I was saddened yesterday to hear that Chuck Berry had died. (He was 90, and so it was bound to happen soon, but it was a jolt nevertheless.)
He was a majestic, and majestically stationary, feature of my generation’s musical landscape. He was always there, a great peak on its eastern horizon, and the shadow he threw across it at the dawn of rock music never seemed to grow any shorter.
He made his first record a year before I was born, and was already venerable by the time I started listening attentively to this nascent musical form, beginning in the early 60s. Probably my introduction to Chuck Berry’s music was the Beatles’ early covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock And Roll Music, but trying to remember exactly when you first heard a Chuck Berry song is, for an American musician of my age, like trying to remember your first cheeseburger.
He was a tremendously influential innovator, but unlike some of the artists he influenced — most notably, the Beatles — having discovered a new and fertile continent, he made himself comfortable at the water’s edge and remained there. But everyone who came later to explore and improve this new world did so by way of the city he founded, and they all picked up the local accent.
Here’s an example of that: Chuck Berry schooling a disciple you may recognize.
I’m sorry he’s gone, and grateful that he lived. Wish I could’ve watched him duckwalking through the Pearly Gates.