Chuck Berry dies at 90 but his songs will live forever

Nobody wrote better songs than Chuck Berry.

Not even the Beatles or Bob Dylan.

In 1963 my school friend and neighbour Ted had a single with Chuck on the A -side and Bo Diddley on the B-side.

Did an interview with Chuck for Radio Times and reviewed his Rainbow show for The Times after My Ding-A-Ling was a big novelty hit.

The first rock concert at Wembley Stadium was the Great Rock& Roll Festival in 1972, with Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Chuck and Bill Haley and I was backstage and wandered into a big room that seemed to be empty. Then, at the far end of the room, I saw Chuck Berry sitting with a teenager on his lap. In jeans, red jumper and a woolly hat, she was another Sweet Little Sixteen. I left them to it but my memory still carries that snapshot.

Chuck was born in St. Louis in 1926 and made his first single in Chicago when he was 28.

His autobiography, published by Faber & Faber, is as startlingly vivid as his songs.

You can dance to this book, it’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it.

Bruce Springsteen wrote the Foreword.

Or rather, his comments, taken from the Taylor Hackford film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’r Roll make up the Foreword. Bruce describes how his band once backed Chuck at a gig in  Maryland at a time when Springsteen was twenty-three, and had been playing for nine years.

Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans,

 Way back up in the woods among the evergreens

 There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood,

 Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode

 Who never ever learned to read or write so well,

 But he could play a guitar just like a ringing a bell.

[Chorus:]

 Go Go

 Go, Johnny, go, go

 Go, Johnny, go, go

 Go, Johnny, go, go

 Go, Johnny, go, go

 Johnny B. Goode

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack

 Or sit beneath the tree by the railroad track.

 Oh, the engineers would see him sitting in the shade,

 Strumming with the rhythm that the drivers made.

 The people passing by, they would stop and say,

 “Oh, my, but that little country boy could play!”

[Chorus]

His mother told him, “Someday you will be a man,

 And you will be the leader of a big old band.

 Many people coming from miles around

 To hear you play your music when the sun go down.

 Maybe someday your name will be in lights

 Saying ‘Johnny B. Goode tonight’.”