Tell Tchaikovsky the News

By Robert Ecksel on March 19, 2017
Tell Tchaikovsky the News
Chuck Berry sang about fast cars, hot girls, and sharp clothes with sublime insouciance.

Chuck took up boxing while in prison and fought under the ring moniker Wild Man Berry, so he knew how to use his fists…

“Don’t let the same dog bite you twice.”—Chuck Berry

He wasn’t a boxer, but he was a champion from head to toe, and it felt like an oversight to not acknowledge the passing of Chuck Berry at 90, one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll.

Elvis had his virtues, Buddy Holly had the charm, and Little Richard owned the stage, but Chuck Berry, the first person elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had it all. Influenced by jazz, blues, boogie-woogie, swing, country and western, R&B, and even calypso, he was his own creation as much as he was his own man and his influence on pop culture cannot be overstated.

The original brown eyed handsome man, he sang about fast cars, hot girls, and sharp clothes with sublime insouciance, anchored by guitar riffs that established the very sound of rock ‘n’ roll.

Berry was also something of a bad man, which suited and continues to suit the rock ‘n’ roll standard. He was in trouble with the law on several occasions and did 20 months the slammer in the early ‘60s for violating the Mann Act, the same law that forced Jack Johnson to flee the U.S. in 1912, for having an improper relationship with a 14-year-old hat-check girl in Mexico.

Chuck took up boxing while in prison the first time and fought under the ring moniker Wild Man Berry, so he knew how to use his fists.

He punched Jerry Lee Lewis in the nose when he heard him describe himself as the “king of rock ‘n’ roll.” And he had a fractious relationship with Keith Richards.

According to Rolling Stone guitarist Ronnie Wood, “I used to play with him quite a lot, and he’d always have to have the money up front in his guitar case and he’d leap straight from the stage with the guitar case full of money, throw it offstage and into the cab. 

“Once Keith was there in the audience and Chuck came off stage and Keith ran up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, at which Chuck turned round and went whack and smashed Keith in the eye, gave him a big black eye.”

A great performer, tremendous songwriter, erudite lyricist (“Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news”), and electric guitarist par excellence, Chuck Berry once said, “People said I was king, but I was never king, and I say I’m the prime minister.”

It’s hard to disagree.

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Chuck Berry - Roll Over Beethoven (1956)

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  1. Lucas McCain 08:31am, 03/25/2017

    Captain=-Keef has the greatest riffs, but Chuck treads the line between rock and swing, and the combination has a special, liquid pleasure.  And his lyrics are special as RE notes in the column.  Simple teen-themes but with a sly irony and nose-thumbing defiance.  One of Pulp Fiction’s great contributions was bringing “You Never Can Tell” back into the limelight.  As for Berry’s own guitar roots, check out T-Bone Walker, a great blues/jump-blues guitarist and you’ll hear Chuck, Clapton, Bloomfield, as well as Richards.

  2. Captain MAGA 04:08pm, 03/19/2017

    Best guitar riff of all time. Keef Richards-Gimme Shelter. PEACE.

  3. Captain MAGA 04:00pm, 03/19/2017

    How in the hell can Berry be voted in the Rock & Roll HOF before Elvis, The Stooooooooooones and The Beetles!? I mean no disrespect but I could name at least a dozen or so guitarist that were better than Chuck, Keef Richards would be one just for starters. RIP Mr. Berry, but this even makes me think even less of the Rock & Roll HOF. Berry was as delusional as Jerry Lee, Elvis was and is the King of Rock & Roll. If there’s a rock & roll Heaven, Chuck is playing second string because you know they got a helluva band.

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