Chuck Berry dies at 90
NEW YORK - Chuck Berry, rock ’n’ roll’s founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music’s joy and rebellion in such classics as Johnny B. Goode, Sweet Little
Sixteen and Roll Over Beethoven, died Saturday at his home west of St. Louis. He was 90.
Emergency responders summoned to Berry’s residence by his caretaker about 12:40 p.m. found him unresponsive, police in Missouri’s St. Charles County said in a statement. Attempts to revive Berry failed, and he was pronounced dead shortly before 1:30 p.m., police said.
Berry’s core repertoire was some three dozen songs, his influence incalculable, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to virtually any group from garage band to arena act that called itself rock ’n roll.
“Just let me hear some of that rock ’n’ roll music any old way you use it I am playing I’m talking about you. God bless Chuck Berry Chuck,” Beatles drummer Ringo Starr tweeted, quoting some lyrics from a Berry hit.
While Elvis Presley gave rock its libidinous, hip-shaking image, Berry was the auteur, setting the template for a new sound and way of life.
“Chuck Berry was a rock and roll original. A gifted guitar player, an amazing live performer, and a skilled songwriter whose music and lyrics captured the essence of 1950s teenage life,” The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said in a statement.
Well before the rise of Bob Dylan, Berry wedded social commentary to the beat and rush of popular music.
“He was singing good lyrics, and intelligent lyrics, in the ’50s when people were singing, ”Oh, baby, I love you so,’“John Lennon once observed.
Berry, in his late 20s before his first major hit, crafted lyrics that spoke to the teenagers of the day and remained fresh decades later.
Sweet Little Sixteen captured rock ’n’ roll fandom, an early and innocent ode to the young girls later known as “groupies.” School Day told of the sing-song trials of the classroom (“American history and practical math; you’re studying hard, hoping to pass ... ”) and the liberation of rock ’n’ roll once the day’s final bell rang. Roll Over Beethoven was an anthem to rock’s history-making power, while Rock and Roll
Music was a guidebook for all bands that followed (“It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it”). Back
in the U.S.A. was a black man’s straight-faced tribute to his country at a time there was no guarantee Berry would be served at the drive-ins and corner cafes he was celebrating.
“Everything I wrote about wasn’t about me, but about the people listening,” he once said.
Legendary U.S. musician Chuck Berry performs on stage at the Avo Session in Basel, Switzerland in 2007. Berry died Saturday, at his home west of St. Louis. He was 90.