Rock ‘n roll legend and music pioneer Chuck Berry died at his home near Wentzille, Missouri yesterday. The St. Charles County Police Department said that it responded to a medical emergency at his home and he was later declared dead after paramedics were unable to save him. He was 90.
ABC News tells us that Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis. He led a wild life before he got into music, doing time for auto theft and armed robbery before he “received a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology and worked for a time as a beautician.” Chuck got into music in the 1950s, playing with blues groups and even country combos before he began playing his guitar in a way that would be emulated forever by rock stars everywhere.
From the Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would rough up and turn into a rock ‘n’ roll talisman, the Chuck Berry lick, which would in turn be emulated by the Rolling Stones and countless others. He also recognized the popularity of country music and added some hillbilly twang to his guitar lines.
With songs like Johnny B. Goode and Roll Over Beethoven, Chuck invented wild party music, celebrating teenage lust, and terrifying the old stodgy people of the 1950s with his Satan rock and his duckwalk. Any movie you’ve ever seen set in the 1950s probably has a Chuck Berry playing in the background. You can listen to Johnny B. Goode below.
He went on to sign with Chess Records in Chicago who released his first big hit, Maybelline. Famed disc jockey Allan Freed began spinning the record on his show and the rest was history.
From 1955 to 1958, Mr. Berry knocked out classic after classic. Although he was in his late 20s and early 30s, he came up with high school chronicles and plugs for the newfangled music called rock ‘n’ roll.
No matter how calculated songs like “School Day” or “Rock and Roll Music” may have been, they reached the Top 10, caught the early rock ‘n’ roll spirit and detailed its mythology. “Johnny B. Goode,” a Top 10 hit in 1958, told the archetypal story of a rocker who could “play the guitar just like ringin’ a bell.”
Chuck worked and played until the very end, and planned on releasing his first album in almost 40 years, called simply “Chuck,” this year.
And well, if you’ve read the Spy Magazine article from 1993 about Chuck Berry or have seen that fart-in-face sex tape starring him, then it’s probably all you can think about right now. In 1990, Chuck was sued by several women who said that he secretly recorded them using the bathroom at his restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri. Chuck claimed that the camera wasn’t set up for illegal pervy activity. He claimed he was trying to catch an employee who was stealing from him. He still ended up settling with dozens of women. And in 1959, Chuck was arrested for violating the Mann Act when he transported a 14-year-old girl, who was a prostitute, across state lines. He served three years in prison.
Rock stars and other celebs have been mourning Chuck all over social media since his passing yesterday, via ABC News:
I am so sad to hear of Chuck Berry’s passing. I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/9zQbH5bo9V
— Mick Jagger (@MickJagger) March 18, 2017
Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.
— Bruce Springsteen (@springsteen) March 18, 2017
It started with Chuck Berry. He inspired us all. The 1st album I bought was Chuck’s “Live at the Tivoli” and I was never the same.
— Rod Stewart (@rodstewart) March 18, 2017
Chuck Berry’s life was a treasure and a triumph, and he’ll never be forgotten. https://t.co/3Q7z0NatUd
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) March 19, 2017
Chuck Berry died. This breaks my heart, but 90 years old ain’t bad for rock and roll. Johnny B. Goode forever.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 18, 2017
And even Chuck’s fellow deceased rock icons are paying him homage:
“If you had to give Rock ‘n’ Roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry”
John Lennon (with Chuck Berry)
Mike Douglas TV Show, 1972 pic.twitter.com/ViJtLblEwt
— John Lennon (@johnlennon) March 18, 2017