Hail, Hail to a True King of Rock ‘N’ Roll – Hail, Hail Chuck Berry
A Brief One from Doug Draper
Posted March 19th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
“Hail, hail rock and roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock and roll
The beat of the drums, loud and bold
Rock, rock, rock and roll
The feelin’ is there, body and soul.”
– From the 1957 Chuck Berry song, ‘School Days’
“Before Elvis there was nothing,” were John Lennon’s words on the way Elvis Presley and Rock’N’ Roll exploded on to the music scene in the last half of the 20th Century.
The late Beatle could have said the same of the iconic Chuck Berry, who died this March 18th at age 90, and who Lennon idolized so much, he invited Chuck Berry to join him as his special guest while he was guest hosting a popular American talk show in the 1970s.
Chuck Berry made it known subtle and sometimes less than subtle ways throughout his career that he felt more than a little snubbed off with Elvis being crowned the ‘King of Rock ‘N’ Roll’. After all, Chuck Berry saw his first big hit, ‘Maybellene’, soaring up the Billboard charts in 1955, a year before Elvis drew international fame with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, his first big hit for RCA records, that could give his music the widespread distribution his, former partnership with Sun Records producer Same Philips couldn’t.
On top of that, not only could Berry, like Presley, sing. He wrote all of his own music and played a guitar in a way that inspired every other lead guitarist, from the Beatles’ George Harrison, to Eric Clapton, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page of the Led Zeppelin, who followed him.
But Berry was a black artist who came on the seen in 1950s America where in many parts of his own country, he was not allowed to use the same washroom or doors to a hotel or theatre as a white person. So he, like so many other founding members of the Rock genre who happened to be black, suffered such indignities as Little Richard, for example, having his self-penned song Tutti Frutti covered by the likes of Pat Boone, who sucked all of the raw power and soul out of it, even as Boone’s version was the one marketed and sold to white suburban kids of the day.
Just the same, none of this ultimately takes away from the fact that without pioneering artists like Chuck Berry, with songs like Roll Over Beethoven, Livin in the U.S.A., Reelin and Rockin, Johnny B. Good, School Days, Nadine, No More Monkey Business and so many others that have become classics, there would have been no Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Clash, Ramones, Elvis Costello, Tragically Hip, and the list goes on and on.
He is, as some of the obituaries are calling him, a true godfather of Rock, and his influence on popular music remains immortal.
Here are just a few tributes from those he included –
Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, a group that channelled Chuck Berry’s sound … on such early hits as ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Surfin’ U.S.A., said; “I am so sad to hear about Chuck Berry passing – a big inspiration! He will be missed by everyone who loves Rock ‘n Roll. Love & Mercy”
The Rolling Stones released the following statement; “The Rolling Stones are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Chuck Berry. He was a true pioneer of Rock’N’ Roll & a massive influence.”
Bruce Springteen said;, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”
If I could recommend one other way that you can pay tribute to the life of this great artist, other than playing any collection of his greatest hits as recorded on Chess Records, find a DVD or Blue Ray copy of ‘Hail, Hail Rocl ‘N’Roll, the fabulous bio-documentary and concert produced by Keith Richards and featuring guest performances by Richards, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray Etta James, Julian Lennon and Linda Ronstadt in 1986, on the occasion of Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday.
Hail, Hail, Chuck Berry.
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