Chuck Berry, whose rollicking songs, springy guitar riffs and onstage duck walk defined rock & roll during its early years and for decades to come, has died. The St. Charles County Police Department confirmed the news on Facebook. Berry was 90 years old.
"St. Charles County police responded to a medical emergency on Buckner Road at approximately 12:40 p.m. today (Saturday, March 18)," the Facebook post reads. "Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered lifesaving techniques. Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1:26 p.m." It went on to confirm that the man was Berry and added that his family was requesting privacy at this time.
Starting with his first hit, 1955's "Maybellene," Berry penned a collection of songs that, in both groove and teen-life mindset, became essential parts of the rock canon: "Roll Over, Beethoven," "Rock & Roll Music," and especially "Johnny B. Goode" were witty, zesty odes to the then-new art form - songs so key to the music that they had to be mastered by every fledgling guitarist or band who followed Berry. As teenagers, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger first bonded over their love of Berry's music, and over the last five decades Berry's songs have been covered by an astounding array of artists: from the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Doors and the Grateful Dead to James Taylor, Peter Tosh, Judas Priest, Dwight Yoakam, Phish, and the Sex Pistols. As Richards said when inducting Berry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, "I've stolen every lick he ever played."
By fusing blues and country, Berry also invented a signature guitar style - like "ringing a bell," as he put it in "Johnny G. Goode" - that was imitated by bands from the Stones and the Beach Boys to punk rockers. His lyrics - largely about sex, cars, music and trouble - introduced an entirely new vocabulary into popular music in the Fifties. In his songs, Berry captured America's newfound post-war prosperity - a world, as he sang in "Back in the U.S.A.," where "hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day." ''I made records for people who would buy them," Berry once said. "No color, no ethnic, no political - I don't want that, never did.''