Chuck Berry: An Appreciation

As a performing musician who also does a lot of work in the creativity and innovation space, I thought it fitting to acknowledge the passing of Chuck Berry this past Saturday. Many musicians, including members of the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, and Slash of Guns n’ Roses, have expressed their admiration for Berry following his death at age 90. Berry’s many accomplishments as the “Father of Rock n’ Roll” are well-known and it is unnecessary to recount them here. However, one aspect of Berry’s legacy – his role as a nearly unparalleled innovator – deserves mention.

As New York Times writer Jon Caramanica states in his appreciation of Berry, “Mr. Berry…was the first true rock ‘n’ roll superstar. When in his late 20s he emerged from St. Louis onto the national scene, the genre wasn’t yet codified. In its infancy, rock was hybrid music, and Mr. Berry was its most vivid and imaginative alchemist.” Berry’s blend of traditional blues tropes, country, and rhythm and blues – combined with virtuoso guitar playing and urgent, poetic lyrics – all but set the template for what rock music would become in the ensuing decades: loud, brash, and bursting with unabashed sexual energy.

Berry faced significant challenges as a successful Black man in the pre-Civil Rights years; later, he earned a reputation for being somewhat prickly and suspicious. Keith Richards tells the story of being punched by Berry after daring to pick up and play Berry’s guitar backstage during a show. But for all his quirks, Berry’s influence on 20th century music can’t be overstated. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, and practically every garage band in history owe him a debt of gratitude.

“[Berry] helped create the whole attitude of the American teenager [in the ‘50s],” says New York Times music critic Jon Pareles. “[Ultimately] he became part of the DNA of rock ‘n’ roll. He was woven into everything that followed.”

Thanks for the music, Mr. Berry. Keep rocking on the other side.

Mike’s Notes

  1. Planning to attend PSHRM next week?  I hope you’ll attend my session on elevating your i-Q (Innovation Quotient) and why it matters to today’s HR practitioner.  Check the PSHRM website ( for more information.
  2. Lots of new programs here at Right Chord Leadership!  Brand new content on creativity and innovation, developing an accountable workplace, and more.  Call Dr. Michael Brenner at (610) 724-3621 or email today for a 2017 Program Portfolio.