The foundational rock musician Chuck Berry has died. Variety reports:
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Chuck Berry, the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who established the form and the themes of the music with his slyly funny, rhythmically propulsive ’50s hits, such as “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode,” has died in Missouri. He was 90.
St. Charles County police responded to a call placed at around 12:40 p.m. local time on Saturday. They arrived on the scene where Berry was found unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at 1:26 p.m., according to the police department.
Berry hammered out the then-nascent sound’s groundwork in a series of self-penned singles for the Chicago R&B label Chess Records that successfully crossed over into the pop mainstream.
The tunes showcased Berry’s droll singing, inventive guitar licks and acute eye and ear for the nuances of teenage life. In a matter of years, his repertoire would be adopted by such British acolytes as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; California band the Beach Boys surrendered some of the copyright for its 1963 hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” which shamelessly copped the melody of Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” without credit.
“One of my big lights has gone out,” Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards said via Twitter on Saturday. Richards befriended Berry in the 1960s and was the architect of the 60th birthday tribute concert featured in Taylor Hackford’s 1987 Berry documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Although we usually think of Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, or Detroit as the sources for the popular music of the second half of the 20th century, St. Louis played a role, too. I attribute that to the highly developed music programs in its early 20th century public schools and the large number of music clubs, particularly in East St. Louis.