In December 2010, Chuck Berry collapsed on stage in Chicago, and obituary writers reached for their pens. They forgot though that rock and roll will never die.
The 84 year old was said at the time to be suffering from exhaustion, and at best this incident might have heralded his retirement. For an ordinary octogenarian perhaps, but not for a living legend.
John Lennon once remarked that if rock 'n' roll were given another name it should be called Chuck Berry. He was exaggerating, but not by much. Currently, the man from SongFacts has 22 of Chuck's recordings in his database, not a lot, although more are on the way, but it is Berry's influence that is more important even than his individual songs. As Lennon recognised, if there had been no Chuck Berry, there would have been no Beatles, indeed the Swinging Sixties and all that was to follow would have looked radically different. How many individuals can claim that?
Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born October 18, 1926 at 2520 Goode Avenue, St Louis, which perhaps gives a hint as to the origin of his song Johnny B. Goode. Like Phil Lynott, Chuck was known in his early days to lie about his age, but there was a good reason for this. In 1944, Berry was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for armed robbery. He was released in 1947, and turned his life around. He married, and held down a number of uninspiring jobs before he managed to make a living out of playing guitar. As a result of this, like Bill Haley, the other man who can be said to have founded rock 'n' roll, he was slightly too old to appeal to a teenage audience, or so he appears to have thought. And this was really the first generation of teenagers; for the first time, kids had money in their pockets and their own culture, none more so than American kids.
Although Chuck became and remained a law abiding citizen in a purely fiscal sense after his release from prison in 1947, he did have a number of other brushes with the law over the years, which have been thoroughly documented elsewhere but which it is best not to mention here. He could also at times be difficult to work with. According to the John Collis biography, Keith Richards once said: “I wouldn't warm to Chuck Berry even if I was cremated next to him”.
In May 1955, he recorded his first hit, Maybellene, and as the saying goes, never looked back.
After his fright on stage, Chuck took a year off, and on New Year's Eve he played New York; the mere prospect of his return had one fan salivating. There is obviously still fire in his engine, but there is no telling how much longer he will continue to play live, so if you haven't seen him yet, and can afford the plane fare, watch this space.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com