Chuck Berry exudes classic rock flair in posthumous song

Rock and roll legend Chuck Berry performs during the Bal de la Rose in Monte Carlo, Monaco on March 28, 2009.
Rock and roll legend Chuck Berry performs during the Bal de la Rose in Monte Carlo, Monaco on March 28, 2009.PHOTO: REUTERS

New York (AFP, NYTimes) - Days after Chuck Berry died at age 90, a new song came out on Wednesday (March 22) from the music legend - a tune driven by the sort of rollicking guitar riffs with which he defined rock 'n' roll.

Big Boys is the first song from Chuck, his first studio album in nearly 40 years. His label said that the full album will come out on June 16.

The first single starts with a signature guitar solo that has echoes of his anthem Johnny B. Goode - an electric bolt of energy that seamlessly marries blues and country music.

Over a rockabilly piano, Big Boys heads into a classic rock 'n' roll time signature before closing with a solo contributed by a much younger guitarist - Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame.

Lyrically the song returns to Berry's favourite theme of youthful freedom - if from a 1950s context, as he sings of wooing a girl at a school dance.

 

"I was bright in school but my future looked dim / 'Cause the big boys wouldn't let me party with them," sings Berry, showing little of his advanced age.

Berry had announced the album in October to celebrate his 90th birthday, stunning the music world as he had kept to himself for the past few decades other than keeping a regular gig in his native St. Louis.

Berry's label Dualtone said the musician had found "a great sense of joy and satisfaction" in his final few years as he wrote and recorded Chuck. "While our hearts are very heavy at this time, we know that Chuck had no greater wish than to see this album released to the world, and we know of no better way to celebrate and remember his 90 years of life than through his music," the label said in a statement.

Chuck looks set to feature a sequel of some kind to Johnny B. Goode - the track listing includes a track called Lady B. Goode.

Released in 1958, Johnny B. Goode was a semi-autobiographical rags-to-riches tale and a classic articulation of the American dream, although Berry was savvy enough to change the original lyric about a "coloured boy" to "country boy" for a shot at radio play. The song has been covered countless times, with a memorable appearance in the 1985 movie Back To The Future, but its reach may go much further - Berry's recording was one of four American songs included on the gold discs shot into the cosmos in 1977 on the Voyager I and II spacecraft.

Other tracks on Chuck include Jamaica Moon, an apparent take two on 1956's Havana Moon, in which Berry imagined a Cuban - "me all alone with a bottle of rum" - waiting on a dock for an American woman to sail back.

The Latin rhythm was based on Nat King Cole's Calypso Blues, while the setting was picked up from Berry's exposure to New York City's Cuban population while he was performing at the Paramount in Brooklyn and at the Apollo Theater. The song, received a mixed reception in the 1950s but was later revived as a cover by Carlos Santana.

Berry died on Saturday at his home outside St. Louis where an emergency team found him unresponsive.

With the possible exception of Elvis Presley, Berry had the greatest influence on the creation of rock 'n' roll, with his anthems speaking to the baby boomers in their teenage years.