Chuck Berry died

I was surprised he made it to this age, but Chuck Berry died today in Missouri—at 90. I haven’t time to write a long obituary, but of course he was one of the pioneers of rock and roll, one of the earliest black rock stars, and this was one of the songs that made him famous. Written in 1958 and rising to #2 on the U.S. charts, “Johnny B. Goode” is instantly recogizable from the opening guitar riff, which, as you’ll read below, wasn’t really original.  The song was covered by, among others, both Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles.

And some background from Wikipedia:

Written by Berry in 1955, the song is about an illiterate “country boy” from the New Orleans area, who plays a guitar “just like ringing a bell,” and who might one day have his “name in lights.” Berry has acknowledged that the song is partly autobiographical and that the original lyrics referred to Johnny as a “colored boy”, but he changed it to “country boy” to ensure radio play. As well as suggesting that the guitar player is good, the title hints at autobiographic elements, because Berry was born at 2520 Goode Avenue, in St. Louis. The song was initially inspired by Johnnie Johnson, the regular piano player in Berry’s band,  but developed into a song mainly about Berry himself. Johnson played on many other recordings by Berry, but Lafayette Leake played the piano on this song.

The opening guitar riff of “Johnny B. Goode” is essentially a note-for-note copy of the opening single-note solo on Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” (1946), played by guitarist Carl Hogan. Neither the guitar intro nor the solo are played at once. Berry played the introductory parts together with the rhythm guitar and later overdubbed the solo runs.

h/t: Ivan

35 Comments

  1. Mary L
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    A legend, gone.

  2. Frank Bath
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s late night here in London and I feel a little tearful. Chuck was a one off. I’ve RT’ed Jerry’s clip, just watch the man.

  3. Posted March 18, 2017 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised at the wikipedia entry and would doubt it. Yes, the notes are the same as Jordan but the intro is easy to play on the guitar using a mixture of the notes of the riff and the top strings as a rhythm. That’s what I have always assumed Berry innovated and what he played.

    Wouldn’t you have loved to see this performance live? It is truly great.

    Not only does his guitar speak, it’s funny, as the lyric is ironic, literate and perfectly stressed. It looks forward to later rap. There is not much of a melody but he takes care to match the rhythm of the spoken language to the stress on the first and third beats of the bar and to place non-stressed syllables in between. That’s why it sounds so harmonious and satisfying.

    Rap, in its heyday, forgot to match the rhythms of the spoken language with the stress on the first and third beat: it was happy to change the natural stress of the spoken word to demands of the music. Berry didn’t do that.

    His music was great and his lyrics were frighteningly good. Nobody in rock ‘n’ roll came close to this in 1958. A contrarily clever black guy. Respect yourself. R.I.P. Chuck Berry.

    • Posted March 18, 2017 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      Johnny B. Goode is on NASA’s Golden Record to the stars. He’s immortal twice over.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 19, 2017 at 1:41 am | Permalink

      Thanks for all that, Dermot. Very cool to know.

  4. Jeff Chamberlain
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    I sure don’t like thinking of Chuck Berry in the past tense.

  5. somer
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Another legend gone. ☁️Sigh☁️

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Although the Beatles covered a couple of other Berry songs on their albums, this one they only did on the BBC radio show “Saturday Club”.

    This is my favorite(!!!) Chuck Berry tune. Thanks so much.

  7. Don Mackay
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Surely the most handsome man who ever lived.
    Watching him on the 1958 clip makes one wonder where the fun in rock and roll has gone. To inject a bit of life into our dancing class in early ’60s Miss Pohlan, the dancing tutor, would put on her Chuck disc, and wait for the ceiling to fall.
    RIP Chuck.

  8. Sshort
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I was lucky enough to see Mr. Berry perform in a small venue in the late 80’s. It’s the first time I understood what charisma was. It came off him like a life force. Palpable. Magnetic. You could not take your eyes off him.

  9. Doug
    Posted March 18, 2017 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Roll over Beethoven,
    And tell Tchaikovsky the news.

  10. Posted March 19, 2017 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Saddened. A true legend. What a huge loss to the world.

  11. ajlowry
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Vimeo.com, video number 18623223, shows Mr. Berry teaching Keith Richards how to play “Oh Carol.” It’s amusing.

    Goodbye, Chuck Berry.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 19, 2017 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

      For some reason I’m unable to search by vid number on Vimeo…?

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 19, 2017 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

        Ahem…just as I was hitting Post it dawned on me to just search on Vimeo for Chuck Berry. Bingo.

        Fun link, thanks for the tip. 🙂

        • Ken Elliott
          Posted March 20, 2017 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          I had the same experience. I’ve now shared that video on my Facebook timeline. Thank you, AJ.

    • Roger
      Posted March 20, 2017 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      Poor Keith never did get it right haha.

  12. Andrew Orrin Lutes
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Chuck Beery’s Johnny B. Good is on the Voyager record disc, of music representative of humanity. Berry played at a 1987 Planetary Society celebration of the Voyager mission.

  13. Randy schenck
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    The one and only.

  14. Kevin
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    An inspiration to many and quite possibly one of the most admired guitarists of all time. What a great contribution to art.

  15. George
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Message from aliens – “Send more Chuck Berry”

    • Andrew Orrin Lutes
      Posted March 19, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      “send more Chuck Berry” as a message from aliens was a joke told by Melanie Chartoff in the “weekend update” part of “Fridays,” another networks imitation of NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

  16. Mike
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I grew up listening to Chuck Berry, and that Song was a favourite of the Band we had in 1960, still is today. His Music was real. By that i mean he had none of the Equipment they use today, the band could probably roll up to a Gig in a small Bus, not 3 Artic trucks as nowadays.

  17. Mike
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    The Audience look like a Bankers Convention,lol

  18. Ken Phelps
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Must recommend Peter Tosh’s cover of JBGood.

  19. Posted March 19, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Chuck’s social commentary could be sly. Here, Fontella Bass slows down the tempo of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and brings a different tone to the lyrics.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejWfYvdta9g

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 19, 2017 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Now that’s a cool cover! Thanks.

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 19, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    In death, as it was in life, Chuck Berry’s got no particular place to go.

    Without Chuck, there would be no rock ‘n’ roll as we know it. Hail! hail! (the true King of) Rock ‘n’ Roll!

    • Taz
      Posted March 19, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      As Bob Seger sang: “All of Chuck’s children are out there, playin’ his licks”.

  21. Posted March 19, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    In a band I backed Chuck Berry touring Australia in the 1970s. It was a great, though slightly weird, experience. ‘Johnny B. Goodes’ opening 12 bars is essential study for guitarists in order to understand the evolution of rock guitar. And you’ve just got to learn the duck walk….

    rz

  22. Posted March 20, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Wow. I had no idea he had been still around!

  23. RPGNo1
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Johnny B. Goode from “Back to the Future”

    RIP, Chuck!

  24. Hempenstein
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Not sure if this FB link will be view-able (I’d post another but couldn’t find one), but it crossed my window that for the last nearly quarter-century, Chuck lived in this 1932 mansion with considerable acreage.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 21, 2017 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      ***WOW***

      Way ta go, Chuck!

      I see we’re still Keeping California Golden.


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