There's an overused cliche that goes "well, this marks the end of an era." In this case I know that it is accurate. Chuck's passing to me does mark the end of an era. John Lennon reportedly said "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"
I first started listening seriously to pop music back in 1955. My deejay idol was Martin Block and he would do a countdown of the top hits in the nation on his "Make Believe Ballroom" radio show every Saturday morning, which aired on WABC in New York City. Chuck's recording of "Maybelline" was on one of the very first Martin Block countdown shows. I religiously wrote down all the chart information about every song on a large pad. (Many of you have "been there" so I am sure that you understand.) Maybe my hearing was still in a development stage because I remember that for Chuck's record, the first time I heard Martin Block announce and play it, I wrote down "Maple Leaf" by Chuck Barry. What I can tell you is that it was one of the first records that I ever bought. And it did not take long before I wore out my copy and had to buy another one.
I saw Chuck often on "Bandstand" and in person at several live rock and roll shows in New York City. I absolutely loved his recordings and loved his performances, which of course included his famed "duck walk." It may have been at one of those performances that I saw in person that he invented it: he claimed "I had nothing else to do during the instrumental part of the song. I did it and here comes the applause." That applause was music to his ears and the rest of the "duck walk" story is history.
I loved his songs. His lyrics were among the very best ever written in the rock and roll genre. One of my favorite lines (and there are hundreds) was this one from "You Never Can Tell": "The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale".
One of the most amazing things to me is that he continued to play concerts all over the world well into his 80's. He did not have to do that. He did it because he loved what he did.
Oh yes, in the 70s while working for Casey Kasem as the East Coast researcher for American Top 40, one of the two producers (I forget if it was Don Bustany or Nikki Wine) suggested that I call up Chuck's business office to get some information for a story that Casey wanted to do. I called the number and I talked briefly to a gentleman there who provided me with the information. I was about to say goodbye to him when the guy said to me "hang on a moment." I thought he was simply being interrupted by another call. But, moments later, there's was a different male voice on the phone. He said "Hello, this is Berry." I will never forget those four words! I just lost it. I hope that I did not say those immmortal Ralph Kramden words "humida, humida" but I might as well have said them. I stammered "Mr. Berry, I do research for Casey Kasem. it's an honor to be talking to you. The gentleman I just spoke to provided me with a lot of good information and I am most grateful." In retrospect I know that I could have and probably should have said more but I did not expect to be talking to the man himself and I was not prepared and, yes, very nervous. Chuck wished me a nice day and then the first gentleman got back on and we said our goodbyes.
I read this morning -- I had not been aware of this -- that back in 2012 Chuck told Rolling Stone: "My singing days have passed. My voice is gone. My throat is worn. And my lungs are going fast. I'm wondering about my future." And yet the man refused to retire. In fact last year, for the first time in 38 years, he recorded a new album. I assume that when it comes out in the next few months it is going to establish many pop chart records. Can you imagine it debuting at #1 on the Billboard CD chart? I can.
I will close with this thought.
I truly believe that many if not most of the biggest names in rock and roll would not be as excellent as they became were it not for the existence and influence of Charles Anderson Edward Berry.
Chuck, R.I.P. and thanks for the musical memories!
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