The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Chuck Berry, R.I.P.

Posted on | March 18, 2017 | 1 Comment

Generations of teenage boys in garages everywhere learned to play the classics by the man who arguably invented rock-and-roll, who died this weekend at age 90: The New York Times obituary is a piece of crap, evidently written by a pretentious fool who never played a guitar, so that I’ll have to say that what Chuck Berry did was to recognize the mainstream commercial potential of what was known in the 1950s as rhythm and blues. Berry was also familiar with the idiom of country-and-western music, and shrewdly recognized that there was money to be made with upbeat rhythmic songs about cars and girls and dancing. Chuck Berry was a clever songwriter and an engaging performer. His lyrics were humorous, his guitar skills were excellent, and he was a natural-born showman. Here’s a video of him playing his 1958 smash hit, “Sweet Little Sixteen”:


They’re really rockin’ Boston,
In Pittsburgh, P.A.,
Deep in the heart of Texas
And ’round the Frisco Bay,
All over St. Louis
And down in New Orleans,
All the cats want to dance with
Sweet little sixteen.

The Chuck Berry song that every teenage guitarist knew back when I was banging around in garage bands was “Johnny B. Goode”:


Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans,
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens,
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood,
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode,
Who never ever learned to read or write so well,
But he could play the guitar just like a ringing a bell.

If you didn’t click and watch that video, friends, you missed a real show. Chuck Berry was arguably the most influential guitarist in rock history. There never would have been a Jimmy Page or an Eric Clapton if there had not first been Chuck Berry, and of course, The Beatles were huge fans. “If you had to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.” John Lennon once said. The Beattles memorably covered Berry’s hit “Roll Over Beethoven,” with George Harrison singing lead:


I’m gonna write a little letter,
Gonna mail it to my local DJ.
It’s a rockin’ rhythm record
I want my jockey to play.
Roll over Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today.

He was an American original who made history with his guitar, playing that crazy beat that made all the kids dance. Chuck Berry, R.I.P.

Hail, hail rock’n’roll!
Deliver me from the days of old.
Long live rock’n’roll!
The beat of the drum is loud and bold.
Rock rock rock’n’roll!
The feelin’ is there body and soul.