Chuck Berry Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Chuck Berry 1926–

Black American songwriter and musician.

Berry's unique synthesis of country-western and blues formed an animated musical style which has influenced musicians throughout the world and helped to define the sound of rock and roll. His songs are simple and almost crude in content, yet their narrative skill and innovative word play have, in retrospect, been considered the first examples of rock poetry.

From 1956 to 1959, Berry popularized the "novelty tune": songs noted more for their unusual or catchy content than musical merit. However, Berry's works had an underlying social consciousness. Such songs as No Money Down presented critical views of a racist society and indicated youthful unrest. Though significantly older than his audience, Berry depicted a realistic view of teen life. His songs were not personal; they were written for and about his listeners. Sweet Little Sixteen and No Particular Place to Go expressed the frustration of the teenager's world, while Rock and Roll Music and Johnny B. Goode captured its exhilaration and exuberance. His lyrics are unabashedly American, as in Back in the USA, reflecting media catch phrases and modern trends. By reaching out beyond the traditionally all-black rhythm and blues audience into the realms of rock-oriented audience, his music attained a far broader appeal. Using country guitar tricks and touches of blues vocals, Berry engineered a music style many were eager to imitate.

Berry's age puts him out of most young artists' peer group, yet his influence continues to be felt. While he has not produced anything noteworthy since his 1972 hit, My Ding-a-ling, a current trend towards the simplicity of early rock and roll insures Berry's importance. As the initiator of the rock and roll experience, many consider him its most viable force.

Chuck Berry, an energetic guitar-strumming Negro singer, is a natural for a rhythm & blues bill. He sparks his songstering with some frantic maneuvering in an acrobatic vein. It's strictly in the r 'n' r groove and in that idiom the frenetic and athletic delivery has appeal.

Berry's tunes include "Maybellene," "Roll Over Beethoven," "In the Wee, Wee Hours" and a calypso number.

"New Acts: Chuck Berry," in Variety (copyright 1957, by Variety, Inc.), February 6, 1957, p. 62.