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CHUCK BERRY:  THE 1st POET OF ROCK by Alan L. Chrisman

Chuck Berry has passed away at age 90.  Berry, was arguably, the most influential rock and roll founder, both musically and lyrically.  Berry could be called rock ‘n’ roll’s father. As John Lennon said when introducing him on the Mike Douglas TV Show in the 70’s ,” My hero, if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’”.  Before Bob Dylan and Lennon/McCartney, Berry, was perhaps its first rock poet. Dylan called Chuck Berry, “the Shakespeare of rock.” Berry would influence EVERYONE-The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Beach Boys, Springsteen, and most rockers to follow. Springsteen’s tribute,” Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

Elvis is called the King of Rock ’n ’Roll and was its most important 50’s popularizer, had a great interpretive voice and charisma , but he didn’t write his own songs.  Other early 50’s founders, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly (from whom The Beatles would take their name and would set the standard for the future- guitars, bass, drums line-up), all wrote their own songs. But Berry wrote complete musical stories.  And he played his own lead guitar (from which Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Keith Richards, would copy his style), before Hendrix would make the guitar and its solos forefront in rock bands. Richard and Lewis jumped on their pianos, and Berry would “duck walk “across the stage visually, before MTV and videos, and before Hendrix burned his guitar theatrically.

Berry had a string of hits in the mid- late 50’s, which perfectly captured a teenager’s life and preoccupations, girls, cars, music (“Sweet Little Sixteen”, “School Days”, “Rock ’n’ Roll Music”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Maybelline”, “Memphis, Tenn.”). Every young aspiring guitar player had to learn his “Johnny B. Goode.” Berry composed little vignettes, 2-3 minute poems set to music (check out the lyrics to his songs like,   “Promised Land”, “You Never Can Tell ( C’est La Vie”).

Berry had grown up in a middle-class neighborhood in St. Louis, (half-way between The South and The North),so maybe that’s why, although black, he understood white middle-class kids, who were the main radio audience in those early days of rock ’n’ roll.  His father was a contractor and a Baptist church deacon; his mother a school principal.  Berry’s influences were mainly black musicians like guitarist, T-Bone Walker. But it wasn’t until he moved north to Chicago and recorded along with other black musicians that were there too, like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley at Chess Records, that he had his first hits. Like Elvis, it was in this combination of both black and white musical influences, blues, country, rock ’n’ roll, that he found his sound. Berry’s distinctive guitar riffs were also influenced by his long time piano player, Johnny Johnson’s, jazz and swing notes as well. It was this synthesis of styles that enabled him to appeal to a cross-section of listeners.

But by the early 60’s, along with most of the early founders, he and they were no longer as popular and, one by one, for sometimes racial reasons, they disappeared from the scene.  Radio was taken over by the more watered-down mainly white pop performers (or “Bobby-Bobbys” as J. L. Lewis called them). Dylan: “I was still an aspiring rock n roller. The descendant, if you will, of the first generation of guys who played rock ’n’ roll — who were thrown down. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis. They played this type of music that was black and white. Extremely incendiary. Your clothes could catch fire. When I first heard Chuck Berry, I didn’t consider that he was black. I thought he was a hillbilly. Little did I know, he was a great poet, too. And there must have been some elitist power that had to get rid of all these guys, to strike down rock ’n’ roll for what it was and what it represented — not least of all being a black-and-white thing.” Berry was accused of transporting a below-age waitress across state lines for sexual purposes under the Mann Act and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

His career seemed almost over, but when he was released in late ’63, The Beatles Invasion was just starting to happen and he had been a big influence on many Liverpool groups and other British bands like the Stones. The Beatles were to record his “Rock and Roll Music” on their 2nd. album and  the first Stones U.K. single was a cover of his “ Come On” and “Carol” was on their 1st American album. Ironically, it was foreign groups who re-focused attention on Berry and other American early 50’s rockers and he gained a whole new respect for his song writing and playing .  One of the Beach Boys’ early hits, Surfin’ U.S.A., was actually Brian Wilson putting surf lyrics over Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” music.  The Beatles and Stones would continue to be influenced by him in their own songs and performing. McCartney would partly pattern his “Back in The U.S.S. R.” after Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” and Lennon would even “borrow” some words and melodies for Come Together from Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” (which Lennon would later have to settle a lawsuit for with its publisher). Keith Richards organized a tribute concert/film for Berry called Hail Hail Rock and Roll in 1986 with Berry, Eric Clapton, Julian Lennon, Linda Ronstadt, Robert Cray, and Etta James. Berry would over the years come to his shows with only his guitar (refusing to play, until payment was already deposited into his bank account), not even rehearsing with the local back-up band, or telling them what key he was playing . Richards, amusingly, tells the story how Berry hit him for daring to even touch his hero’s guitar. But I guess geniuses are allowed these little personal foibles.

I remember seeing him in the film, American Hot Wax, which told the story of Rock ’n’ Roll’s first DJ , Alan Freed, in which Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and other early rockers, recreated their original stage performances. It was shown along with Saturday Night Fever, which was the disco rage at the time in the early 70’s.  American Hot Wax was shown first and while getting popcorn at break, I overheard these young John Travota fans marvelling at this guy “duck walking” across the stage. I thought that was interesting and it gave me hope for the timelessness of Berry and his music.

Berry is now recognized as one of the most important song writers and musical influencers in the whole history of rock. He was one of the first to be inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in at its opening in 1986. His “Johnny B. Goode” was ranked #1 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” in 2007.

Pop writer Chuck Klosterman has predicted that Berry will be remembered, even 300 years from now, as the perfect embodiment of rock music. In 1986, “Johnny B. Goode” was chosen by NASA to be sent into outer space for its Voyager space probe. So maybe even other life forms will know Berry’s music one day. There was only one Chuck Berry, Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll!


Below, from Keith Richards -organized Tribute 1986 concert/film for Chuck Berry with Julian Lennon, etc.


Below, from film, American Hot Wax, story of Rock ‘n’  Roll DJ. Alan Freed, Berry re-creating his “Reelin’ and Rockin’/ Roll Over Beethoven.”



THE INTERVIEW film became "cause celeb" when Sont Pictures pulled release originally because of alleged North Korean hacking



By Alan Chrisman (All Articles ARE written BY ALAN CHRISMAN), copyright 2012-2015 (A Praveen Patel has tried to hack them and claim them).

Everyone all around, in this whole The Interview movie brouhaha, has acted like big children.  Of course, first the tin-pot dictator of North Korea, of whom the movie makes fun. Then Sony Pictures, for first pulling the film and, now under pressure, releasing it to select theatres and on the internet.

All the conservative flag wavers got up in arms about how they weren’t going to let a foreign power tell Americans what film they could watch. Then the liberals joined in and yelled, “censorship”. Even President Obama weighed in, saying Sony should have called him first. The FBI laid the attack at North Korea’s door, supposedly.  At least, Obama didn’t characterize it, as some conservatives did, as an act of war, but instead called it “cyber vandalism” and said the U.S. would act proportionally. Then suddenly North Korea’s own internet was hacked, (likely by the U.S.)  North Korea, evidently doesn’t have much internet access anyway.  But the whole thing could have been right out of a Marx Bros. movie.

KIM JONG-UN , real life dictator could have come out of a Marx Bros. movie, if he wasn't a sad joke and bully

KIM JONG-UN, the North Korean dictator, is already a sad joke and big bully

Of course, Hollywood couldn’t have dreamed up a better publicity stunt to get people into the theatres for one of their lesser efforts.  For now, not only conservative flag wavers and but liberals too, (plus all those who just want be part of the latest thing, like the latest Apple product) are lining up.  It’s the perfect storm for marketing an otherwise, with both critics and Rotten Tomatoes giving mixed reviews at best, for basically a mediocre slacker comedy.  We have people going to see it not for entertainment, but for principle! We live in a very politically–correct society these days and it leads to some often-strange reactions.  Hollywood, primarily liberals, despite their making plenty of violent films, says we’ve got to protect our rights to produce “art”, even if that stretches the concept far indeed.

Most Korean experts say, the peculiar dictator or whoever is actually running the place, just really want the world’s attention, and that’s why they perhaps try these often-ridiculous stunts.  But it seems to me, he or they are just like a big schoolyard bully, and should be dealt with the same basic way.  Of course, a bully should not be allowed to continue his little power games, but he should be answered appropriately. Yet we should not over-react either and think just by attending a facile movie, it’s going to “show” them or by yelling “free speech” coming out of a movie theatre and or by making it into the latest ” cause celeb”.

Sony and many other companies and organizations should have been aware of cyber attackers, whether they be foreign or individuals, and have had better protections of their data in place (some of their own employees are now suing them over this).  Edward Snowden revealed to the public just how many governments, including the U.S., government on it’s own people, are doing this too.

But all the uproar and over-reaction seem to be almost as juvenile as the instigators’ childish attempts and for such a juvenile movie.  Dumb and Dumber indeed!



John Lennon’ 1971 ” album and timeless song.Imagine”


By Alan Chrisman, copyright.

John Lennon’s birthday is October 9. This is written in tribute to him.  Most of us remember where we were when we heard he had been shot, Dec. 8, 1980.  A crazed fan shot him and another stabbed George Harrison, which hastened his death in 2001. But they didn’t silence him or their music.  The Beatles and Lennon are more popular than ever and will continue to be for new generations to come.

The Sixties truly were The Decade That Changed the World, and The Beatles and Lennon were a large part of that. It really was a dividing line; a black and white, mono world before and a stereo, colour world after. For me, growing up with them, it was Lennon, although I liked all their music, which most interested me, from the beginning.  He and they had a profound influence on my life and got me involved in music, as I still am.

Everyone has a favorite Lennon song. I saw his solo songs as an extension of his Beatles’ work. There are too many to list, but some of my very favorites include: “Help”, “Girl”,  “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “ In My Life”,  “ All You Need”, “Revolution”, “Across The Universe”, “Don’t Let Me Down” and solo: “Instant Karma”, “Give Peace A Chance”, “ Working Class Hero”, “Jealous Guy”, “#9 Dream”, “Woman”, “ Starting Over”, “I’m Losing You”, “Watching The Wheels”, and of course,  “Imagine”.

It’s hard to fathom, how much they changed music, because we’ve been living with the changes ever since. Before The Beatles nobody took pop music and pop culture seriously; it was only for the kids.  But they and other 60’s groups especially, showed it could also be an art form.

We, it seems, like to have our icons live fast and die young, so we can try and freeze-frame them in their youth, as we have to get older. We all know the stories and legends about their rise and success, and they and their songs have all become part of our shared culture. But Lennon, especially, will be remember for more than just his great music.  He also believed in certain ideals, such as trying to change things through peaceful methods.

At the time, Lennon was criticized by the left for not answering the violence of the Establishment with the same. But he and Yoko (who had been a conceptual artist before she met Lennon and whose poem had first inspired, “ Imagine”), felt that we had been brainwashed with wars and violence and we should at least give “Peace a Chance”.  It  may have seemed somewhat 60’s- simplistic perhaps at the time, but part of being an artist is never losing the creative innocence of a child.  In his “Revolution”, he said we should “free our minds instead”.  And Lennon, thankfully never lost that innocence in his songs.

He also seemed to be remarkably outspoken in his honesty, even about his own contradictions.  For all these reasons, as well as his music, he is even more respected today.

Also a big part of The Beatles’ appeal was their and, his especially, sense of humour and wit. And it’s sorely missed today.  It would be interesting to see what he would think of our present day society.  What would he think of the internet and social media and governments and corporations knowing so much about us and our self-obsessed culture (“Nobody Told Me”, there’d be days Like these”).  What would he think of our current music scene (which mainly has reverted back to disposable pop) and how we can have it 24/7 and not pay the artists for their work?  It would certainly be fascinating to see what he would have said and expressed in his songs.

But a half century later, as I say, they and his music has stood up. I saw McCartney play in 2013 and, at age 71, he still rocked and Ringo is still touring.  Harrison is respected too for his music and beliefs, like Lennon.  And Lennon, if he were around, would no doubt still be rocking too.

There will only be one Elvis and one Beatles and certainly, one John Lennon. There hasn’t been, I don’t think, anyone else come close, to his uniqueness. But his music and inspiration and ideals will carry on.  Despite the negative actions of some negative persons, they weren’t able to silence John Lennon- “Imagine”.

For more stories how The Beatles and John Lennon , especially, influenced Alan Chrisman, and millions of others, see excerpts from his book,” It’s A Long Way Home (& How Beatles’ Music Saved My Life).  www.rockthistownproductions.com


John Lennon’s almost child-like innocence, but yet wise,  words., that he fortunately never lost in his songs.

See “IMAGINE” by John Lennon: