For a man credited with being the Founding Father of rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck Berry’s career trajectory was rather tangential from the archetype. Here was a 30-year-old married man making his debut in a genre that epitomised the youth, postured individuality and immense disdain for those older.

It’s not like he created rock ‘n’ roll; the genre was a few years in the making by the time Berry came in. But he duck-walked his way to give it sonic structure and a distinctive attitude, and in the process, nonchalantly defined its personality as a way of life with songs such as Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, Around and Around, Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, School Days, Memphis, Nadine, No Particular Place to Go and Rock and Roll Music among others.

Chuck Berry Performing. (File Photo)

In the early years, rock stood out against pop for its song-writing, where the format of an intro-verse-chorus-guitar solo-verse-chorus was a marked change from the upbeat repetitive structure of pop. Where the irresistible wordplay told a tale of matters universal in a manner that seemed so accessible, giving him the aura of being an “eternal teenager”.

No wonder then that Bob Dylan once called him the “Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll”, a man who was among the first popular acts to write as well as perform his own music, blending influences of jazz, blues, and rockabilly into his unique style of song-writing.

While the rock ‘n’ roll groove in the music of Elvis or even Little Richard was infectious, it was their vocals that the songs rode on. Berry elevated the guitar to be the genre defining element with an unmistakable ability to remain in your head much after the song ended. The riff became the hook. From there on, everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen to AC/DC, took the riff to be a defining feature.

For a man who within a short period of time acquired legendary status that will remain beyond his demise, Berry’s has not been a life without controversies. From charges of transporting an underage girl to being convicted for tax evasion, Berry has done his share of jail time. He also successfully sued The Beach Boys for the similarity between his Sweet Little Sixteen and their Surfin’ USA.

His brushes with the law aside, even as his touring dwindled, Berry remained the Godfather of the genre, with generations of musicians after him attempting to replicate in their own way, his blueprint of rock. Everything about the genre traces back to Berry. No matter which rock musician you like, with some degrees of separation, you will still return to Berry. As we veer towards laptops on stage over artistes, Chuck Berry will be a forever reminder of what it takes to be a rock star.

 

Source: Daily Hunt

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