Chuck Berry performs at Virgin Mobile Festival in Baltimore, Maryland August 9, 2008. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/BILL AUTH)
Just like the Talmudic edict for every Jew to teach their children how to swim, there is a similar decree in the rock & roll universe for every guitar teacher to instruct pupils how to play the Chuck Berry riff.
Chuck Berry was the godfather. Without him, the rock & roll revolution as we know it would never have happened or would have mutated into a very different direction.
With his signature sped-up blues riff run amuck, he coined a sound that rang the bell around the world. The early Rolling Stones and Beatles would have had very little to play without their stockpile of Berry covers and The Beach Boys surf sound would never have existed. Berry was the teacher of them all.
It filtered down through the ages with next-generation rockers, from Springsteen to The Ramones to Metallica refining and honoring the riff with their own personal touches.
And it wasn’t just the music – just as significant were Berry’s swaggering attitude and his astounding lyrics. His working class storytelling, full of humor, vernacular and details, rivaled the “serious” folksingers of the era and couldn’t have helped but rubbed off onto Bob Dylan and a resulting generation of word slingers.
Berry’s influence on modern music can’t be underestimated. Despite the invaluable contributions of Elvis, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, history will record that he was the most singular visionary who lassoed the blues, country and folk to create something new called rock & roll.
Years from now, kids will still be picking up the guitar, be taught or teach themselves Berry’s riff and open the door to a universe full of wonder and the limitless joy of six strings.
Hail Hail Chuck Berry.