Belfast Telegraph

Rock 'n' roll hero Chuck Berry dies aged 90 at his Missouri home

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 and Sweet Little Sixteen has died. He was 90.

Emergency responders summoned to Berry's home by his caretaker about 12.40pm local time found him unresponsive, police in Missouri's St Charles County said.

Attempts to revive Berry failed, and he was pronounced dead shortly before 1.30pm, police said.

A police spokeswoman, Val Joyner, told The Associated Press she had no additional details about the death of Berry, calling him "really a legend".

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 'n' roll.

While Elvis Presley gave rock its libidinous, hip-shaking image, Berry was the auteur, setting the template for a new sound and way of life.

Well before the rise of Bob Dylan, Berry wedded social commentary to the beat and rush of popular music.

"He was singing good lyrics, and intelligent lyrics, in the 50s when people were singing, 'Oh, baby, I love you so,'" John Lennon once observed.

Berry, in his late 20s before his first major hit, crafted lyrics that spoke to the teenagers of the day and remained fresh decades later.

Sweet Little Sixteen captured rock 'n' roll fandom, an early and innocent ode to the young girls later known as "groupies".

Roll Over Beethoven was an anthem to rock's history-making power, while Rock And Roll Music was a guidebook for all bands that followed ("It's got a back beat, you can't lose it").

Back In The U.S.A. was a black man's straight-faced tribute to his country at a time there was no guarantee Berry would be served at the drive-ins and corner cafes he was celebrating.

"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 song was inspired in part by Johnnie Johnson, the boogie-woogie piano master who collaborated on many Berry hits, but the story could have easily been Berry's or Presley's.

Commercial calculation made the song universal - Berry had meant to call Johnny a "coloured boy," but changed "coloured" to "country," enabling not only radio play, but musicians of any colour to imagine themselves as stars.

Johnny B Goode could have only been a guitarist.

The guitar was rock 'n' roll's signature instrument and Berry's clarion sound, a melting pot of country flash and rhythm 'n blues drive, turned on at least a generation of musicians.

They included the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, who once acknowledged he had "lifted every lick" from his hero; the Beatles' George Harrison; Bruce Springsteen; and the Who's Pete Townshend.

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.

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