Rock ′n′ roll legend Chuck Berry turns 90 and announces first studio album in 38 years | Music | DW | 18.10.2016
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Rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry turns 90 and announces first studio album in 38 years

With his revolutionary style, the singer and guitarist Chuck Berry paved the way for rock music in the 1960s, inspiring The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and more. He's not done yet: a new album is to come out next year.

Wearing a flashy shirt and a captain's hat, duck-walking on stage with his beloved Gibson guitar hanging at his hip - that's how we've known Chuck Berry for over 60 years. 

His unique showmanship in concert is of course not the only reason why people love him so much. His bluesy voice, his special guitar licks and, above all, his revolutionary songwriting have all made him legendary. On Tuesday, October 18, Chuck Berry celebrates his 90th birthday.

To celebrate this big day, he also announced on Tuesday that he would be releasing his first studio album in 38 years, entitled "Chuck." It will come out in 2017 via Dualtone Records.

"This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy," the nickname for his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry. "My darlin' I'm growing old! I've worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!," Berry said in a press release.

How it all began 

Chuck Berry 1957 (picture-alliance/E. Colle)

Chuck Berry in 1957

Fans of his hit songs, such as "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock 'n' Roll Music" and "Johnny B. Goode" might also know that Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis, USA, and that his mother was a teacher, and his father a worker.

He was born with great musical talent. Already as a child, he was singing in a Baptist church choir.

Later on, he bought the guitar of a musician - and that was his starting point. He taught himself how to play the guitar and made use of just any opportunity to perform somewhere in St. Louis for a few bucks.

Paving the way

Chuck Berry played in the trio of pianist Johnnie Johnson for almost 20 years. This experience allowed him to develop his own style. To this day, he considers jazz singer Nat King Cole and blues musician Muddy Waters, who was 13 years older than him, as his models.

With a song called "Roll Over Beethoven," one might even see Ludwig van Beethoven as one of his inspirations. More on that later.

In any case, it was Muddy Waters who helped Berry get in touch with the record label Chess in the early 1950s.

The beginning of a career 

Chuck Berry (picture-alliance/E. Colle)

Chuck Berry invented the duckwalk in order to divert attention from his crumpled suit 

Working with the Chicago-based record label resulted in the production of his first hit "Maybellene." Berry wasn't the author of the song; it was rather a rewritten country song.

Berry's first success in the charts that was exclusively his own work was "Roll Over Beethoven" in 1956, followed one year later by the golden oldie "Rock and Roll Music," and "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Johnny B. Goode" in 1958.

Lacking experience in the tough music business, Chuck Berry was exploited and cheated by agents and publishers over and over again. But he learned from that, and then started to manage his own career. 

A rock legend 

Chuck Berry with Keith Richards & Neil Young (picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Ziths)

​Chuck Berry with Keith Richards and Neil Young in 1986

Until today, Keith Richards sees himself as Chuck Berry's biggest fan, saying that his musical influence had a strong impact on him. And there are quite a few other musicians who say the same thing. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles covered some Berry hits which made it into the charts - a strategy that worked out very well for the Stones. Their debut single in 1963 was "Come On."

Their hit "Around and Around" was actually the track on the B side of Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." Mick Jagger's band covered it very impressively at a London concert four years ago.

The Beatles honored the rock pioneer in 1963 with their cover of "Roll Over Beethoven." Many other rock stars followed their example.

Chuck Berry performs in Moscow (picture-alliance/dpa/V. Sharifulin)

Fans in Moscow looking forward to meet their idol in 2013

The social aspect  

But what would be the inventor of the "duckwalk" without his millions of fans worldwide?

With his jolting music and his socially critical texts, he succeeded in actually saying what black and white youngsters were feeling. And he kicked off a cultural generational change.

Berry, referring to the title of his song "Roll Over Beethoven" in a radio show, shocked the established cultural scene by claiming that Beethoven was old-fashioned and that rock 'n' roll was the music of present times - saying out loud what many young people were thinking back then.

Another hit in 1958 was "Sweet Little Sixteen." Here, Chuck Berry describes the story of a girl who begs her father to let her go to a rock concert. Berry describes the appearance of the girl at the concert, in tight cloths, with high heels and a lot of lipstick - who would change back into a sweet 16-year old at school on the following day.

In 1957, he released the song "Little Queenie" about the forbidden love of a 17-year-old girl. That went too far in the eyes of the establishment.

A low point 

Chuck Berry (picture-alliance/Globe-ZUMA)

Chuck was well received in Stockholm in 1970 - but his dark past has never been forgotten in Sweden 

In the early 1960s, Chuck Berry ended up in jail, charged with "promoting the prostitution of minors." He had employed a 14-year-old girl in his club and made her cross US federal state borders. In 1964, he was released from jail before the end of his sentence.

This "dark spot" in Berry's past was mentioned by Queen Silvia and Princess Madeleine of Sweden who refused to hand out an award to the controversial star two years ago. The reason given was that the Queen was committed to supporting sexually abused children.

Prizes and awards 

Chuck Berry, US-amerikanischer Sänger & Gitarrist - mit Präsident Bill Clinton (Getty Images/AFP/C. Kleponis)

Bill Clinton receives Chuck Berry in 2000

In the 1980s, Chuck Berry received numerous awards, among them a Grammy for his lifetime achievement. He was included in the "Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame" and received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

In 2008,  he was awarded a "Goldene Kamera" (Golden Camera Award) in Germany for his lifetime achievement, followed by the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame - American Music Masters Award in 2012. Together with other outstanding musicians, he was received and honored in the White House by Bill Clinton.

Now and tomorrow  

After countless concerts all over the world, Chuck Berry recently withdrew from public life. In 2014 - at the age of 88 - he gave his last performance in his favorite club, Blueberry Hill in St. Louis.

Without singing too much, he let his guitar rock - and it sounded as awesome and dirty as ever.

His autobiographical hit "Johnny B. Goode" might turn out to become an inter-galactic hit, as it was the only rock recording NASA chose to send into outer space in the Voyager space probe in 1977.

Now fans can look forward to his upcoming LP in 2017 - the first studio album in almost 40 years. The last one to have been released was "Rock It," in 1979.