It might seem a little odd to use a quote for a tribute post to Chuck Berry to use the lyrics to a Bob Seeger tune, but it was precisely the action of downloading the line below from that tune when it fully hit me what the loss of Mr. Berry meant to me.
“Well all Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks,
Get into your kicks—
Come back baby,
Rock ‘n Roll never forgets”
It always takes a while for any loss to hit me. It took a couple years for my mom’s passing to really hit me, and this was no exception. I had to go to the bathroom to get a towel to absorb the tears, and I found myself sobbing and took a couple gulps of air.
Being a guitar player is one of the ways I define myself. I’ve been a guitarist for over 50 years now. The original inspiration for this was Mr. Berry’s recording of “No Particular Place to Go”. It was the summer of 1964 and the British Invasion was in full swing. My favorite song at the time was “I get Around”.
I was in the back seat of my parents car when the tune came on the radio. I’d never heard it before, and I really had no idea who Chuck Berry Was, in any case. I liked it right from the start but the guitar solos electrified me, I’d never heard anything so exciting and badgered my parents to turn up the volume. It just sounded like so much fun, I wanted to learn how to do it.
At the time, I had a stepbrother who was still living at home and had a guitar. At this point in my life I had taken three years of violin lessons (In addition to a year of organ lessons)and had played in my schools orchestra. The left hand dexterity quickly transferred to the guitar and my stepbrother showed me basic surf music riffs like wipe out and pipeline and I began listening to Dick Dale and Ventures records. I also bought the single “Carol” by the Rolling Stones, but having no idea it was a Chuck Berry song until I noticed his name on the label.
My stepbrother moved out in the fall of 1964 and took his guitar with him. I traded my violin in on a single pickup Kay archtop as it was all they had within my price range at the local music store. My parents, at this time, made me a promise they would, in a years time, buy me a better quality guitar. (You can read about that story here: Guitar Story)
Strangely, the first real guitar solo I ever learned off a record, was the Keith Richard solo off of the record “Carol”, and it took me nearly a year to figure it out completely, and I was still working on barre chords, so it took me a few years to actually play the tune.
In any case, after the Beatles recorded “Rock & Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”, it became obvious that Chuck was a huge influence. At some point in high school, I bought Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, and slowly learned most of his licks. I was also learning stuff that was current, but I never really strayed too far from the basic rock foundation. I really like that era of rock & Roll as well as anything: Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Jerry Lee and that sort of stuff always made me feel at home. I do have my own style, but most anyone will spot the Chuck influences.
I bought Chuck’s “Back Home” album in the fall of 1970 when I was a college freshman, which probably marked me a somewhat odd (amongst other things) by my fellow dorm mates.
Fast forward to the 90’s and I found myself in a series of bar bands and discovered that most of Chuck’s tunes were as reliable as anything to pack dance floors. Most of my guitar buddies were playing in “classic rock” bands that played a somewhat heavier sound, but I sort of soldiered on as if Eddie Van Halen had never existed.
It was practically a requirement to play Johnny Be Goode, and I always got the feeling that many guitarists didn’t really enjoy playing it, and I’ve heard a number of nearly comical versions where the guitarist could resist the urge to “shred”. Other songs, like the Georgia Satellites “Keep your hands to Yourself” provided me with a wonderful canvass to paint on, it was just made for my style of guitar…..
For me it was supreme fun and some of my best memories are people dancing like nobody was looking and grinning like monkeys. I find that tremendously inspiring and it’s a form of communication/feedback loop that produces a high like nothing else. There’s not much that I enjoy more. It’s going to get heavy playtime if my life ever flashes in front of me. There’s something primal about early Rock & Roll, yet it still manages to retain a sense of innocence. I’ve been doing it long enough that it’s become a part of who I am.
These days, I play in a band that plays all original tunes. And wherever one of Chuck’s licks will fit in, I’m not shy about using it. Chuck “inspired” is probably more accurate.
In any case, the thrill has never gone away for me. I still find a full dance floor a totally intoxicating experience and if I can execute a perfect full step bend of the “G” sting to ring out in unison with what I’m fretting on the “B” string, leading to a series of double and triple stops at the same time, I’m probably as close to heaven as I’ll ever get.
Chuck, you’ve given me a gift which I cherish and will remain eternally grateful.
I know you’re still rockin’, wherever you are.