A couple years ago, some friends and I were sitting around listening to music when a Chuck Berry song came on.
"He's still alive, you know," one friend said.
"No way!" said another.
Yes way. Chuck Berry, the man who single-handedly changed music forever, was not only still alive, but performing regularly. Well into his late 80s, Berry played one Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill, a St. Louis-area restaurant.
On Saturday, Berry passed away at age 90. But his mark on music will live forever. Consider this: in one four-year period, he put out "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957), "Sweet Little Sixteen" (1957), and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958). Those songs brought together the bars of the blues with the riffs of rock and roll, which was just emerging. And it openedc the door for the megastars to follow, like Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
But Berry was more than just hits. He was a true entertainer, creating the "duck hop" walk, an onstage antic that drove his fans wild. And he tapped into a restless mood among young Americans well before it manifested in the 1960s, singing songs about high school life, fast cars and free love.
Berry had his failings, some quite large. He went to jail for having sex with a 14-year-old waitress and was also found guilty of tax evasion. But Berry, who grew up on the streets of St. Louis, also opened a racially integrated nightclub in the city, Berry's Club Bandstand, and united the races in a love of rock 'n' roll (white young people flocked to his shows, along with throngs of black fans).
He was beloved by the rock stars that followed his path. John Lennon praised him and cited Berry as influential in his style, saying "if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." The two played joyously together on a TV show in 1972 (a performance utterly ruined by Yoko Ono).
Berry also performed with Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richard, Eric Clapton and a slew of others. He was famous worldwide and, oddly, especially loved in Scandinavia. He won so many awards he could fill a warehouse. And of course, he was a cultural icon across the ages, like in the 1985 hit movie, "Back to the Future."
In the movie, Marty McFly, transported to the 1950s, takes over the guitar from his "cousin," Marvin Berry, who hurt his hand. As Marty wails on the guitar, Marvin makes phone call: "Chuck, Chuck! It's Marvin! Your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you’re looking for? Well, listen to this!"
Berry will live forever as one of the most important musician of all time, up there with the likes of Beethoven and Mozart. So on this lazy Sunday, when you've got no particular place to go, sit back and enjoy this one from the father of rock 'n' roll.