Rock’n’roll guitarist Chuck Berry dies aged 90
Musician credited with merging blues and swing passes away in Missouri
The legendary guitarist Chuck Berry, who merged blues and swing into the phenomenon of early rock’n’roll, died on Saturday aged 90, according to Missouri police.
St Charles County police said in a post on Facebook they responded to a medical emergency at a home at approximately 12.40pm local time.
“Inside the home, first responders observed an unresponsive man and immediately administered life-saving techniques,” the police department said. “Unfortunately, the 90-year-old man could not be revived and was pronounced deceased at 1.26pm.”
Officer Nate Bolin confirmed to the Guardian that Berry, whose full name was Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr, had died.
The department said Berry’s family has requested privacy “during this time of bereavement”.
Berry was born in a middle-class neighbourhood of St Louis in 1926 and picked up the guitar in high school. As a teenager he was arrested for attempted robbery and served three years in form school, after which he worked in an assembly line at a General Motors factory.
He turned to music full-time in the 1950s, when he formed a trio with a drummer, Ebby Harding, and a keyboardist, Johnnie Johnson, with whom he rose through St Louis clubs while working on the side as a hairdresser.
His break came in 1955 when he met blues musician Muddy Waters and producer Leonard Chess in Chicago, and for the rest of the decade Berry blended the country and blues songs of the south with pop sensibilities starting to echo on the radio.
He recorded some of his most famous hits in the 1950s, including Rock & Roll Music, Roll Over Beethoven, Johnny B Goode, Maybellene and School Day.
Berry’s music was hugely influential around the world. John Lennon famously said: “If you had to give Rock ‘n’ Roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”
In 1959, Berry was arrested in St Louis on charges relating to a 14-year-old girl, whom authorities said he had transported across state lines for the purposes of prostitution.
He was convicted two years later, after an initial conviction was dismissed because of a judge’s repeated racial slurs, and spent 20 months in prison, an experience which his friends said changed the musician’s demeanour.
Remembering a 1964 tour with Berry, the guitarist Carl Perkins told a journalist he “never saw a man so changed”.
“He had been an easy-going guy before, the kinda guy who’d jam in dressing rooms, sit and swap licks and jokes,” Perkins said. “In England he was cold, real distant and bitter.
“It wasn’t just jail. It was those years of one-nighters: grinding it out like that can kill a man. But I figure it was mostly jail.”