Chuck Berry Makes Us Happy; Sweet Little 90
On this day ninety years ago Charles Edward Anderson was born into a middle class family from St. Louis, Missouri. How apropos he comes from the “Show Me” state because Chuck Berry grew up to show the world how rock and roll is done. I’ll go another step and insist until he extended his left pinky and rhythmically began tapping the minor string in his bar chords there was no ‘roll’ in rock. Chuck Berry’s guitar technique added the rolling back beat and created a sound that would make us not only tap our feet but could cause wild bodily vacillations which also became known as ‘jitterbugging’ rooms crowded with people.
Then there’s his lyric writing. “As I was motorvatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybelline in a Coup de Ville. A Cadillac a rollin’ down an open road, but nothin’ will beat my V8 Ford.” Or “Just let me hear some of that Rock and Roll music, any old way you choose it; it’s got a back beat you can’t lose it, any old time you use it”. And of course: “Way down in 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 a guitar like a ring in a bell.”
The lyrics are simple rhymes yes, but there’s an unmitigated joy and celebration of life and living every day in every word. The meter so perfect you can hear the melody in your head as you read over them. Perhaps this is why Chuck Berry is more copied than any other songwriter, singer, and performer to come down the pike. And how about that performance? Crossing the stage on a ‘bent-knee-duck walk” Chuck Berry’s guitar notes matched his showmanship, no need for pyrotechnics. The flash and passion came from deep within the sound itself.
There was a time when I was in my twenties, and a group of music lovin’ friends and I would have late night (weekends mostly) debates on who or what were the greatest influences in rock and roll, or even just ‘hit music’ in general and Chuck Berry was always at the center of the discussions. To the point where I ventured to say that if in the 1950’s Chuck Berry had been born a Caucasian – there’s a really good shot the world would never have heard of Elvis Presley.
Elvis was a great and wonderful voice – a singer, a masterful interpreter of lyrics and a good performer. But Chuck Berry wrote lyrics, and set them to simple three and five chord guitar progressions that he made up in his head and was a good performer a showman. Who needs Elvis? Chuck could do it all.
Chuck Berry’s sweet little songs made us happier about going to school, making car payments, getting married, or driving along aimlessly on a Sunday afternoon. Chuck Berry made us Happy.
And for his 90th birthday news comes today that he’s releasing a new album, his first since 1979. It’s dedicated to his wife of 68 years: “This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy. My darlin’, I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes.” The records title? Chuck
I’m glad that in digital 2016 he still call’s it ‘making a record’ as though it’s still created by a steel stylus bouncing up and down in a soft waxy matrix on a flat spinning platter. The new album is full of new original songs and I can’t wait for it to be released in 2017.
Happy Birthday Chuck! Chuck Berry makes us happy.