Chuck Berry

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About Chuck Berry

It makes sense that Chuck Berry’s initial burst of fame in the ’50s coincided with the U.S. beginning construction in earnest on an interstate highway system that would stretch from coast to coast. Berry, more than any other rock ’n’ roll pioneer, invented a sound that mythologised the speed and freedom that the open road promised American youth in the age of tailfin cars and drive-in cinemas. Born in 1926 in St. Louis, where he honed his singular fusion of rhythm ’n’ blues and country music, Berry was a musical version of an auto assembly line, churning out one hit after another—all of them sounding like a “Cadillac doin’ ’bout 95,” to quote his debut single, 1955’s “Maybellene”. Out front were the now legendary riffs that zap like electricity on “Johnny B. Goode”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Rock and Roll Music” and dozens of other songs. Berry’s guitar-centred approach would be drawn into rock ’n’ roll’s DNA, influencing just about every player in practically every movement to follow: the British Invasion, punk, even heavy metal. But to reduce Berry to the title of guitar god underestimates his brilliance. He was—and this is a point that Bob Dylan would surely cosign—the first rock ’n’ roll poet, firing off playfully dense and colourful tales of teenage life. The sheer breadth of his talents enabled Berry to remain commercially successful long after many of his ’50s peers. Some of his most beloved tunes, including “No Particular Place to Go” and “Promised Land”, arrived in the ’60s at the peak of Beatlemania. No one could keep Berry off the road; he zigzagged across the globe into his 80s. The Father of Rock ’n’ Roll left us in 2017, but his legacy lives on anywhere a kid straps on a Gibson and lets it rip.

St. Louis, MO, United States
18 October 1926
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