Without Chuck Berry, rock ’n roll would exist today as the offspring of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and whatever blues seeped into the stewpot.
But it wouldn’t be rock ‘n roll.
Don’t question whether Berry, who died Saturday at the age of 90, deserves his crown. He does. He was everything American parents feared of rock ‘n roll pioneers, especially black men like Berry: loud, brash, sexy, talented, defiant and naughty. Only age and semi-frequent run-ins with the law slowed him.
Berry, New York magazine’s Bill Wyman has written, “certainly created the mythos of the rock and roll star as we knew it for decades — a solitary figure with a guitar.” Or, as John Lennon, the best Beatle, put it, “If you had to give rock ’n roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”
Elvis brought image, Jerry Lee imported a veneer of danger and Little Richard was a showman. But rock ’n roll will forever revolve around its stars and their guitars, telling tales and saving souls with their music. Chuck Berry showed us the way.