By Hans Ebert
Again, you need to go back to where you came from to gather your bearings and remember what you either might have forgotten or never appreciated at the time.
Listening to the back catalogue of Mr Chuck Berry, I only now truly understand what a “backbeat and you can’t lose it” really means. Mr Berry might have sounded like playing simple three bar blues or boogie woogie at the time. But his guitar playing always had that backbeat- a non-stop rhythm guitar going on which effortlessly blended in with his leads and gave his vocals probably some of the beginnings of what was slowed down and became funk or soul or whatever black music was labeled.
If you think of every classic Wilson Pickett recording, especially In The Midnight Hour, Mr Chuck Berry could have sped that up and turned it into Rock’n Roll by never losing that backbeat. And it was this same backbeat that made his poetry about Nadine and Carol and Sweet Little Sixteen and Maybelline and everything else that effortlessly rolled out of his mind and onto vinyl like a long train running of lyrical day tripping that inspired everyone from the Beatles and the Stones to Dylan and the Doobie Brothers.
It was those early hits that not only influenced the playing styles of Keith Richards and George Harrison, but also the songwriting of Lennon, McCartney and Dylan. Just listen to his “You Can’t Catch Me” and Lennon’s “Come Together”. And the Beatles’ retro-Berried “Back In The USSR” and Mr Berry’s “Back In The USA”.
If alive and rocking and rolling and doing the stroll, I’m sure he would have his own take on The Big Orange Julius currently in the “Wire House” and tweeting his befuddled and racist thoughts. It would have been bad. Very bad. And very very good Trumpetations going over the hill.
Bob Dylan was a streetwise poet who made us think. Mr Berry was a poet who made us think while dancing and while putting that first band together. In those formative years, how many of us understood his preoccupation with sex in his songs, and all those girls led by she who was Sweet Little Sixteen and which was surely the father to Lennon and McCartney’s “I Saw Her Standing There except that she was just seventeen, if you know what I mean.”
White radio in America made Elvis Presley “The King”. Michael Jackson’s insecurities not only made him marry “The King’s” daughter in a very odd experiment in human relationships, he copyrighted the label that he was The King Of Pop. Meanwhile, there was Mr Chuck Berry, getting older, probably getting angrier that he wasn’t getting the recognition he so richly deserved and always propped up by his loyal apprentice Keith Richards.
The Human Riff has never forgotten where the Stones came from and who gave the rock in his guitar playing the roll. Mr Chuck Berry was all over those early Stones records.
Frankly, I think he’s all over “Exile On Main Street” and almost there on every Rock track by every great Rock band.
It’s typical of this fucked down world, that it takes an artist to die before they’re finally paid their dues.