There is one name synonymous with good old, untarnished, unspoilt rock ‘n’ roll: Chuck Berry. Johnny B Goode. Roll Over Beethoven. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music. Sweet Little Sixteen. These are anthems that aspiring musicians listen to and learn — from The Rolling Stones to The Beatles and even The Beach Boys.
Much before Bob Dylan put social commentary to chords; much before Keith Richards produced the sweetest rock ‘n’ roll sound from his trusted Fender Telecaster; it was Berry who wrote about the issues of the day and made that guitar cry and sing, to quote the sultan of swing Mark Knopfler.
There have been many rock ‘n’ roll greats – Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, but none has had the same visceral impact Chuck Berry has had on generations of music lovers and musicians. He combined strong lyrics with his mix of blues, rock ‘n’ roll and country to produce a definitive sound and a trademark guitar riff that would mesmerise and captivate. That riff set the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll guitar playing. You only need to hear it once to remember it forever. It stays etched in the soul.
The rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s, like most things of life, evolved, with each decade injecting its own feel. But under the layers of notes and riffs, there lies one soul — that of Chuck Berry.
On Saturday, that soul went home to rest. But rock ‘n’ roll lives. As does Chuck Berry. His words, his music, his duck walk. And his soul. Listen to Roll Over Beethoven. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music. Sweet Little Sixteen. It’s there. That riff... his soul.