I was saddened to hear of the death of Chuck Berry, even though the man was ninety years old and had not only reached the pinnacle of his craft, but hovered a height above the pinnacle. Roy, a rock-and/or-roller himself, has a post about Chuck which lays out the man's importance rather well. Was there anybody who quite defined an entire genre of music as Chuck Berry defined rock-and-roll, the outgrowth of rhythm and blues music that he helped to birth? I can't even think of anyone who played lead guitar in popular music before Chuck Berry blazed that particular path.
I believe it was Greil Marcus who wrote the the opening of Johnny B. Goode was the greatest opening of any popular song, and a riff for the ages:
As far as openings go, it's right up there with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor... I think the guy who wrote Roll Over Beethoven would be sympatico with Bach's virtuosity.
Besides being a fantastic songwriter and a blistering guitarist, Chuck Berry was also a humorist, as his tale of romance frustrated by a seatbelt attests:
My particular favorite by Mr Berry is Memphis Tennessee, which is an emotional number with a surprise ending:
Chuck's was a towering talent, and the man himself managed to navigate the perils and pitfalls of being a black man in the segregated United States- reading between the lines of Back in the U.S.A., one can divine the legacy of Jim Crow in the lyrics (despite his fame, Chuck would have needed the Green Book while touring).
Mom introduced us to Chuck Berry's music while we were kids... she raised us right. I spoke to her on the phone today, and she was bummed about his passing- she had seen him in concert at Brooklyn's Paramount Theater while still a teenager. There's a timeless quality to Chuck Berry's music, the sort of quality that led to a multigenerational fandom, and with his passing, a multigenerational bummer. He had a long life, and a storied career, but he will be missed.