Sunday, March 19, 2017

Farewell to Chuck

It's no exaggeration to say that Chuck Berry was the most important and most influential rock and roll artist of them all. His death aged 90 leaves just three of the true rock and roll pioneers still alive - Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry  Lee Lewis - and although it wasn't unexpected at his advanced age, it's a sad day nevertheless. Chuck's brilliant guitar work and great songs were the inspiration for so many acts who followed him, from the Rolling Stones, to the Beatles and the Beach Boys and his legacy is still with us.
Born and brought up in St Louis, Chuck overcame a prison sentence for armed robbery by turning to music and eventually joining Johnnie Johnson's trio. Moving to Chicago he was recommended to Chess Records by Muddy Waters. And so began a run of great records that were exciting and amusing and which appealed not just to a black audience but to white kids too. Maybelline, School Days, Johnny B Goods, Reelin' and Rockin', Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Almost Grown, Little Queenie, Sweet Little Rock and Roller  - all of them were classics which sound as fresh today as they did back in the fifties. His career was interrupted when he was charged with transporting a minor across a state line and he was jailed again. By the time of his return he had been championed by British groups such as the Stones and Beatles and  enjoyed a renewed round of success with No Particular Place To Go, You Never Can Tell and Nadine, among others. He made a triumphant tour of the UK and I remember seeing him with Carl Perkins and the Animals at the ABC, Croydon, in 1964 and what a show that was.
The hits dried up in the late sixties, although his only number one, the dreadful My Ding A Ling, came in 1972, but he toured relentlessly and I saw him on several occasions in the seventies, eighties and nineties. Some times he was good, sometimes he was poor, as he tended not to rehearse with the band and performed exactly to the time stipulated in his contract. But he was Chuck Berry, the greatest rock and roller of them all, so I was inclined to forgive those duff shows, preferring to remember the great moments.He continued to get into legal trouble, first with tax evasion and then with claims that he spied on women in the toilet of his club, claims that he denied but which he settled out of court.
A few years back I visited his Blueberry Hill restaurant in St Louis, where he continued to play once a month until his late eighties. I'm planning to go back there next month as part of my next US road trip, which includes a journey along parts of Route 66 from Chicago to Las Vegas. I was hoping I might catch a glimpse of the great man one more time. But now he's gone, and just as when Sam Cooke died, or Otis Redding, or Elvis or John Lennon or James Brown, the world is just a little poorer for his loss. RIP Chuck. Thanks so much for the wonderful music and the memories.
My top photo shops Chuck at the New Orleans Jazzfest in 1995. The one below shows today's little piece of serendipity. I visited my local car boot sale this morning and picked up No Money Down, his first UK release on London, which is also his rarest. It cost me all of 50p, so virtually 'no money down' and it's in great condition.


At 2:01 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad day indeed..........magnificent song writer and artiste, even though his shows over the last 30 years or so were pretty drastic. His top ten records? Impossible to choose, there were so many.
Great pick up at the boot fair, I always preferred the flip.


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