Yes, Chuck Berry was the father of rock and roll, but that’s now the lead in his many obituaries since his death Saturday at 90.
He was a rebel playing rebellious music.
I have read a lot of great tributes to Chuck Berry since he died over the weekend but I don’t want to miss how important Chuck Berry was in other ways.
Back in the early days of rock and roll, Chuck Berry was supplying the backbeat to a new form of radio aimed at teenagers – top 40.
He did it skillfully even in the lyrics of his songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen”.
Cause they'll be rockin' on Bandstand
In Philadelphia, Pa.
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the 'Frisco Bay
All over St.Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen
You couldn’t have a hit without Bandstand in those days and the master put it into his song along with key radio markets.
John Lennon said if you want another name for rock and roll, call it Chuck Berry.
But don’t miss the tie in with radio.
Radio (and Bandstand) made Chuck Berry while Chuck Berry provided the rebellious music teens could only hear on radio and with their idol, Dick Clark.
Not Pandora or Spotify back then.
Not with the help of social media as it is today because – and this is really important – social media consisted of the nations rock and roll djs.
Radio djs who somehow today have fallen in love with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat forgetting that they still have the capability of being the most important link between the artist and their audience.
Chuck Berry wrote his own music and some of his best songs were written while he was in prison. That’s right, but you’d know that if your favorite top 40 dj of the time was speaking directly to you over the air.
The world has changed.
Radio has become less important.
Artists are not the rebels they used to be.
Rock and roll eventually gave way to Motown, the British Invasion, the Philly Sound and then various new genres including hip-hop.
They’re all good, but they’re all different.
Today, the best days for a hit record are the first week after it is dropped.
Then its usually downhill in terms of sales.
Back then you saved up money to buy Chuck Berry and his contemporaries. Their music was only available free on the radio and the radio only kept playing artists if they kept making hits.
Like Chuck Berry did record after record.
If we wonder why radio is not what it used to be, it is easy to blame digital devices and social media, but remembering Chuck Berry makes us take note that music that resonates with audiences and changes people had one direct way into their ears – radio.
So as we try to reinvent what used to be, it is helpful to keep in mind that music radio was a hand in hand collaboration with artists where they received exposure and “social networking” by djs in return for compelling music that drove radio audiences.
There are not many like Chuck Berry – maybe not one other as significant to early rock and roll and he did it with his friends in radio.
Ridin' along in my calaboose
Still tryin' to get her belt unloose
All the way home I held a grudge,
But the safety belt, it wouldn't budge
Cruisin' and playin' the radio
With no particular place to go.
(which, by the way, was written when the great Chuck Berry was serving prison time, but then you knew that, right because you heard it on the radio. )
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