Remembering Chuck Berry

By: Tim Maninger, News Writer


The undisputed father of rock n’ roll music, Chuck Berry, died on Saturday, March 18, in St. Charles county at the age of 90. Berry was regarded by all as one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the last century. He was not only responsible for the beginnings of rock and roll, but was also the origin of the bad boy rocker image. Admirers and fans from all walks of life have come out of the woodwork to pay their respects online.

Everyone from Ringo Starr to Alice Cooper has expressed their admiration of Chuck Berry, and their grief at his loss. According to Bruce Springsteen, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.” This kind of respect and gratitude could only be achieved with a prolific and interesting career, something Chuck Berry definitely had. Starting in the early 50’s in Saint Louis nightclubs and going on for the rest of his life, he lived for his art.

Berry’s first known performance was for a high school talent show. After being arrested for armed robbery in high school and released when he turned 21 he worked various jobs around St. Louis and married Themetta Suggs, who would remain his wife until his death. He started playing gigs with local bands as an extra source of income, and soon joined a trio with Johnnie Johnson. In 1955 a fellow musician, Muddy Waters directed him to Chess Records where he was signed on and recorded his first hit single “Maybellene” which sold over one million copies and reached number five on Billboard’s best sellers chart in 1955. He went on to release many more records which included such songs as Johnny B. Goode, Sweet Little Sixteen, and Roll Over Beethoven. He would also be arrested again and serve another year and a half in jail, and after being released, tour all over with nothing but his guitar, confident that wherever he went he could find a band that already knew his music.

Even as recently as 2014 he was known to play at the Blueberry Hill restaurant on the Delmar loop in St. Louis at least one Wednesday every month. For the past several years he had been working on an album he intended to be his last. He announced on his 90th birthday that the album, entitled Chuck would include his children Chuck Jr. and Ingrid and would be dedicated to his wife of 68 years. This album will be released on schedule this year. This would have been his first release since his 1979 album Rock It. The difference is that now instead of a last hurrah it will be a celebration of an artist’s life’s work.

Chuck Berry’s legacy is carried on by generations of musicians inspired by his work. Some too young to realize his effect on what they do, but plenty well aware of his influence. Anyone who has ever enjoyed listening to rock, metal, or even pop music since the 1960’s has him to thank. Chuck berry was the living epitome of what rock and roll stood for, its inventor, and one of its greatest artists. The music world will miss him dearly, but continue to draw inspiration from his work.