GREENPOINT FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Chuck Berry left us in 2017, but he remains the unequivocal king of rock and rock. Without him, the music landscape would be a very dull place lacking the guitar acrobatics of metal or the immediate passion of punk. Sure, Elvis brought it all to a wider audience with his skin tone and features, but he didn’t write his songs. Berry wrote his material, music, and lyrics that are now ingrained in our collective psyche as the origins of modern music as we know it. Where Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and Ricky Nelson helped shape it into what it became, Berry paved the way with his seemingly effortless blend of guitar theatrics, lyrical prowess, and showmanship. Award-winning documentarian Jon Brewer now tells the master’s story in an informative, yet uneven, documentary.
“…paved the way with his seemingly effortless blend of guitar theatrics, lyrical prowess and showmanship.”
As a black middle-class youth in St. Louis, Missouri, Charles Edward Anderson Berry got into trouble for robbing shops and stealing a car. His religious parents, concerned about their status in the church, hoped his interest in “Devil’s music” would be preferable to a life of crime. Their church relented, and he went on his way. Originally, Berry’s interest was in blues, and when he finally got recognized enough to cut his first sides for Chess Records, he had standard 12-bar blues in mind with some throwaway song as the B-side. That song, “Maybellene,” would change his life forever.
Eventually, some upstart Brits across the pond caught on and sold the master’s music back to us. They paid tribute to their sensei but received all the accolades while Berry, who just wanted to play his songs on his guitar, battled racism at every turn: he was turned away from performances because the promoters didn’t know he was black; his attempt at recreating the amusement parks he loved, Berry Park, a blend of fun and music festivals, closed due to safety issues; police investigations for tax evasion, drug smuggling…that thing about cameras in the bathrooms of the restaurant he bought after they wouldn’t serve him.
"…feel the effect of his passing and mourn beside his friends and family."