Every good song you’ve heard in your life—at least, the stuff released after 1955—owes a small debt to the late great Chuck Berry. Or a huge debt, in the case of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” and too many others to list here.
Having lived some 90 (or 95, Chuck was known to lie about his age) years, the true father of rock ‘n roll certainly had a good run. He even had a new album in the can, and lots of people wanted to hear it (including me) even before we found out the man had passed.
Chuck’s autobiography is still the best rock ‘n roll memoir ever written. The Great Twenty-Eight sounds as amazing today as it did when I tore the shrink-wrap off my Columbia Record Club vinyl edition 30 years ago, and More Chuck Berry and St. Louis to Liverpool are classic albums in their own right.
Taylor Hackford’s movie about Chuck, Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll is a classic, even with the Linda Ronstadt and Julian Lennon appearances.
Chuck also added some great words to the English language, notably “botheration” and “coolerator.” And his humanitarian efforts helped find a cure for rockin’ pneumonia and the rolling arthritis.
But enough of my yakking… here’s what some of Chuck’s Children had to say.
JoE Fingas: Get past the fact that he’s the bedrock of rock ‘n roll guitar, the crazy showman duck walkin’ across the stage. Get past the fact that he and a handful of others redefined popular music, Top 40 radio, and the entertainment industry. Get past those facts and what do you have?
Can you imagine the way I felt?
I couldn’t unfasten the safety belt
Blue Lew: I would not be the artist that I have become without this man’s influence. Rest in peace, my hero.
Nik Flagstar: If it weren’t for Chuck, we would have no Elvis, no Beach Boys, no Beatles, no Stones, no Sabbath, no Ramones, no Motorhead, no Crue, no Pixies, no nothing.
Jacob Mohr: One of my players suggested to me that I am considerably like Chuck Berry because I show up about 10 minutes before the gig, expect everyone to know the tunes, and leave as soon as I get paid.
Shane Curle: My father was hired to play guitar for Chuck Berry in Pensacola for the 1999 Springfest. I was beyond excited to meet the Chuck Berry. Maybe even shake his hand or even see his guitar up close. Not to mention see my father perform with a legend.’
So we get there backstage, and I watch my father walk up to the man, and Chuck immediately starts pointing and yelling, and I can see it’s not going well. I heard some of the names he called my father, and I was devastated. We left the backstage, and that was it. My image of Chuck was very different after that to say the least.
But in the end, we got to stay and watch the show and it’s still a great memory of my father and Chuck—the legend, the man, the asshole. LOL.