Chuck Berry – one of the founders of rock-n-roll – died yesterday at his home outside St. Louis, Mo.

His unmistakable guitar licks, onstage duck walk and songs about cars and girls, inspired the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, not to mention generations of kids playing guitars in basements and garages around the world.  His music was an unholy mix of the blues, gospel, rhythm and blues and country and served as a roadmap to teenagers in the 1950s, helping to break down the racial and cultural barriers of the time.

Born in St. Louis in 1926, the great grandchild of slaves, Chuck Berry decided to pick up the guitar after singing in his high school’s talent show. By the time he visited Chicago’s Chess Records in 1955, he had incorporated his distinct style into his playing.  He recorded his first hit (“Maybellene”) with Chess, which was followed by a string of hits, including “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Back in the U.S.A.”

While his career had its share of ups and downs and his music went in and out of favor, Chuck Berry remained true to the renegade spirit of rock-n-roll.

Here’s what others had to say about the great Chuck Berry:

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”
– John Lennon

“[My mama] said, ‘You and Elvis are pretty good, but you’re no Chuck Berry.’”
— Jerry Lee Lewis

“There’s only one true king of rock ‘n’ roll. His name is Chuck Berry.”
— Stevie Wonder

Chuck Berry - photo by Tom Hearn

“To me, Chuck Berry always was the epitome of rhythm and blues playing, rock and roll playing. It was beautiful, effortless, and his timing was perfection. He is rhythm supreme. He plays that lovely double-string stuff, which I got down a long time ago, but I’m still getting the hang of. Later I realized why he played that way–because of the sheer physical size of the guy. I mean, he makes one of those big Gibsons look like a ukulele!”
— Keith Richards

“Well, Chuck Berry is the first singer-songwriter I know of.”
— Roy Orbison

“In my universe, Chuck is irreplaceable. All that brilliance is still there, and he’s still a force of nature. As long as Chuck Berry’s around, everything’s as it should be. This is a man who has been through it all. The world treated him so nasty. But in the end, it was the world that got beat.”
— Bob Dylan

“I am so sad to hear of Chuck Berry’s passing. I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us.  He lit up our teenage years, and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers. His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck you were amazing & your music is engraved inside us forever.”
— Mick Jagger

“This is a tremendous loss of a giant for the ages. Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”
— Bruce Springsteen

“Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an artform. He led the teenage takeover of pop music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting.”
— Little Steven

Keith Richards inducts Chuck Berry into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame:

Johnny B. Goode:

Sweet Little Sixteen:

Maybellene:

Little Queenie:

Chuck Berry on “Soul Train” (1973):

Memphis, Tennessee (with John Lennon, a yowling Yoko Ono and Jerry Rubin on bongo drum):

 

Chuck Berry in the 1950's

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