Chuck Berry and Rock n’ Roll. The two terms are synonymous for anyone who has ever at least heard of the first. The sad part is that many have not. This is a giant oversight in the history of pop music and one if its most important and essential figures. Most people associate Rock n’ Roll with Elvis Presley, his gyrating hips and his great voice and this is understandable. In an era where black people were still facing segregation in the USA how could a black man have become the face of THE hottest thing going on in popular culture? Time has however fixed some mistakes and at least never let Chuck fade into total obscurity.
For someone who loves sixties music as much as I do, it’s not difficult to see the importance of Chuck but to those who might not be sixties aficionados, let me lay it out there for you to see.
No Chuck Berry > no Rolling Stones > Rock n’ Roll dies a permanent death in 1959.
No Chuck Berry > no Beatles > pop music as a whole loses its major blue-print for the last 50 years.
No Chuck Berry > No Johnny B Goode > the electric guitar does not become THE instrument to own, play and master > no Jimi Hendrix/Jeff Beck/Eric Clapton/Jimmy Page > None of the major forms of guitar dominated music for the last 50 years (yeah, pretty much everything).
Yes, he was THAT important. For any one who considers themselves serious music lovers, some Chuck Berry is essential in your collection. Songs like Sweet Little Sixteen, Maybellene, Carol, Little Queenie, Too Much Monkey Business, Brown Eyed Handsome Man and many more were critical in providing aspiring musicians during the sixties with the seeds they would soon sow into all the major genres of music that are still prevalent today. Few genres could claim to have anthems for their genre (if at all) as perfect as Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music, songs emblematic of what Rock n’ Roll stood for, namely rebellion and the destruction of the establishment and the bourgeoisie. And of course there was Johnny B Goode, one of those rare tunes that can lay a valid claim to being the greatest song of all time.
Chuck himself was an astute songwriter, melodist and lyricist. His music reeked of sex, politics and hedonism during a conservative time (count him in as a punk) and the fact that he was one of the first to do it all by himself is all the more impressive (count him as one of the key influences on the singer/songwriter movement too).
Then there was the guitar playing. Most people know the scene from Back to the Future where Marty McFly starts out by playing Johnny B Goode and then eventually descends into heavy metal histrionics a la Eddie Van Halen. Few realise that were it not for Chuck and Johnny B Goode there sure as hell wouldn’t be no Eddie Van Halen, or no Jimi Hendrix for that matter. Oh and that hopping trick that Angus Young from AC/DC is still doing to this day? Chuck Berry did it first as early as 1956. He was the most important link from Robert ‘sold his soul to the devil’ Johnson and Jimi ‘born with a guitar in his hand’ Hendrix, yet in between all that he was just Chuck, he didn’t sell his soul or set his guitar on fire but he could still play the damn thing just like ringin’ a bell.