Monday, April 10, 2017

Saying Goodbye: Rock and Roll's Chuck Berry

This is a personal post. One of sadness and a sense of loss as so many musicians from my childhood through adulthood, musicians who are like distant fictive kin,  intimates who have been at times during relationship break-ups and start ups--closer often than family or friends. 

Delores Fisher (during my performer's transition to serious adulthood)

These musicians gave me solace during my "party down" disco club kid years and funky town foggy afternoon "git on up" young adult do I really have to come in to work early today? malaise. In the last few years, quite a few of them have steadily exited their way stage right off our world stage and on into eternity.

So many...I just want to talk a little about Chuck Berry.

Bad Boy with gleaming eyes and a tongue-in- cheek smile that lit young girls' hearts and erotic imaginings of older women nostalgic for husbands who had let the spark of excitement fade, Chuck Berry wore his hair in a style that we called "conked."  Really erotic romancing men wore this style.Yet, he could sometimes look  clean cut, like an innocent kid next door. And sometimes, when his guitar shaking gyrations and duck walking slide across a stage became scintillating,  he let a few strands of hair float onto his forehead as he bounced and frolicked in solo or in front of a band.

 
He could play his guitar so hot that you HAD to move something! He would sneer out lyrics that made adults roll their eyes and groan," Umh, Umh, Umh, you hear him?"As a little girl, I didn't understand the context, but even as a child I moved my little self to his wailing voice and infectious guitar licks.  When his fame as a performer grew, Chuck Berry began to play his music for all races and to many in other countries. He brought raw, raucous Black Rock and Roll onto the mid-fifties global scene.


And when played to all races with pick up bands in the U.S. and Europe,  he code switched to a commentary style that eased the taste of Black Rock and Role onto musical palates not quite used to such emotionality. He could become "proper" or "countryfied." Before he launched into a blistering riff. In an age when crossover artists were beginning a rise into acceptance, Chuck Berry's music was unapologetically Black American and HOT!



His hits became so big here in the US and oversees, that he achieved superstar status. One of my favorites: "No Particular Place to Go."Cars were becoming more than vehicles. Restless youth culture made automobiles and cruising an American adolescent favorite past time filled with drag racing, friendship, and male ego competition for the most prized girls in the high school.


Listen to this opening guitar lick. Sound familiar?


Think of so many rock players....OH YEA . . . think of the opening guitar riff to the stage musical homage to the 1950s....Grease. Dick Clark (also now deceased)was one of our youth culture lightening rods. He grounded us in everything on the scene, helped showcase so many stars and Chuck Berry . . . well,  Dick Clark was in lyrical form with many of his introductions for Chuck Berry, as depicted in this segment of American Bandstand.


When I became an adult, I valued Chuck Berry's resilience; music changed, civil unrest called for different sounds. Yet, he seemed able to reinvent himself, yet sound as rockin' '50s as always. His induction into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 helped to highlight roots of Rock and Roll in Rhythm and Blues and Blue's that was sped up and rocked by people like Berry long before it was titled as an official American musical genre.



Chuck Berry continued to tour through Reggae, Rap, Hip Hop, Bounce, Trap, Neo Soul and up until 2014 or so. Even during the 1980s, when he was on Soul Train with host Don Cornelius (also now deceased and another of our youth culture icons),  some young people recognized the distance between their music and his. But when he rocked hard on the Soul Train stage, they danced. A bridge was forged--Blues has lyrics that span generations when on the risque side.  On a 1973 Soul Train TV show with host Don Cornelius, Berry performs with a stage band that did not include familiar musicians. He was a solo player who played with all sorts of bands that knew his songs, chord changes, and his style.


Some good concerts, some not so impressive followed in the 1990s and 2000s.. He continued to tour, often  with his son, who seemed to help keep Chuck Berry going, encourage Berry to blast out his familiar licks.  And although slowing down, Berry was still "saucy" in his approach to stage presence and performance.



He's was here before I was born; His music and his persona was here during my childhood. He was here all my life, boogeying in the back drop of my life's lived experience tableau. Chuck Berry, guitar man  was a legendary musician. Although he's gone,  Chuck Berry's music . . .is a memorable thread of notesongs of my life, my sonictapestry.



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