Did Chuck Berry Know?
A human. A curious, imperfect and volatile soul. He, who set out from St. Louis, MO to forge a new path in music. His tunes are etched into our very nuclei. Into the very essence of our being. You always know when those trebly notes are played by the master himself. They leap out and grab you by the shirt and toss you around the room in a cyclone of delight. Johnny B. Goode, Maybelline, No Particular Place To Go, etc., etc.
The impetus of this article/think piece/blog or whatever the fuck this thingamajig ends up being, is that I wonder if Chuck knew he was going to influence countless generations of rock n’ rollers?
Even now, one will utterly fail to understand the true meaning and magnificent power of rock n’ roll, if one does not listen to Chuck Berry. His lyrics still evoke the powerful, don’t-bother-me feelings of Too Much Monkey Business.
How about Run, Run Rudolph? Except in this rendition, Rudolph comes off like one cool, hip Daddy-O of a reindeer. All of the other reindeer seem like a street gang of duck-tailed, black leather jacketed, chino sporting greaser toughs. Rudolph has attitude. Rudolph flies through the air like a…ss...Saber Jet. He brings joy. Not because he’s an adorable, kind-hearted stop-motion reindeer. This Rudolph is a MAN. He does it because no one else can do it. He eggs into egg nog. He doesn’t complain. He does give Santa a bit of guff during the journey. But it’s just ball busting. Nothing more. Nothing less. At the end of the day, Rudolph and Santa have saved the world from a Christmas without presents and glad tidings.
And..HOLY SHIIT! Could it be said that Chuck Berry is the inventor of the Christmas Music Instrument Marketing Campaign when the boy child in the song says to Santa: “All I want for Christmas is a Rock n’ Roll ‘Lectric geetarr.”? Could it be? Yes. I think so.
I wonder if, when in the bowels of Chess records, laying down the tracks; having Leonard Chess call him and the other session musicians “Son of A Bitch!” or “Motherfucker!”, if Chuck Berry somehow knew his music would be an endless fount of undeniable inspiration. And could he see that end result? I wonder if he could see that I, a middle-aged man, who has a passion for writing and music, would be writing this article about him and his music long after he has departed this mortal coil….for less than ten reads.
I wonder, if, when he first busted out the ever-famous duckwalk, that innumerable hordes of youth, would try to mimic his slick moves. Some pulled it off. Most, did not. And to be honest, this author is of the latter group.
Chuck Berry doing the Duckwalk.
Yet within this shitty present that we all dwell in, people still want to hear these songs. These songs that make us forget most of those present-day worries of the world that occupy the majority share of our collective backs.
Songs that make us see in our minds-eye grainy, creased and faded with the attrition of dealing with time, photos and choppy, cheezy home movies of little girls dressed in felt poodle dresses and saddle shoes posing on a front lawn and smiling to whoever was behind the camera.
Or little boys scampering on their hobby horses in tight hallways while shooting off his cap gun and laughing his head off.
Cute and gorgeous teens rolling up to a drive-up restaurant and ordering Cheeseburgers, fries, Cherry Pops and Malts to top it off before they head home to their homework and chores.
Men are in factories doing manly things. Men are building skyscrapers and auto chassis’,. Men are hewing titanic slabs of molten steel or testing the circuitry of an Atomic Bomb.
Meanwhile, women are happy to attend to the needs of the household wearing A-Frame dresses complete with hose and sporting heels.
The music still sounds fresh. The songs swing. Even now, as I am stabbing the bowels of the night with my words until the day breaks, Chuck Berry was, is and will forever be The Rhythm Supreme. The player of the Instrument of our Desire plays songs and riffs that call to us like a siren in the ocean. We are inspired to step out of our comfort zones to try for a crazy goal. We whisper to ourselves while listening to Roll Over Beethoven: “Damm! I never heard that ching-ching-ching-wiggy-wiggy-BWAAAH before! Crazy!” And yet we still want to hear that song a few more times the very next day.
The Sensei and his adepts. L to R: Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry and Keef. Somewhere in the mid-80's.
I wonder if Chuck Berry ever considered that he was a genius? His song structures and subjects at the time seemed out of place. Too fast. And that guitar sounds too loud as well. The drums could plug away like a sledgehammer or jive along in a souped-up shuffle. And Otis Span on those classic, oldie-but-a-goodie piano parts! Amazing stuff!
At the time, Chuck was just fulfilling his contractual needs. He had ideas that were turned into the proverbial gold records that each and every producer/artist/agent wants to have dangling on studio walls. Chuck was just trying to make a decent living.
The Rhythm Supreme leaving the ground.
And another factor in the Chuck berry universe, is timing. And as musicians say on any occasion, timing is everything. The children born out of the post-ww2 victory orgy became Baby Boomers. And by the time they turned into teenagers, they had grown loathsome of their parents and their rules. These teenyboppers needed to find an outlet for all their frustrations. These kids heard Chuck Berry very loud and clear.
With songs like School Days, Rock & Roll Music, Memphis and Sweet Little Sixteen, they struck a chord with this demographic. And also, the US economy was on the uptick. Thusly, these kids had quite a bit of disposable income burning in their pockets. Besides their high school and bedrooms, these kids frequented the local record shops looking to usurp their friends’ coolness by being the first kid on their block to get the latest 45 r.p.m. record from their favorite artist. Thusly, the music/pop culture hipster was born.
And just as with any other tribe or large group of people, dance evolves to the tastes of said populace. The Bop. The Walk. The Cha-lypso. The Twist. The Slop. The Stroll became all the rage at any and all dance floors during the early days of rock music.
From a Sociological perspective, all this came into existence because of Rock music achieving mass cultural acceptance and integration. The Fashion, Automobile and Music Instrument Industry all gained ridiculous amounts of revenue when they courted the attention (and the $$$$) of this bold, new-fangled cultural phenomenon.
I'm just wondering if he knew what he was doing as I listen to Carol for the bwabillionth time.
Now I'm done.
Mr. Berry striking an iconic pose circa late-60's, early 70's.