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Chuck Berry Dead at Age 90

Chuck Berry In London
David Redferns, Getty Images

Chuck Berry, rock & roll guitar icon, has died at 90 years old. The legendary singer-guitarist is a founding father of rock & roll music, with his indelible riffing and licks forming a foundation on which virtually everyone who came after would follow. Berry’s sound and stage presence was a major influence on 60s superstars; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, and countless others either covered his songs or directly copied his sound.

Berry was born in 1926 and raised in St. Louis, Berry was influenced by R&B stars like Louis Jordan and blues legend Muddy Waters, who would advise a young Berry to sign with Chess Records in Chicago. Berry did and in 1955, released his debut single “Maybelline.” A reworked version of “Ida Red” by Bob Wills that soared to No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart, it would be Berry’s first of many hits. Over the next few years, Berry’s songs became rock & roll mainstays; “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and the inescapable “Johnny B. Goode” established Chuck Berry as one of rock & roll’s biggest hitmakers and greatest songwriters.

Berry’s run would be sidelined in the early 1960s, after he was arrested and imprisoned for violating The Mann Act. Berry was found guilty of transporting an underaged girl over state lines for illicit purposes, and he would serve two years in prison. Upon his release in 1963, Berry’s music was finding new life via a generation of British Invasion bands who were covering his songs. He would resume recording and release more hits like “No Particular Place To Go” and “You Never Can Tell,” and he would also once again become an in-demand live performer.

Berry’s hitmaking eventually stalled in the 1970s, but he was still one of the more consistently popular performers onstage, despite developing a reputation for sometimes sloppy performances. In 1986, Berry was celebrated for his 70th birthday with an all-star concert and documentary project called Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll; which featured luminaries such as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Julian Lennon and Bruce Springsteen.

Chuck Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among its first class of inductees in 1987; and he continued to perform well into his 80s. Last year, he announced that he was working on one final album. In a press release, he dedicated the album Chuck to his wife, Thelmetta “Toddy” Berry.

“This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy,” Berry said. “My darlin’, I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”

R.I.P.

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