By Steve Newton
The man often looked to as the originator of rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck Berry, died today at the age of 90.
The singer-songwriter and guitar legend–best known for deathless rock numbers like “Johnny B. Goode”, “Maybelline”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Memphis”, and “Nadine”–died this afternoon, St. Charles County Police Department confirmed. The cause of death was not revealed.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry had his first #1 hit in the U.S. in 1955 with “Maybelline”, which was adapted from the 1938 Western Swing fiddle tune “Ida Red,” by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. It was released as a single–with “Wee Wee Hours” as the B-side–by Chess Records, which became synonymous for Berry’s best-known songs in the fifties and ’60s.
Among the honours Berry has received over the years are a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which he was awarded in 1984, and early induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll,” reads his Rock Hall biography, “Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together. It was his particular genius to graft country & western guitar licks onto a rhythm & blues chassis in his very first single, ‘Maybellene’.”
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, famous for copping his licks and riffs, said that Berry “was the epitome of rhythm and blues playing, rock ’n’ roll playing. It was beautiful and effortless, and his timing was perfection. He is rhythm supreme.”
“The beautiful thing about Chuck Berry’s playing,” wrote Richards in his 2011 biography, Life, “was it had such an effortless swing. None of this sweating and grinding away and grimacing… just pure, effortless swing, like a lion.”
Looking back, perhaps one of the greatest legacies of Chuck Berry’s life was how he inspired people-and not just talented ones like Keith Richards–to pick up guitars and have a go at rocking out. He inspired me to do that just last month, when I got onstage with a few other guys celebrating their 60th birthdays this year, and we made an unholy racket on “Johnny B. Goode” and the Stones-covered chestnut “Carol”.
R.I.P. Chuck. Your rock will never die.