Detroit rock guitar heavyweights salute Chuck Berry


Like so many musicians around the world on Saturday night, it wasn’t long before Detroit artists paid tribute to Chuck Berry and his electrifying influence on the sound and spirit of rock and roll.

Twelve years before “Kick Out the Jams” in 1969, MC5’s Wayne Kramer was a 9-year-old blown away by his first encounter with Berry’s music – and inspired enough to take up the guitar.

“I was living on Michigan Avenue at 31st Street in a parking lot playing ball, and I heard this electric guitar playing in a car stereo,” Kramer said. “I was just blown away by the velocity and energy of this guitar playing. I had never heard anything like it. So I went to find out who this person was, what this song was and what sound was. contract. It literally changed my life. “

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Wayne Kramer (second from right) and MC5.

All these decades later, Kramer said, Berry still holds a prominent place.

“Fred Smith and I have spent hours and hours perfecting our Chuck Berry chops – years, really,” he said. “‘Johnny B. Goode’ was the model of my life ambitions. I always want to be the guy who can ‘play guitar like ring a bell’ while they come to hear me play for miles.”

Among Detroit rock ‘n’ rollers aspirants, Kramer said, “The measure of a guitarist was how many Chuck Berry guitar solos you knew growing up.”

Berry died in his Missouri home on Saturday at the age of 90, leaving a legacy that includes some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most powerful early hits.

In addition to his work on the electric guitar – the distinctive and propelling fuel of his records – there were the relatable lyrics: “He reflected the world around us children,” said Kramer, who remembers it. like from a “hamburger” era in Detroit. , cars and coney islands. “

“He would read us the stories about our own neighborhoods and the hormones unleashed,” Kramer said.

Ted Nugent grew up on the other side of Motor City around this time, who quickly took to Facebook on Saturday to create an on-the-fly version of “Johnny B. Goode,”

“If ever there was an end to a monumental era in human history, it happened (Saturday) with the death of Chuck Berry,” Nugent said in a statement. “No one deserves the title of creator, founding father, godfather, genius and magician of rock’n’roll more than His Majesty Chuck Berry.…

“Thank goodness I was struck by this new music and heard my call loud and clear,” Nugent continued. “There is not a guitarist in the history of the instrument who does not owe everything to Chuck for guiding us through this lyrical and creaking cadence of his wild honky-tonk and the unprecedented rhythm of his words and songs. her singing style.… Her spirit will be with me every time, every day when I play my guitar. “

Jim McCarty of Detroit Wheels – part of the Mitch Ryder band who produced hits such as “Devil With a Blue Dress On” and “Jenny Take a Ride” – was another young guitar genius whose path was inspired by Berry.

“Every once in a while you have guys who are signposts, milestones. And Chuck was that guy,” said McCarty, who played with Berry a lot in the 1960s. “He was the one who invented the rock’n’roll. In guitar terms, that’s him. That’s the starting point. … When you hear ‘Johnny B. Goode’, ‘Let it Rock’, the sound that came out of the record , with the pure poetry the guy put on it – it was just genius. “

There’s another key Detroit connection to Chuck Berry: In 1963, a live recording at the Walled Lake Casino was to be his comeback album after a year-and-a-half stint in jail for a Mann Law violation. The record was discontinued at the time, but after widespread smuggling, the material finally got its official release in 2009.

Contact Detroit Free Press Music Editor Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or [email protected]

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