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Monday, March 20, 2017

The "Beethoven's Last Bow" Story

Chuck Berry
It was a ordinary day.  Couldn't believe the news when I saw it: Chuck Berry, the singer, songwriter and guitar great who practically defined rock music with his impeccably twangy hits "Maybellene," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Memphis," "My Ding-a-Ling" and "Sweet Little Sixteen," has died.  He was 90.  Now, making it to 90 isn't anything to sneeze about, but being one of the top 5 guitarists of all time and being one of my favorites, well, that's enough to make you sneeze and cough at the same time.  I remember when John Lennon (remember him?) said, "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"  
Chuck doing his "Duck Walk" move.
He, along with Duane Eddy (of Rebel Rouser fame), caused me to give up playing my accordion and buy a guitar.  My parents weren't very happy about it, but the neighbors, Deb and Bob, in the other half of our semi-detached home, must have loved it.  I bought a book on how to teach yourself how to play the guitar and I sat, hour after hour, in my second-floor bedroom trying to learn the basic chords so I could sing along with Chuck.  So where does Duane Eddy come in?  He was known as the "Twanger" due to his signature way of playing the guitar and I naturally had to paint "Twanger" on the pick guard of my new guitar.  Could I sing?  Yeah!  Heavens, I was in the boy's choir at St. James Episcopal Church and sang solo a few times during the four or five years I was in the choir before my voice began to change.  

Also sang duets with my dad in the men's choir a few times.  My only solo gig was about a dozen years ago while singing "Amazing Grace" at a retirement home where perhaps half the attendees might have been dozing off.  My biggest problem was that I was SHY.  And, being a rock star while being shy don't go together.  Anyway, I was a rock star like Chuck Berry in my bedroom.  I loved the way he moved across the stage, hunched down, doing his one-legged "duck walk," as we sang one of his greatest hits together.  Put my 45RPM record on my desktop record player and picked my guitar as I listened to his stunning tone.  The more I learned and played, the more I realized how hard it was to play the guitar without looking at the frets as Chuck could do.  Mom and dad didn't care much for him since he was arrested in high school for stealing a car and robbing convenience stores at gunpoint.  But, they didn't care for Duane Eddy either or the fact that I ruined my good guitar by painting "Twanger" on it.  As soon as I turned 16 I got a job at a local department store working in the record department.  Loved the job since I had the chance to buy Chuck's records before anyone else.  
Early photo of Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry became the first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and entered the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall Of Fame and earned a Grammy Lifetime Achieve- ment Award in 1985.  The reports online and in the newspaper tell of his most famous songs being "Roll Over Beethoven," "My Ding-a-Ling" and "Johnny B. Goode."  Not sure I totally agree since "No Particular Place To Go," "Nadine," Reelin' & Rockin'," "Maybelline" and "Rock and Roll Music" all are equally as good to me.  Chuck Berry, the legend, contributed three things to rock music: his irresistible swagger, his focus on the guitar riff as the primary melodic element and his emphasis on songwriting as storytelling.  Oh yeah, the five greatest guitarist of all time were: #1 Jimi Hendrix, #2 Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin, #3 Keith Richards of Rolling Stones, #4 Eric Clapton and #5 Chuck Berry.  A close #6 would have to be "The No Hit Wonder, LDub, the 'Twanger'."  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

PS - check out the Chuck Berry songs on this YouTube Video.

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