Rock & Roll Pioneer Chuck Berry Has Passed Away

Chuck Berry is the man many associate with the pioneering of and early popularity surrounding Rock & Roll music. Today (March 18), the key innovator of modern music has died. Chuck Berry passed in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. He was 90 years old. The cause of his death is not specified. However, reports say that Berry was found unresponsive at his home.

Dating back to the early 1950s, it was Berry who plugged in and wailed on hits like “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and his iconic “Johnny B. Goode.” His 1957 hit “Rock & Roll Music” was emblematic, as Berry combined Rhythm & Blues with the electric guitar of Blues for a sound that took the United States and eventually the globe by storm. He was deeply influenced by the likes of R&B great Louis Jordan and Blues giant Muddy Waters (who suggested Berry work with renowned Blues label Chess Records). Along with names like Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley, Berry galvanized a sound that would be greatly emulated by white musicians including the biggest example, Elvis Presley.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Berry’s popularity held well into the 1960s. With new his like “No Particular Place To Go,” “Nadine,” and Pulp Fiction classic “Never Can Tell.” The themes of Berry’s music, much of which he wrote were suggestive to sex and counter-culture. 1964’s “No Particular Place To Go” poked at newly-informed seat-belt laws, while his 1972 cover of “My Ding A Ling” (Berry’s lone #1 hit) was early an risqué hit. Berry’s Holiday hits including “Run Run Rudolph” and “Merry Christmas Baby” remain popular more than 50 years since release.

The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, two of Rock’s biggest bands of all-time, were vocally influenced by Berry. Each band covered his work extensively during the 1960s’ British Invasion. The Beatles’ Lennon was once quoted as saying, “If you tried to give Rock & Roll another name, you might have called it ‘Chuck Berry.‘”

Despite Berry’s multitude of hits, he largely predates the album format in popularity. His 1972 LP The London Chuck Berry Sessions is hit lone Top 10. While he had no released an album since 1979, Berry vowed on his 90th birthday that Chuck would arrive later this year.

While his music was cutting-edge, Chuck Berry lived life similarly. Throughout his life he was arrested and charged with a number of offenses, ranging from marijuana possession, to a sexual relationship with a minor, to auto theft, to tax evasion. Outside of music, Berry was a restauranteur for much of his life, and involved in real estate.

In Hip-Hop, Berry remained a celebrated figure. Mos Def’s 1999 “Rock & Roll” asserted Chuck’s achievements in music, while many white artists received opportunities, greater fortune and fame that what was available to the pioneer. Mos would later cover “No Particular Place To Go,” “Maybellene,” and others for the Cadillac Records soundtrack. The Leaders Of The New School’s “My Ding A Ling” cover to sampling used in LL Cool J’s “Go Cut Creator Go” are indicative of his influence.

Chuck Berry joins a growing list of musical deaths in 2017. “The Funky Drummer” Clyde Stubblefield, producer/composer David Axelrod, Al Jarreau, Sledge Sisters’ Joni Sledge, and Ohio Players/P-Funk’s Junie Morrison are just several of those music mourns in a young year.