The question of who exactly invented rock and roll may never ever be conclusively decided. But few did more to shape and popularize the genre than Chuck Berry, who died Saturday in Missouri, the St. Charles County police confirmed. He was 90.
Berry’s onstage showmanship, guitar-playing, song arrangements, and lyrics were hugely influential on artists such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys. The latters’ “Surfin’ USA” so directly copied Berry’s song “Sweet Little Sixteen” that the rock pioneer cried foul and was given a co-writing credit.
Berry scored his biggest hit in 1972 with the novelty single “My Ding-a-Ling” but it was the records he released in the ’50s with the Chicago-based Chess label for which he will be best remembered. (In the 2008 movie Cadillac Records inspired by the Chess Records story, Mos Def portrayed Berry.) These include “Maybelline,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Carol,” which would be covered by the Rolling Stones early in their career.
By the late ’70s, the hits had dried up, and in 1979 Berry was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to four months in jail. However, he remained a revered figure by the music icons he had inspired. When Keith Richards inducted Berry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the Stones guitarist claimed to have “lifted every lick” that Berry ever played.
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