Filled with excitement and anticipation, I created a playlist for the drive to New Orleans this past Winter break. A self-described music junkie and amateur rock historian, I included classics from a wide variety of genres that originated in the American south such as jazz, the blues, bluegrass, some country and of course good ole rock n’ roll. Amongst Armstrong, Ray Charles, Hendrix, CCR and Muddy Waters, I included one of the music legends I looked up to the most- Chuck Berry.
Although I had been a rock aficionado since before high school due to the influence of my parents’ musical collection, I was introduced to the founding father of rock n’ roll in when I was taking a college course in high school on American popular music. My professor, a jovial elderly twiggy blonde woman, showed us the black and white video of native Missourian playing “Johnny B. Goode” in front of a British teen audience. I was freezing cold, surrounded by bored students. He was sweaty and shaking his legs and hips to the guitar strings. I could only imagine being one of the adolescents at the time listening to this awesome tune for the first time in 1958.
While one of Chuck Berry’s biggest inspirations was the grand Muddy Waters, Berry himself also became a huge influence in the history of rock and music. Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and countless other rock classics attribute Berry as a source of inspiration. If it wasn’t for Berry’s innovative musical mind, we would not have the great musical movements of grunge, funk and even many of today’s underground and popular hits.
Ultimately, Chuck Berry is arguably one of the most vital individuals who lay the foundations for music generations to come. Because of his music, presence, and way in which he brought forth rock n’ roll into the mainstream, the genre of rock has been able to gather a presence and impact thousands of lives.
Although I am currently saddened by the news that this great musician has left us, I am still smiling at one memory I have with one of Berry’s songs. The first night after arriving in NOLA, my mom and I curiously stepped into a bar where a cover band called Chicken on the Bone was playing oldies to an elderly crowd. As I was photographing them and reveling the sight of the crowd having a good time, I screamed and put my camera down immediately upon hearing the first hears the chords of “Johnny B. Goode”. Swiveling my legs and hips, I was captured by the pure moment of enjoyment. The lights in the bar twinkled, my mother laughed as she saw me dance to this old song, and the other folks in the bar grabbed their partners and danced as they sang “Go Johnny go!”.
As the song ended, the lyrics said: “Maybe someday your name will be in the lights”. Well, Chuck, your name has been in the lights and forever engraved in our hearts. Thank you for sharing your music with us. Rest in peace and I hope you bring some rock n’ roll to heaven!