Friday Night with Guitar George: Chuck Berry

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it “Chuck Berry.”

         -John Lennon

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

        -Mick Jagger

Charles Edward Anderson Berry passed away Saturday March 18 at the age of 90.  I never featured Chuck Berry on Friday Night with Guitar George simply because his influence is so ubiquitous and his importance is so self-evident I considered it pointless, just as if I were writing a weekly blog about great baseball players past and present I would probably leave out Babe Ruth.

The quotes above, although brief, say an awful lot about the sheer magnitude of Berry’s importance.  As Lennon succinctly points out, Chuck Berry is synonymous with rock and roll itself.  And as Jagger suggests, front men such as himself and Paul McCartney were as smitten with Berry’s charisma as a performer as George Harrison and Keith Richards were with Berry’s skill as a musician.  Thus, not only did the Beatles and the Rolling Stones cover Berry’s songs, they were essentially extensions of the man himself.

On this anthology of Berry’s greatest hits there are twenty-six tracks—perfectly appropriate because these songs represent the ABCs of rock ‘n’ roll music, or as Ted Nugent puts it, “If you don’t know every Chuck Berry lick, you can’t play rock guitar.”

When NASA launched the Voyager space probe in 1977 they included a “golden record” that features musical selections from a wide variety of international genres.  One of the tracks is Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”  Which means that it is technically possible that one day the denizens of a far remote world will be able to hear Chuck Berry “play guitar just like a-ringing a bell.”  If we are going to export rock and roll to the distant reaches of the galaxy, we might as well send the best.

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