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


Chuck Berry, pictured in 2009, has died at his Missouri home aged 90 (Lionel Cironneau/AP)

Chuck Berry, pictured in 2009, has died at his Missouri home aged 90 (Lionel Cironneau/AP)

Chuck Berry, pictured in 2009, has died at his Missouri home aged 90 (Lionel Cironneau/AP)

Chuck Berry, rock 'n' roll's founding guitar hero who defined the music's joy and rebellion in such classics as Johnny B Goode has died. He was 90.

Emergency responders summoned to Berry's home by his caretaker about 12.40pm on Saturday 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.

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").

Johnny B Goode, the tale of a guitar-playing country boy whose mother tells him he will 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.

Johnny B Goode could have only been a guitarist.

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

They included the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, who 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.

Country, pop and rock artists have recorded Berry songs, including the Beatles (Roll Over Beethoven), Emmylou Harris (You Never Can Tell) and AC/DC (School Days).

The Rolling Stones' first single was a cover of Berry's Come On and they went on to perform and record Around And Around, Let It Rock and others.

He received a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1984 and two years later became a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Presley, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and others.

In the 1990s, Berry began giving monthly concerts in the intimate setting of the "Duck Room" of the Blueberry Hill club in St Louis, drawing visitors from around the world.

At times he was joined by his son, guitarist Charles Berry Jr, and daughter, Ingrid Berry Clay, on vocals and harmonica. He married their mother, Themetta Suggs, in 1948. They had four children.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St Louis on October 18 1926. As a child he practised a bent-leg stride that enabled him to slip under tables, a prelude to the trademark "duck walk" of his adult years.

Berry studied the mechanics of music and how it was transmitted. As a teenager, he loved to take radios apart and put them back together.

He began his musical career at 15 when he went on stage at a high school review to perform a cover of Jay McShann's Confessin' The Blues. Berry would never forget the ovation he received.

Influenced by bandleader Louis Jordan and blues guitarist T-Bone Walker among others, Berry signed with Chicago's Chess Records in 1955 after hooking up with Johnson three years earlier.

Maybellene reworked the country song Ida Red and rose into the top 10 of the national pop charts, a rare achievement for a black artist at that time.

H its followed, including Roll Over Beethoven, and Sweet Little Sixteen. Among his other songs were Nadine, Let it Rock, Almost Grown and the racy novelty number My Ding-A-Ling, which topped the charts in 1972, his only No. 1 single.

Berry did not care for hard drugs, but he knew too well the outlaw life.

His troubles began in 1944, when a joyriding trip to Kansas City turned into a crime spree involving armed robberies and car theft. Berry served three years of a 10-year sentence at a reformatory.

In the early 1960s, his career was nearly destroyed when he was indicted for violating the Mann Act, which barred transportation of a minor across state lines for "immoral purposes".

There were two trials, the first so racist that a guilty verdict was vacated, and the second leading to prison time, 18 months of a three-year term.

Berry continued to record after getting out, and his legacy was duly honoured by the Beatles and the Stones, but his hit-making days were essentially over.

Tax charges came in 1979, based on Berry's insistence he receive concert fees in cash, and another three-year prison sentence, all but 120 days of which was suspended.

Some former female employees sued him for allegedly videotaping them in the toilet of his restaurant. The cases were settled in 1994, after Berry paid 1.3 million dollars (£1.1 million pounds).

Openly money-minded, Berry was an entrepreneur with a St Louis nightclub and property he dubbed Berry Park, which included a home, guitar-shaped swimming pool, restaurant, cottages and concert venue.

He declined to have a regular band and instead used local musicians, willing to work cheap, wherever he performed. Springsteen was among those who had an early gig backing Berry.


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