There have only ever been a handful of people that can truly be considered musical legends, musicians who not only defined a genre but also defined every generation of music since. Chuck Berry was one of those legends.
When you think of rock and roll you think of Chuck Berry. Sure there were other artists that helped to shape the genre but when it came to electric guitar, Chuck Berry led the way. What’s so important to remember is that his work and his songs went on to influence a host of young musicians in both America and England in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The prime example of course is Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones. Everyone knows The Rolling Stones and their music in turn has influenced those who followed. Even though Keith Richards had a number of other influences when starting out it’s perhaps his obsession with Chuck Berry that turned him into the guitarist he is today. Berry’s influence on music has been channeled through other musicians since the 50’s and 60’s and continues to be felt to this day.
Berry leaves behind a wealth of material on nineteen studio albums released between 1957 and 1979 which include classics such as Let It Rock, Little Queenie, Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, Rock And Roll Music, No Particular Place To Go and Roll Over Beethoven to name just a few. There are just too many songs to count. But it’s perhaps Johnny B. Goode which was released as a single on the 31st March 1958 that remains his greatest achievement, a song anyone who listens to music instantly knows as soon as that riff tears in to you at the beginning of the song.
Johnny B. Goode is a song that many post-1980’s kids first became aware of thanks to the 1985 movie Back To The Future where Marty McFly donned a Gibson ES and belted out those guitar riffs. The sight of Michael J. Fox in that scene is now legendary whether you’re a hardcore fan of Chuck Berry or not. Everyone knows the song, everyone knows the guitar, everyone knows the riff:
Music continues to change as every year passes but I firmly believe there will never be such a huge shift musically like there was in the 1950’s with rock and roll. The world has lost a musical icon the likes of which will never be seen again.
I end my post with one of my all time favourite Chuck Berry performances, a slow blues called Mean Old World. Berry was most known for fast paced rockers like Johnny B. Goode but this song shows his smoother, softer side. And it was exquisite. Thank you Chuck.
RIP Chuck Berry. 18th October 1926 – 18th March 2017.