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Chuck Berry Dead at 90

Guitar hero originated rock n’ roll

3/21/2017, 4:34 p.m.
Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll’s founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music’s joy and rebellion in such classics ...
Guitarist, singer and songwriter Chuck Berry performs in Monaco in 2009.

(AP) — 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 Saturday at his home west of St. Louis. He was 90.

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

“Everything I wrote about wasn’t about me, but about the people listening,” he once said.

“Johnny B. Goode,” the tale of a guitar-playing country boy whose mother tells him he’ll be a star, was Berry’s signature song, the archetypal narrative for would-be rockers and among the most ecstatic recordings in the music’s history.

When NASA launched the unmanned Voyager I in 1977, an album was stored on the craft that would explain music on Earth to extraterrestrials. The one rock song included was “Johnny B. Goode.”

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis on Oct. 18, 1926. As a child he practiced a bent-leg stride that enabled him to slip under tables, a prelude to the duck walk of his adult years. His mother, like Johnny B. Goode’s, told him he would make it, and make it big.

A fan of blues, swing and boogie woogie, Berry studied the very mechanics of music and how it was transmitted. As a teenager, he loved to take radios apart and put them back together. Using a Nick Manoloff guitar chord book, he learned how to play the hits of the time. He was fascinated by chord progressions and rhythms, discovering that many songs borrowed heavily from the Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm.”

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