(K. Brent Tomer),
THE honour of having made the first rock’n’roll record is usually given to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats for “Rocket ‘88’” (1951). Like all musical firsts, this is hotly argued over: landmark singles by Bill Haley, Big Joe Turner, Elvis Presley and Bo Diddley are often considered close rivals. But any doubt about the arrival of true, flat-out rock was extinguished by “Maybellene” (1955), a two-minute ditty by Chuck Berry, who died on March 18th. What distinguished “Maybellene” was not so much the lowdown distortion of Mr Berry’s “chitlin’ circuit” lead guitar and the raw sound of his band, but the song’s departure from the swinging R&B polish of its contemporaries. Mr Berry was behind the wheel, and though he was heading somewhere new, he knew exactly where.
When rock’n’roll hit the mainstream, he was pushing 30 and had more than a decade of hard luck behind him. It made him a unique rock’n’roller, both a flamboyant showman and a canny businessman. His break came when he recognised a popular trend and focused his imagination on how to mythologise it. He quickly found a middle ground between the smooth music he was raised on and the…Continue reading