So, Chuck Berry died today. Ninety, Gawd, bet he never thought he would reach such an old age.
One thing that is seldom said about Chuck Berry is that he had a direct appeal to young men who really found nothing appealing about the middle-of-the-road pop drivel that was marketed to teenage girls [and to a large extent their parents] in the 1950s and early 60s. Songs about cars, girls and guitars were things boys understood. I must have read dozens of articles and listened to just as many BBC docs about him, across the years. Was I a fan? Absolutely. And I was there at the time . . . this is first-hand nostalgia talking . . .
I was just a kid in 1956 but can vividly recall my friend Paul Leith and I running down to the fairground on a Saturday morning and pumping all of our weekly pocket-money into the best Juke-box in town. We had to change the three-shillings and sixpence we got into sixpences and then we would pump the whole lot in and listen to Schoolday seven-times in a row. Our weekly fix. ‘If you tried to give rock-and-roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’. Indeed.
For us not-quite-teenagers yet, in those days everything American was glitzy and so, so, different to our own experience. It was unthinkable that kids drove their own cars to school; burgers and Coke were unearthly, outrageous treats let alone the everyday parlance of the classroom. Tucson? Route 66? Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico? I mean what kind of place is Amarillo? It would be forty years before I found out.
His career faltered fairly quickly. We moved on . . . to what? The Stones and then Dylan and the West Coast sound of Jefferson Airplane I suppose and then we moved on again. Genius though the lyrics of Little Queenie were, that wasn’t where we were at any more. We had jobs and girlfriends; fiancés in some cases and the imperative was to get away . . . the world’s ever-changing substance.
I never saw him live. He toured a lot when My Ding-a-Ling was a hit but I hated that song so much and hated what it represented . . . The Day the Music Died? . . . that I gave his tours and live appearances a miss. Never saw any of them: Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee. Seemed pointless. The Internet is full of tributes to him today and the Tweeters are out in force; God knows how one can say anything meaningful about Chuck Berry in 140-characters.
‘. . . pushing through the crowd trying to get to where she's at/I was campaign shouting like a Southern diplomat . . .’ Brilliant, on any level.