Chuck Berry, one of the most influential guitar players and performers in music history, was found unresponsive and pronounced dead on Saturday at his home west of St. Louis. He was 90 years old.
Berry authored and performed such classics as “Johnny B. Goode,” ”Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” having a stretch of 15-straight singles that made the U.S. pop charts between 1957 and 1959. However, his influence greatly exceeds his discography. He is credited as a godfather of rock ‘n’ roll, thanks to his rebellious teenage themes and engaging performance style.
He is a documented inspiration for the rock revolution that followed his 1950s heyday, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and The Who.
“If you tried to give rock and roll another name,” Beatles singer-songwriter John Lennon once quipped, “You might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'”
Even non-rockers were influenced by his groundbreaking style, including Stevie Wonder. “There’s only one true king of rock ‘n’ roll,” Wonder once said. “His name is Chuck Berry.”
When NASA launched the unmanned Voyager I in 1977, an album of popular music was stored on the craft that would explain music on Earth to any intellifent life in the galaxy and beyond. “Johnny B. Goode,” which had charted 19 years earlier, was the only rock song included.
Chuck was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis on Oct. 18, 1926. He started his iconic “duck walk” at an early age, and was drawn to music and the stage at an early age. He was both a master and student of his craft, fascinated by chord progression and each part of the musical transition, including radios and recording equipment.
He had run-ins with the law in the 1940s, including armed robberies and grand larceny. He served only three years of a 10-year prison sentence before being released in 1947. It was then that he returned to music, taking up a six-string electric guitar and beginning his recording career.
In total, Berry had 22 songs make the U.S. R&B charts and 28 make the U.S. pop charts. His only U.S. No. 1 hit was the scandalous “My Ding-a-Ling” in 1972.
Last year, Berry promised the release of a new album entitled “Chuck,” his first work in 38 years. The album is expected to be primarily new, original songs written, recorded and produced by him.
He not only helped create the rock ‘n’ roll genre but also lived the lifestyle, running allegations from copyright infringement to tax evasion, transporting minors across state lines to allegedly videotaping female employees at his nightclubs. He wryly noted in a memoir, “Every 15 years, in fact, it seems I make a big mistake.”
Berry’s influence will continue even after his death. Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a rock legend in his own right, once described his influence as: “Chuck Berry is a musical scientist who discovered a cure for the blues.”