contract with Leonard Chess; Owner of Chess Records, which was featured in the 2008, blockbuster film, Cadillac Records.
“The greatest of the rock and rollers”
~ Robert Christgau
It was with Chess Records that Berry would record some of his first hits such as; “Maybellene,” “School Day,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and “Roll Over Beethoven.” Chuck Berry, an amazingly gifted guitarist’s, whose skill was unrivaled, and immortalized for his insane riffs, birthed Rock-and-Roll by capturing the teenage audience. Even in his late 20s and early 30s, Berry connected with the ‘Teenie-boppers’ of the day with upbeat, energetic, ‘off-your-rocker’, classics including; “Johnny B. Goode” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
The 1950s made Chuck Berry–Chuck Berry; a rising star, electrifying guitarist, and household name from touring the country and starring in several films. His rise to fame allowed him to purchase land in St. Louis, as well as open an amusement park, Berry Park, a nightclub, The Club Bandstand, and finally, a restaurant, The Southern Air. Nonetheless, the close of the 50s produced new legal woes which spilled over into the new decade and resulted in a brief prison stint. Despite several appeals, Berry would be imprisoned from Spring 1960 to October 1963.
Upon his release from prison, Chuck Berry left Chess Records, and signed with Mercury Records. He was thrilled to learn that British super groups, The Beatles and Rolling Stone were major fans. During his time with Mercury Records, Berry recorded his first live album, the hits, “Nadine,” “No Particular Place To Go,” and “You Never Can Tell,” as well as four additional albums. He returned to Chess Records in 1970s, for five years, before moving to Atco Records and recording, “Rock It,” in 1979, which would his final studio album for nearly 40 years.
“If you tried to give Rock and Roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”
~ John Lennon
“The Shakespeare of Rock and Roll”
~ Bob Dylan
Chuck Berry performed regularly for several more decades, including a 2008 European tour where he captivated audiences in; The U.K, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Spain, and Switzerland. From the mid-90s to 2014, he performed every Wednesday at St. Louis’ historic, Blueberry Hill. His first album since 1979, Chuck, was scheduled for a 2017 release.
During his career and life, Chuck Berry received countless accolades and recognition such as; A White House invitation by Jimmy Carter, The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and Time Magazine’s 10 Best Electric Guitarist of All Time. Berry is also featured on several “Greatest Of All Time” lists by Rolling Stone Magazine, in 2002, he was hailed as one of the first, BMI Icons, and named Laureate of The Polar Music Prize in 2014. Chuck Berry was also one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock-And-Roll Hall of Fame during it’s 1986 opening.
Undoubtedly, Chuck Berry was truly special and a rare, unique, precious gift to music, and world. We’ll truly miss you. Rest easy.
“Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest, pure rock and roll writer that ever lived.”
~ Bruce Springsteen