Chuck Berry 1926-2017
By Andy Malt | Published on Monday 20 March 2017
Chuck Berry died on Saturday, aged 90, following a “medical emergency” at his home in St Charles, Missouri.
Born in 1926, Berry was pushing 30 by the time he became famous for writing songs about the hopes and fantasies of teenagers. He had begun performing music in high school and was working as a jobbing musician, performing country and blues, when he signed to Chess Records in 1955. His debut single, ‘Maybellene’ – which started both his major influence on rock n roll and his legacy as a pioneer in the genre – was based on a traditional country tune, ‘Ida Red’.
An instant success, selling over a million copies, ‘Maybellene’ paved the way for a career which saw Berry write and record numerous classics of the 20th Century – ‘Johnny B Goode’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Rock N Roll Music’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and ‘No Particular Place To Go’, to name just a few.
His rise was interrupted by a lengthy legal battle and jail sentence in the 1960s. Berry was arrested in 1959, accused of having sex with a fourteen year old girl who had worked in his nightclub. He was convicted in 1960, but successfully had the ruling overturned on appeal, arguing that the judge had been racially prejudiced. However, following a second trial in 1961, he was convicted again, and, after another appeal which this time failed, he served 20 months of a three year sentence.
Following his release in 1964, he returned to his career, signing later in the decade to Mercury Records. Although this was not his most successful period as a recording artist, he remained a popular live performer, helped in part by a new wave of young acts like The Beach Boys and The Beatles citing him as an influence.
In 1972, having returned to Chess, he released a live version of novelty song ‘My Ding-A-Ling’, originally written and recorded by Dave Bartholomew 20 years earlier. It became his first and only number one single in the US and the UK. But rather than marking a resurgence, it marked a slowing of his output. After a four year gap following ‘1975’s ‘Chuck Berry’ album, he released his final LP, ‘Rock It’, in 1979.
He continued to perform live up until his death however, and on his 90th birthday last October Berry revealed that he had recorded a new studio album, ‘Chuck’. A release date for the record is yet to be announced.
Chuck Berry is survived by his wife, Themetta Suggs, and their four children, Ingrid, Chuck Jr, Aloha and Melody.