Chuck Berry: one of the two men who literally were Rock and Roll.
“The world was black and white. And then there was color.” – Ben Brown Sr., my father.
I would love for all of you to take a moment to recognize that it was with Little Richard, Rock's first great screamer and electrifying performer, along with this man, Chuck Berry (October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017), Rock's first great storyteller and guitar God (Gibson ES355 for those not in the know), that the foundation was laid, the template was written and the die was cast for every single Rock and Roller that followed.
These two Black men scared the White establishment in a manner that no other Black performers had ever done prior; the music of these two men were the first introduction to Black culture that many whites, and particularly White teenagers, had ever been exposed to. Little Richard and Chuck Berry shook the world to its core, forever changing the way we all view what was at one time called "race music".
In 2011, I named the computer I am wrote the original post on "Maybelline", after Chuck Berry's first single for Chess Records in 1955, in homage. It is as perfect as a Rock and Roll record could ever be, right down to making up words that didn't exist that made perfect sense, given their context, a la Lewis Carroll's "The Jabberwocky". I did it as a challenge to myself that any time I used her, I would strive for that kind of brilliance. Now all I would need is for Leonard Chess to slightly speed up the tape on playback to change the chord from an A to a C...
Chuck Berry was the original gangsta, a man who did time in Federal Prison TWICE; the first time was on what many believed to be trumped up charges in an attempt to silence him and end the fascination of white teenagers of this Black man playing the "Devil's Music". My own grandfather, Gordon, hated Rock and Roll, Ben Brown Sr., once told me. (My father was 13 in 1955 during the first national wave of Rock music.) "He would not allow it (Rock and Roll) to be played in the house. When Dad left for his early morning shift as a bus driver, Mom, your grandmother Lorraine, would tune the small radio in the kitchen to the Rock station, and with my seven brothers and sisters, we would gather around the table, listen to the music and wait for breakfast."
Chuck Berry and his trusty Gibson ES 355 doing his trademark "duckwalk" on the T.A.M.I. Show, Santa Monica, CA, 1964. Directed by Steve Binder, courtesy of the director.
And, before you start to overthink it, let me just put it out there for you: Gordon didn't like Rock and Roll because it was performed by Black people, plain and simple. Racism was the most common reason adults attempted to ban it from the airwaves.
When I asked him what Rock and Roller was his favorite, Dad said he had many but the two that were the greatest were Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Not the greatest in his opinion, but the greatest, period, as if it was not up for discussion. (As far as I am concerned, it isn't up for discussion either.)
Of course, I had more questions: "What was it like when Rock and Roll first started?" Dad then said something that sums up exactly everything I have ever tried to describe but could not fully convey:
"It was like the world was black and white. And then there was color."
To his family, love to you all during this time. To Chuck Berry, thank you for everything just doesn't cover it. John Lennon, a Berry disciple, once stated, "If you had to give Rock and Roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry."
The thing is, you would not need to.
Our tracks this week: Title, Year
1. Bio, 1973
2. Maybellene, 1955
3. Rock And Roll Music, 1957
4. Back In The USA, 1959
5. No Particular Place To Go, 1964
6. Worried Life Blues, 1960
7. Memphis, Tennessee, 1959
8. Havana Moon, 1956
9. Beautiful Delilah, 1959
10. Little Queenie, 1959
11. Right Off Rampart Street, 1965
12. Johnny B. Goode, 1958
13. Time Was, 1958
14. Sweet Little Sixteen, 1958
15. Nadine, 1964
16. You Can't Catch Me, 1956
17. You Never Can Tell, 1964
18. I'm Talking About You, 1961
19. Reelin' And Rockin' (Live, 1972, Lancaster Arts Festival, U.K.), 1973
Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll! and love to you all.
Ben "Bear" Brown Jr., owner