I saw Chuck Berry perform once. Okay, not entirely accurate, since I saw plenty of Chuck on video and film, but seeing the man live was somewhat transcendent. Admittedly, I was part of that unfortunate generation whose first contact with Chuck was "My Ding-A-Ling." It was a few years after that that I heard "Johnny B. Goode" in the background of a scene in American Graffiti. It was at this moment that I began to understand what rock and roll was. It wasn't Elvis. It wasn't event he Beatles. These guys weren't rocking anything if not for Chuck Berry.
That's what I took away from that evening at Mile High Stadium. Saying something like Chuck Berry was the godfather of rock and roll would be short-changing the guy who played a guitar like he was ringing a bell. He was in his sixties at the time, but he was duck-walking and strutting across the stage like he owned the place. Because he did. It was the attitude and the aura that came off this guy in the lemon yellow jumpsuit who was just daring you to say something about the lemon yellow jumpsuit he was wearing. The life he lived set a standard that Mick and Keith spent their lives trying to emulate, but the Rolling Stones themselves seemed so much more calculated and careful compared to the fast lane convertible ride Chuck was on. Without Chuck Berry, there is no Elvis.Without Chuck Berry, there is no Beatles.Without Chuck Berry, there is no Rolling Stones.Without Chuck Berry, there is no Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And no Bruce Springsteen.
The idea that there would be a guy in his sixties, racing around the stage, playing guitar behind his back and whipping a crowd into a tumultuous uproar might never have occurred to The Boss without Chuck. Living a life of late nights and hot licks in one town and then another was pioneered by that man in the lemon yellow jumpsuit.
Pioneer? Did I say pioneer? How else would you explain Chuck's inclusion on the Golden Record sent out into the galaxy on the Voyager probe by NASA back in 1977. Along with a bunch of Bach and Beethoven was that sound that Marty McFly brought back from the future: Johnny B. Goode. Which is why we back here on earth expect our first contact with extraterrestrials to be a message in reply which says, "Send more Chuck Berry."
Now Chuck is part of the heavens, where he will continue to duck-walk and stomp on the extra-terra. Aloha, Chuck. You B Good.