Rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry dies, aged 90

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Associated Press

Chuck Berry, rock 'n' roll's founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music's joy and rebellion in such classics as Johnny B. Goode, Sweet Little Sixteen and Roll Over Beethoven, died today at the age of 90 in his home in St Louis, Missouri.

Emergency responders summoned to Mr Berry's residence by his caretaker who found him unresponsive, police in Missouri's St Charles County said in a statement.

Attempts to revive Berry failed, and he was pronounced dead shortly after, police said.

FILE - In this April 4, 1980 file photo, guitarist and singer Chuck Berry performs his "duck walk" as he plays his guitar on stage. On Saturday, March 18, 2017, police in Missouri said Berry has died at the age of 90. (AP Photo)

Chuck Berry performs his "duck walk" as he plays his guitar on stage in 1980.

Source: Associated Press

A police spokeswoman, Val Joyner, told The Associated Press she had no additional details about the death of Berry, calling him "really a legend."

Berry set the template for a new sound

Berry's core repertoire was some three dozen songs, his influence incalculable, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to virtually any group from garage band to arena act that called itself rock 'n roll.

While Elvis Presley gave rock its libidinous, hip-shaking image, Berry was the auteur, setting the template for a new sound and way of life.

Well before the rise of Bob Dylan, Berry wedded social commentary to the beat and rush of popular music.

"He was singing good lyrics, and intelligent lyrics, in the '50s when people were singing, Oh, baby, I love you so, John Lennon once observed. 

He began his musical career at age 15 when he went on stage at a high school review to do his own version of Jay McShann's Confessin' the Blues.

Meanwhile, his troubles with the law began, in 1944, when a joy riding trip to Kansas City turned into a crime spree involving armed robberies and car theft.

Berry served three years of a 10-year sentence at a reformatory.

A year after his October 1947 release, Berry met and married Themetta Suggs, who stayed by his side despite some of his well-publicised indiscretions. 

Berry also appeared in a dozen movies, doing his distinctive bent-legged "duck-walk" in several teen exploitation flicks of the '50s.

Trouble with the law

His career nearly ended when he was indicted for violating the Mann Act, which barred transportation of a minor across state lines for "immoral purposes."

An all-white jury found him guilty in 1960, but the charges were vacated after the judge made racist comments.

A trial in 1961 led to his serving 1 1/2 years of a three-year term.

Berry continued to record after getting out, and his legacy was duly honored by the Beatles and the Stones, but his hit-making days were essentially over.

Tax charges came in 1979, and another three-year prison sentence, all but 120 days of which was suspended. Some former female employees later sued him for allegedly videotaping them in the bathroom of his restaurant. The cases were settled in 1994, after Berry paid $1.3 million.

"Every 15 years, in fact, it seems I make a big mistake," Berry acknowledged in his memoir.

Still, echoing the lyrics of Back in the U.S.A.  he said: "There's no other place I would rather live, including Africa, than America. I believe in the system."

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