Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

One of the great rockers of all time, a pioneer in blending blues, swing, and country into what became rock and roll, died today at the age of 90.

Musicians of all genres and ages paid tribute to Berry. “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived,” said Bruce Springsteen, who played with one of Berry’s pick-up bands before achieving his own fame.

“Thou Shall Have No Other Rock Gods Before Him,” the drummer and producer Questlove wrote. “His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream,” said Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger. “Chuck you were amazing [and] your music is engraved inside us forever.”

Berry’s music was a hugely influential figure for generations of rock musicians who followed him, many of whom recognized him during their lifetimes. “If you had to give rock’n’roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” John Lennon.

But he had a very dark side to him too when it came to women.

In 1959, Berry was arrested in St Louis on charges relating to a 14-year-old girl, whom authorities said he had transported across state lines for the purposes of prostitution.

He was convicted two years later, after an initial conviction was dismissed because of a judge’s repeated racial slurs, and spent 20 months in prison, an experience which his friends said changed the musician’s demeanor.

In 1979 he faced tax evasion charges, for which he served four months in prison. In 1990, police raided his home and found marijuana, weapons and videos of women using a restroom: 59 women accused him that year of planting a video camera in the bathroom at his Missouri restaurant. He plead guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge and settled the class action for a reported $1.2m in 1994.

In this live performance from 1958 of the song Johnny B. Goode, you can see how his guitar playing, singing, and stage persona that included his signature move that became known as ‘the duck walk’, influenced all the rockers who came after him.


  1. mnb0 says

    Chuck Berry by no means was a nice guy. His attitude towards women might have been his darkest side, but not his only one.
    The thing is that John Lennon (another totally not nice guy) was right.

  2. Smokey says

    Many, many great people were (and are) assholes in some way. There are plenty of heroes caught raping or fiddling kids (or even worse, as impossible as that might sound), musicians or otherwise. Gary Glitter was still a great a musician even if he was a serial paedophile. Not that I’m excusing it.

    I think it’s a bit problematical that we insist on worshipping our declared heroes beyond reason. We put them on an impossibly high pedestal, and then we’re invariably disappointed when they turn out to be less perfect than Jesus. And then we suddenly hate them. A black-and-white world.

    The only perfect hero was Jesus, and he didn’t exist.

    I sometimes wonder if there’s some kind of balance. The greater the hero, the bigger the villain. Probably not, because that would necessitate some kind of karmic mechanism. It’s probably just the increased attention we give them that helps uncover the cookie-less dark sides.

    No matter, Chuck Berry was a great musical hero, and that is all he will be remembered for.

  3. nich says

    We put them on an impossibly high pedestal, and then we’re invariably disappointed when they turn out to be less perfect than Jesus.

    Ye gods! “Don’t secretly record women in restrooms” and “Don’t have sex with underage teen girls” are fairly high bars to clear in hero limbo.

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