One of the aspects of getting a bit older (50 is the new 40 right?) is that the icons and stars of your childhood pass away. Last week I was among many music lovers saddened about the passing of rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry.
While 90 is a good age, it is still sad to see this singer-songwriter-guitarist-icon’s life become part of history.
But what a history — Chuck Berry was considered to be one of the architects of rock ‘n’ roll who famously combined the blues of his African American heritage with country music and went on to write and perform some of the classics of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, including "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and my personal favorite "Roll Over Beethoven."
Despite my British birth and upbringing, I have long had a fascination with all things American. And as a school girl, Chuck Berry represented the youthful 1950s Americana of enormous Cadillacs, soda fountains and jukeboxes.
As he sang in his 1959 hit "Back in the USA," America had "hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day"
Of course, all things 1980s were a big influence on my generation and the movie "Back to the Future" famously showcases Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, referring to "Johnny B. Goode" as "an oldie where I come from" before bringing down the house with it at his parents’ high school prom. This was followed by Chuck Berry’s fictional cousin Marvin holding up the phone for his musical relative to hear.
As I have been reading about Chuck Berry’s life and career, I learned a few things that I thought I would share:
• Starting young, Chuck sang in his St. Louis church’s Baptist choir at age 6
• Chuck’s famous duck walk dance — as imitated by Marty McFly — originated in 1956, when Berry was on stage and tried to shake out the wrinkles in his rayon suit!
• Before his success in music, Berry worked as a janitor at the Fisher Body auto assembly plant in St. Louis, trained to be a hairdresser, freelanced as a photographer and assisted his father who was a carpenter.
• Chuck had problems with the law as a young man and later, early in his career in the 1960s. He spent some time in jail, but his career bounced back after the release of several hits including "Nadine."
• The melody of The Beach Boys’ classic "Surfin’ USA" is almost identical to the melody of Chuck’s 1958 classic "Sweet Little Sixteen." They sounded so much alike in fact that The Beach Boys had to give Berry co-writing credit in order to avoid a lawsuit.
• He was the very first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone magazine ranks "Johnny B. Goode" as the No. 1 "Greatest Guitar Song of All Time"
• He topped the R&B chart over and over, and although he frequently had songs in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, only one ever saw the No. 1 spot there – the novelty song "My Ding-a-Ling" in 1972
• He continued to play and tour well into his 80s
Chuck Berry was a major influence to dozens of other rock legends, and I will leave you this week with a quote from just one: music icon John Lennon. "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it "Chuck Berry."
God bless America and rollover, Beethoven!
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