Chuck Berry – Chuck
“In my day and time my music was considered superb, I wrote a song about a poor kid raised down in New Orleans.” With that Check Berry’s begins his final journey, one of storytelling and guitar breaks. Had such a remembrance come from anyone else, the modesty and abridgment may be excusable. But from Chuck Berry, without whom none of us would be here…I mean RIGHT HERE, such a glossing over is almost a laugh.
Chuck, Berry’s first new album since 1979 was not scheduled to be Berry’s posthumous but his March death at 90 preceded its release date. What a wonderful way for the true architect of rock ‘n’ roll to say goodbye. Both his guitar and stories still ring true and with the opening line on “Wonderful Woman” – “Oh well look-a-here now this just makes my day/ There’s a wonderful woman she just walked by my way” – we are off. Berry’s voice is strong and clear and his lyrics articulate and direct. For over 60 years Berry has only ever delivered clear vocals and a guitar that rings freedom from coast to coast. Oh, and that Gibson guitar…everyone has to learn their “Chuck Berry licks” but when he kicks off “Big Boys” with his signature riff…it is unmistakable.
Chuck was a long time coming, with some songs written in the ’80s. This is not the first time Berry has utilized family members on his records, but after such a long recording hiatus, time allowed for his son, daughter and grandson to join him in the studio. Other guests include Guy Clark Jr. and Tom Morello. It may seem unnecessary for Berry to have another guitarist on a record but the guests seem to work, and if Berry invites you to jam, you jam. Most songs have the traditional I-IV-V chord structure, including “Lady B. Goode,” part two of the song about the poor New Orleans kid mentioned earlier, but “3/4 Time (Enchiladas),” recorded live, is a delightful waltz rhyming “enchilada” and “Eldorado.” “Jamaica Moon” seems to be a sequel to 1956’s “Havana Moon.” The most striking tune is “Dutchman” with overdubbed vocals and an odd chord structure. This story of stranger in a bar, who turns out to be Berry, is a great yarn accompanied by double stopped guitar chords. Not known to do the same in concert, Berry surrounds himself with quality players, most of whom are from the St. Louis bar where he had a standing monthly residency for almost 18 years. They know the material but most importantly they know the man, the player.
Chuck is a rock ‘n’ roll record. What else could it possibly be? The CD booklet includes an informative essay, handwritten lyrics, personal photos and other ephemera from Berry and his family. Berry was the greatest rock ‘n’ roller of all time. During his 90 years he made some missteps but his final stride is a perfect and a wonderful way for Rock ‘n’ Roll to exit the stage.