Chuck Berry will live on

Chuck Berry died at the age of 90 on Saturday, March 18.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Chuck Berry died at the age of 90 on Saturday, March 18.

Tisa Tollenaar

John Lennon once said, “If you had to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”

Before Jimi Hendrix and Slash, Chuck Berry was the most renowned guitarist in rock ‘n’ roll. Berry was a legendary rock ‘n’ roll guitarist who pioneered the genre and earned the moniker “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. He died at age 90 on Saturday.

He hit it big in the 1950’s after playing jazz and pop music around local African-American nightclubs in St. Louis. Despite being a black performer during the Jim Crow days, his showman skills attracted many white patrons to these clubs.

Berry would travel to Chicago, deemed “the Midwest capital of black music” in the mid-50’s hoping to secure a contract. He wrote and recorded his first song “Maybellene” and was offered a contract immediately after.

“Roll Over Beethoven” was one of his earliest hits. It was chosen as one of fifty songs to be archived in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. It has been covered extensively since its 1956 release – most notably by the Beatles and by for the movie “Beethoven”. Rolling Stone called it “the ultimate rock & roll call to arms, declaring a new era.

His most famous single, however, was undoubtedly “Johnny B. Goode”. It was an instant hit among both black and white audiences in 1958. Rolling Stone ranks it seventh on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs in History”. The opening guitar track makes it one of the most recognizable songs in modern pop culture and was one of the first examples of intricate guitar work. The song is played whenever Chicago Blackhawks hockey player Jonathan Toews scores a goal.

However, most people probably recognize it from the infamous scene in “Back to the Future” where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) plays it at his parents’ prom in the 50’s.

“Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Goode” were among the songs that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame included in their list of 500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll. Berry was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

Despite being the singles that he is most known for, they weren’t his most successful on the charts. Rather, the novelty single “My Ding-a-Ling”  released in 1972- it is what’s called a “double entendre” because of what you’re probably thinking – was his only number one single.

He was known for developing rhythm and 12-bar blues into modern rock ‘n’ roll with lyrics that were less about everyday struggles and geared toward the teenage demographic. He was one of the first black performers to blur the color lines in show business.

“I made records for people who would buy them. No color, no ethnic, no political—I don’t want that, never did,” he was once said.

He also made famous the “duckwalk”, which is a style of dance or performing in which the person squats and walks forward at the same time, creating a “locomotion” sort of movement. This is a show antic widely used by many guitarists to this day, including Angus Young of AC/DC. Berry didn’t originally use it for that purpose – he supposedly would do it to flatten out wrinkles in his suits. 

Berry continued to perform until 2014 and was set to release a new album this year. The album, titled “Chuck” is set to be released posthumously in June.

Upon news of his death, many musicians took to social media to express their sadness. Some musicians, such as Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sting, to name a few, chose to honor the late great by covering him during their live shows.

Chuck Berry may have passed on, but his music continues to teach the world about rock ‘n’ roll. Add some of his tunes to playlists and get to know the man who almost single-handedly defined a genre and era.