He’s been called the father of rock-n-roll, the architect of rock-n-roll. Bob Dylan called him “the Shakespeare of rock-n-roll.” John Lennon implied he was rock-n-roll, suggesting that if you had to come up with an another name for the genre, you might name it after him. Chuck Berry passed away in March of this year. He was 90 years old. Last year, on his birthday, we learned of his plans to release a new album, his first in 38 years, an album he had worked on intermittently for most of that time. He endured numerous delays and setbacks, among them a studio fire in 1989, which forced him to completely start over. He did finally finish the album, but he didn’t quite live long enough to see its release. It was released posthumously last month. Entitled simply Chuck, it’s full of what you might expect from the man. It’s full of some surprises as well.
Unlike, David Bowie, Chuck Berry did not have an appointment with death on his calendar. But the album reveals he was aware of his advancing age. And he had stated that the album would be his last. Dedicated to his beloved Toddy, his wife of nearly 70 years, the album is a fitting swan song. It’s recorded with his backing band of many years, but includes significant contributions from his family as well. His son Chuck Jr. and grandson Charles III, both guitarists, perform on the record. His daughter Ingrid sings and plays harmonica. There are many highlights. “Darlin’” has Chuck singing to — and with — his daughter Ingrid about growing older.
Darlin’ your father’s growing older, each year
Strands of gray are showing bolder, come here
And lay your head upon my shoulder, my dear
The time is passing fast away
There has been many sundowns that I’ve seen, come by
Since you were just sweet sixteen, and I
I have played these same songs of yesterday, oh my
How the time has passed away
Yet “Big Boys,” his first single in 40 years, shows that he never forgot what it’s like to be young. “Lady B. Goode,” a sequel of sorts, tells about the girl that Johnny left behind. There’s a cover of the jazz (he had no kick against it) standard “You Go To My Head” where Ingrid can also be heard. There’s a rendition of Tony Joe White’s country/R&B classic “3/4 Time (Enchiladas)” where Chuck tweaks the lyrics a bit, revealing an undiminished sense of humor. The final track “Eyes of Man” seems to take a look back at his life and career while recognizing the fleeting nature of it all.
So be the temples men have cherished
Crumbled in ruins to rot and rust
No lies each pillar and arch to perish
Doomed to decay and rot to dust
Oh but those who know
And know that they know
Are of wisdom, appreciate them
Appreciate him we do. Chuck Berry certainly didn’t need to release another album. He had hit records too numerous to list, every accolade imaginable. He influenced everyone in rock who came after him whether they realize it or not. His legacy is secure. His music is even aboard the Voyager spacecraft billions of miles from earth awaiting discovery by some extraterrestrial civilization. 🙂 He didn’t need to give us Chuck, but I’m sure glad he did. It’s a gem. And he also showed us that 90 is not too old to rock-n-roll. Pay attention Mick and Keith.
Check out the official music video for “Darlin’,” which includes some never-before-seen home movie footage.
Album Review: Chuck Berry’s Chuck (Variety, Chris Willman)
A Fitting Farewell from Chuck Berry (No Depression, Grant Britt)
The Four-Decade Odyssey of Chuck Berry’s Swan-Song Album, Chuck (LA Times, Randy Lewis)
I opted for the ultimate bundle:
- Chuck on CD
- a T-shirt bearing the Chuck artwork
- a limited edition photo scrapbook spanning Berry’s career
- a 16×24″ full color poster
Ok I splurged. 🙂