Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chuck Berry

UPDATE: I put this up last night when I saw the news that Chuck Berry had passed away, age 90. He was a huge figure in the development of popular music after WWII. Jim Fusilli has a good obituary in the Wall Street Journal.
Singer, composer, guitarist and showman Chuck Berry, who died March 18 at age 90, bridged the gaps between blues, country and R&B to become one of the founding fathers of rock ’n’ roll. A dominant talent in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Mr. Berry, unlike many of his contemporaries, never seemed relegated to the distant past. With their wit and vitality—and in no small part due to his guitar playing in tandem with the mighty contributions of pianist Johnnie Johnson—Mr. Berry’s hits remained as engaging in later years as they did when recorded.
In 1956 he recorded "Roll Over Beethoven" (the clip above) and it is eerie how prophetic the lyrics were:
“Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news” 
Rock and roll was not only here to stay, but it was, along with pop music generally, going to become so dominant in music that classical music was going to be pushed aside into a economically precarious niche! Back in 1956 this was not evident, but as soon as the Beatles came along...

George Harrison was better at copying Chuck Berry's guitar style than Keith Richards, wasn't he?

UPPERDATE: Somehow this photo seems to capture what was happening. This is Chuck Berry performing at one of the temples of classical music, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 1976:

UPPER-UPPERDATE: Ann Althouse has an excellent post on Chuck Berry's lyrics, which might have been even more important than his guitar-playing.


Anonymous said...

One of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll. Funny how whites appropriated the genre and African-Americans made a beeline for the exit door. Same thing happened in jazz several times.

The Beatles learned much from Chuck Berry... Yep. And then the perfectly atrocious Yoko Ono steps in and destroys everything. How John tolerated that nonsense? Love is blind I guess.

Bryan Townsend said...

That's a painful clip in a few different ways! Mostly John and Chuck really don't blend well singing together.

Christine Lacroix said...

I enjoy finding posts on The Music Salon about all types of great musicians.Thanks Bryan!

Will Wilkin said...

"Anonymous," there are no "whites" and "African-Americans" is another artificial category. We are all just people, and in the USA, we have a shared identity as "Americans." Identity politics is about as socially-constructive as Ms. Ono was.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Christine. There are lots of kinds of music I find interesting for lots of different reasons.

@Will and Sr. Anonymous: as a Canadian, I don't want to get in the middle of a fight between you two!

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Bryan, no food fight on your site. I'll just make one comment which I hope you will post. Identity politics is my bete noire. My point had nothing to do with it. But as a music historian, being color-blind to the history of Jazz would be scholarly malpractice. Just as ignoring faith would impair any understanding of Bach's music. Racial tension was a key factor in the high speed at which Jazz evolved. Racial identity might be irrelevant to the appreciation of Jazz, but it's a crucial part of any historical understanding of its development. I've always regarded your site as being welcoming to scholarly exchanges. It would degrade its quality greatly if, out of political correctness, certain scholarly approaches were banned as a matter of principle. Perhaps some of your readers don't care to know why black musicians deserted the rock 'n' roll genre to take refuge in R&B, but as a music scholar, I do care. And I hope that you, as a serious music scholar, do too.

I am done with this issue and will not reply to any further comment. Thank you.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, I find identity politics to be particularly destructive of the social space. But thanks so much for clarifying your point. It is an extremely valid one and I don't think any of my regular commentators would disagree. But, please don't avoid discussion of it. I am a bit leery of letting too much politics in, but this seems a musically relevant issue and, frankly, I wouldn't mind if you elaborated further.