Rock and roll legend Chuck Berry dies aged 90

'While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest'

Harriet Agerholm,Ian Johnston
Saturday 18 March 2017 23:21
Chuck Berry dies aged 90

St Charles County Police department said Charles Edward Anderson Berry, better known as Chuck Berry, had been found unresponsive by emergency services at a house and they had been unable to revive him.

Tributes came from Sir Mick Jagger, who said Berry's music had "lit up our teenage years", Bruce Springsteen, who said the star was "the greatest pure rock and roll writer who ever lived", and Slash, once of Guns N' Roses, who put it simply: "He was undisputedly the king."

The Grammy award-winning singer, known for hits including "Johnny B Goode" and "Roll Over Beethoven", had announced on his 90th birthday in October that he was to release a new album – his first for 38 years. It is expected to come out this year.

Police said the musician’s family has requested privacy 'during this time of bereavement'

A police spokeswoman said: "Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques. Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1.26pm.

"The St Charles County Police Department sadly confirms the death of Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr, better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry.

"The family requests privacy during this time of bereavement."

Mr Berry was among the first inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Tunes such as "Rock and Roll Music", "Sweet Little Sixteen", "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Carol" were described as "danceable, youthful and relatable – driven by the delicious tension between Berry's precise vocals and his elegant (and exuberant) renegade guitar riffs", the citation said.

“While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together."

That was a line which echoed a remark by John Lennon who was certain about the scale of Berry's impact.

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry,'" the Beatle once said.

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But Lennon also made clear Berry's appeal was not just about the music. "He was singing good lyrics, and intelligent lyrics, in the '50s when people were singing, "Oh, baby, I love you so,"' he said.

His skill as a guitarist inspired a generation, including the likes of Keith Richards, who admitted he "lifted every lick" from Berry, and others such as George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Pete Townshend of the Who.

Such was his acclaim, that when Nasa launched the unmanned Voyager I in 1977, the only rock and roll song on an album of music sent in the hope it might be found by extra-terrestrials was "Johnny B. Goode".

But Berry also had a reputation for being difficult at times.

Talking about a fight between them, Jerry Lee Lewis, said: "He whupped my butt ... He said he was the king of rock 'n' roll and I said I was. And he said he was and he proved he was. I don't argue with him no more."

Lewis also remarked his mother had told him: "Now you and Elvis are pretty good but you ain't Chuck Berry."

Berry had a number of brushes with the law, including at least three spells in prison.

He served three years of a 10-year sentence after a joy-riding trip that involved armed robbery and stealing cars in 1944.

In 1960, when he was an established star, he was found guilty by an all-white jury of breaking laws banning the transportation of a minor from one state to another for “immoral purposes”. The charges were vacated after the judge made racist comments, but he served half of a three-year term after another trial.

He served 120 days in prison for tax offences in 1979 and later paid $1.3m to former female employees who sued him for filming them in his restaurant’s bathroom.

"Every 15 years … It seems I make a big mistake," Berry wrote in his memoir.

Despite such troubles, as soon as the news of Berry's death was released, tributes began pouring in.

Sir Mick Jagger tweeted: "I am so sad to hear of Chuck Berry's passing. I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us.

"He lit up our teenage years, and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers.

"His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck you were amazing & your music is engraved inside us forever."

Bruce Springsteen said: "Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived."

The Jacksons said on Twitter: "Chuck Berry merged blues & swing into the phenomenon of early rock 'n' roll. In music, he cast one of the longest shadows. Thank You Chuck."

Slash, the former Guns N' Roses guitarist, said: "Heart broken to hear of the passing of Chuck Berry. He was undisputedly the king."

Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale said: "So sad to share the news of the exceptional Chuck Berry's passing...RIP Chuck..."

Epic Records chairman LA Reid said: "Music was changed forever by Chuck Berry's indescribable impact. What a great life in music."

Singer-songwriter Huey Lewis said Berry was "maybe the most important figure in all of rock and roll. His music and his influence will last forever."

When he announced he had completed a new album last year, Berry dedicated it to his wife of 68 years, Themetta.

"This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy," he said. "My darlin' I'm growing old! I've worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!"

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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