Chuck Berry, one of the enduring legends of rock 'n' roll and its single most influential figure, was found dead of as yet undisclosed causes at his Missouri home by St. Charles County police on Mar. 18. He was 90. Born Charles Edward Berry in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 18, 1926, Chuck Berry learned guitar while in his teens, though his the calm of his adolescent years was shattered by a three-year spell in reform school for an attempted robbery. Upon release in 1947, he worked for a time for General Motors, before taking up a career in hair dressing. He became increasingly interested in music, partly to supplement his income and support a wife and two children. In 1956, Mr. Berry moved to Chicago, and his career took off after persuading Muddy Waters to let him sit in on a session. Impressed with Mr. Berry's guitar technique and fluent style, Waters recommended him to Chess Records head Leonard Chess, who signed up many local acts. Now under contract, Mr. Berry recorded his first tracks, "Maybellene" and "Wee Wee Hours." Though Mr. Berry preferred the latter song, "Maybellene" was released as the A-side after it had been co-credited to popular disc jockey Alan Freed, who possibly suggested some modifications to enhance its commercial potential. With the radio exposure Freed was able to supply, "Maybellene" became an immediate Top 10 hit in the U.S. For the next four years, Mr. Berry went on to produce a stream of utterly incomparable, archetypal rock 'n' roll songs, including "Roll Over Beethoven," "Johnny B. Goode," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," and some of his equally well known compositions, such as "Memphis, Tennessee," were not even issued as singles during this period. Mr. Berry's sources were those of rock 'n' roll itself -- a blend of R&B and C&W, although he had also acquired an appreciation of blues since he was working for Chicago's Chess label. In contrast to other rockers, Mr. Berry concentrated on clarity of diction, so that his witty and often acerbic lyrics coiuld be plainly heard, and he was responsible for introducing a disciplined lyricism into early rock 'n' roll. Around this time, Mr. Berry appeared in four films with a rock 'n' roll theme -- Rock Rock Rock, Mr. Rock and Roll, Go Johnny Go, and Jazz On a Summer's Day, the latter a documentary of the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, where he sang "Sweet Little Sixteen" and demonstrated his famous "duck walk," which he had developed in 1956 and virtually completed his charisma. Mr. Berry was one of the few black performers who connected to a largely white teenage audience, and his popularity was enormous. In 1959, Mr. Berry was indicted for offences under the Mann Act, a federal statute that prohibits interstate or foreign transportation of an individual with the intention of engaging such individual in sexual activity or prostitution. Though Mr. Berry always asserted his innocence in the case, he was found guilty after a trial lasting almost two years and sentenced to two years in prison. The incident shattered his marriage and threatened to shatter his career, but the climate of rock 'n' roll had changed when he was released, arguably to his advantage. His repertoire was covered by such hugely popular white acts as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, with the former recording "Roll Over Beethoven" for one of the few early million-sellers they didn't write themselves, and the latter covering over a dozen of his songs. The Beach Boys merely re-wrote "Sweet Little Sixteen" as "Surfin' USA" to score one of ther earlier hits. "Memphis, Tennessee," released as a single in 1964, signaled his return to music, and he completed his first studio sessions in almost five years, which resulted in another string of hits including "Nadine," "No Particular Place to Go," and "You Never Can Tell." Though Mr. Berry's chart success began to wane, his popularity as a live performer was undiminished, and he toured and recorded dilligently for the next several years, seeming to have emerged from prison as a harder, more shrewd businessman. In 1966, Mr. Berry signed a lucrative contract with Mercury Records, but by 1969 he had returned to Chess Records, and recorded Back Home and San Francisco Dues, arguably his best-ever LP's. He also benefitted from a renewed interest in early rock 'n' roll, and worked in several rock revival shows, as well as being given a prominent part in the film Let the Good Times Roll. A U.K. appearance at the Lanchester Arts Festival in 1972 not only gave him one-half of a double album, The London Sessions, but also, strangely, his biggest-ever chart success. The gently ribald "My Ding-a-Ling" was his first-ever No. 1 record on both sides of the Atlantic. Strangely, because the song had been in and out of his stage show since he first turned professional. In 1979, Mr. Berry recorded another creditable effort, Rockit, and continued to play concerts, ofen with pickup bands. That same year, he appeared in the 1979 film American Hot Wax. In January 1986, Mr. Berry was among the first round of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the following year he published his memoir, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography. He was also the subject of a documentary/tribute film, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, for which one of his biggest fans, Keith Richards, organized a backing band. Now residing in Wentzville, Mo., Mr. Berry built an amusement complex called Berry Park. He became entangled with legal problems again in 1979 when he was charged with income tax evasion, serving a 100-day prison term that same year. In 1990, felony drug and child-abuse charges were filed against him after police raided his home and found 62 grams of marijuana and a number of videotapes of women -- one of whom was apparently a minor -- that were using the restroom in a Berry Park restaurant. He was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, placed on two years' probation, and ordered to donate $5,000 to a local hospital. Among the fellow rock giants reacting to his death are the Rolling Stones, who soon posted "he was a true pioneer of rock'n'roll & a massive influence," and Bruce Springsteen, who tweeted "Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived." - The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock/The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock/Billboard, 3/18/17.
Steely Dan, Earth, Wind & Fire, Journey and the Doobie Brothers have been added to previously announced headliners the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac for the lineup of the upcoming Classic East and Classic West two-day festivals in the US this July. The first event will be held on July 15-16 at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, followed by Classic East from July 29-30 at Citi Field in New York City. The Eagles will open the first night of the series with Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. The second night will feature performances by Fleetwood Mac, Journey and Earth, Wind & Fire. - NME, 3/14/17...... Nile Rodgers of Chic delivered the keynote address at the SXSW Music Conference and Festival on Mar. 15 in Austin, Tex. Rodgers delivered a warmly encouraging and insightful hour-long talk, making such points as "practice makes perfect," "don't be snobby," "be open to chance," and "the future of musical success is in brands and sync rights." Rodgers last appeared at SXSW in 1991. On Mar. 14, Sammy Hagar told the audience that these days it's difficult for younger artists to be heard, because "record companies were so important... cause they would pay for you to go out on the road and they'd put you out with a big band opening for 14,000 people every night... you really had a shot at exposure and they would get your songs played on the radio and make a video for MTV, all those things. It seems like that's not there anymore. But there's other avenues." Hagar, who now fronts the band Chickenfoot, also touched on his life and career, from his poor upbringing to his time with Montrose and Van Halen to cars (his favorite is the Ferrari Boxer 512 from the "I Can't Drive 55" video), paranormal encounters, and his business interests in restaurant and liquor. Also appearing at SXSW on Mar. 14 was Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood, who said Fleetwood Mac is "alive and well." "But the truth of the matter is, we're all in our 70s, and the band is 50 years old; there is a window and the window will close. That happens in all things in life. But until then, we carry on." Mick Fleetwood was also promoting his upcoming book Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac Volume One: 1967-1974, a lavish tome due on Sept. 19. When the music portion of SXSW gets underway on the fourth week in March, a new concert film by '70s cult favorites Big Star, Thank You Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More, will be screened, ahead of its Apr. 21 release. - Billboard, 3/17/17...... Paul McCartney's brother Michael McCartney says he believes a vintage Liverpool police recruitment film dating from 1958 may very likely contain a glimpse of himself, Paul and John Lennon standing on the rooftop of the McCartneys' home at 20 Forthlin Road watching the annual Police Horse and dog display. The footage was discovered by Liverpudlian Peter Hodgson, who posted on Facebook, "I love watching old films about Liverpool on You Tube and I made the connection with Forthlin Road when I saw the Mather Avenue police show footage... I found the information on a Merseyside Police website which confirmed it was 1958." Michael McCartney then told the Liverpool Echo that he believes it "could definitely be us... It was a really big occasion in Liverpool and that's what we used to do every summer" -- take deck chairs and climb onto the concrete shed and watch a free show. And I think there is every chance John would have been there that year -- absolutely. His friend, Pete Shotton, was a police cadet. And George [Harrison] could easily have been there, too. It's bloody mad -- absolutely fascinating and unbelievable!" Although the images of the people in question are to tiny for a positive identification, if it is indeed Paul McCartney and John Lennon it would be the earliest known film appearance of any of the group members. - Billboard, 3/9/17...... In related news, Sony/ATV Music Publishing is telling a UK judge that Sir Paul's lawsuit to reclaim rights to songs he authored as a member of the Beatles is "unripe" and "clearly forum-shopping." McCartney filed suit against Sony January, suing to confirm that under the termination provisions of U.S. copyright law, he gets to recapture his share of the copyright in the UK. If McCartney is successful, he will have terminated a copyright grant 18 months hence. Sony is asking the UK court to dismiss this case, and allow the UK court to determine relevant issues of UK contract law. Meanwhile, McCartney has unveiled the previously unheard demo for "Distractions" from his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt, which will drop as a deluxe reissue on Mar. 24. Recorded and mixed by McCartney at Rude Studio, Campbeltown, Scotland, in 1987, "Distractions" was a key track on side one of Flowers in the Dirt. - Billboard/New Musical Express, 3/13/17...... Veteran The Kinks frontman Ray Davies was formally knighted by Prince Charles on Mar. 16 after making the Queen's 2017 New Years Honours list in December. Davies, 72, received his knighthood for services to the arts and made light of his special moment and shared a picture for posterity. "It lasted three minutes and it went very well," he told the Daily Mail. "And I said goodbye and went home." Davies was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen back in 2004, and The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Meanwhile, Davies is readying the release of Americana, his first solo album in nearly a decade, which is due on Apr. 21 via Legacy Recordings. - Billboard, 3/17/17...... A taping of the 2016 Farm Aid concert featuring Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews will make its premier broadcast on AXS TV on Mar. 19 at 10:00 P.M. EDT. The Farm Aid special was filmed at the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater in Bristow, Virginia, on Sept. 17, and also features Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Margo Price, and Jamey Johnson with Alison Krauss. AXS TV is a television network featuring music programming and festivals, comedy performances and current events. - Billboard, 3/16/17...... Stevie Wonder has been tapped to deliver the keynote address at the 2017 edition of the ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO in Los Angeles, set for Apr. 13-15 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. Wonder will accept a new honor named the "Key of Life" award after his 1976 iconic double-LP Songs in the Key of Life that recognizes "songwriters and composers who best exemplify Wonder's legacy through their commitment to the art form he elevated through his talent, dedication and unparalleled heart." ASCAP's current president is songwriter Paul Williams, and some 3,000 attendees are expected. - Billboard, 3/16/17...... Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers will be among the headliners at the upcoming Arroyo Seco Weekend Festival in Pasadena, Calif., on June 24-25. Organized by the same team behind the successful Coachella festival, Arroyo Seco will take place in the Rose Bowl and is described as "a world class culture event featuring three stages of live music along with curated menus from LA's celebrated restaurants and chefs plus craft beer & wine." Also performing will be Weezer, Mumford & Sons and the Shins, among others. - Billboard, 3/15/17...... Gregg Allman posted on his official website on Mar. 13 that he has cancelled all of his scheduled tour dates for the rest of 2017. Allman, 69, said he was taking several months off from touring so he can "focus on his health," but still had plans to tour next year. Allman did not provide additional details for the cancellations, but he has faced multiple health issues, including contracting hepatitis C and having a 2010 liver transplant. - AP, 3/14/17...... Prince's sister Tyka Nelson claims her famous brother knew he was going to do die and had been making preparations for his death. "About three years ago he called He said, 'I think I've done everything I've come to do,'" she told ABC's forthcoming program People Icons: Gone Too Soon, which looks back on the lives of late stars. "My dad and Prince always spoke in these types of riddles," Nelson added. "He knew. And he was preparing me. It's very clear He needed to go. He was tired. Instead of crying, dance. He didn't like me to cry, so I don't want them to cry either." Tyka says she last saw Prince three days before his Apr. 21, 2016 death, and that they "were making jokes and hugged three times." - New Musical Express, 3/16/17...... The Who announced on Mar. 13 that they'll kick off a six-show residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on July 29, running through Aug. 11. The shows were described as a "first run" for the band, which has undertaken a long "goodbye tour" since 2014 that is set to end in April 2017 in England. The band's leading members are guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey, who are 71 and 73-years-old, respectively. - Billboard, 3/13/17...... Bette Midler returned to the Broadway stage on Mar. 15 in a revival of "Hello, Dolly!" and shared the first photo of her in the iconic title role the previous evening on Twitter. "Here I am for the first time as Dolly! Performances begin tomorrow #HelloDolly!," the Divine Miss M posted. The "Hello, Dolly!" revival began a run of preview performances on Mar. 15, and its official opening night is scheduled for Apr. 20. It will be the fourth revival of the play on Broadway. The original Broadway production ran for 2,844 performances between 1964 and 1970 and won 10 Tony Awards (including one for Carol Channing, who originated the role of Dolly on Broadway). - Billboard, 3/14/17...... A set of UK commemorative stamps honoring David Bowie were launched into space in helium balloons on Mar. 13 in a fitting tribute to the late galactic space rocker. According to the British Press Association, 52 sets of the stamps created to honor the one-year anniversary of Bowie's Jan. 2016 death at age 69 were sent into the stratosphere on the special balloons as an homage to Bowie's 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. The flight reportedly reached a height of 111,876 feet, and fans who correctly guess where the "stamps that fell to earth" landed won one of the limited-edition versions, which were released on Mar. 14. - Billboard, 3/14/17...... Lionel Richie and Todd Rundgren will be among the recipients of an honorary degree from the Berklee College of Music during its commencement ceremony on May 13. Rundgren is also this year's commencement speaker. The college's honorary degrees recognize those who have made significant achievements and influences in music along with their contributions to American and international culture, and previous recipients include Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Annie Lennox, Carole King and Willie Nelson. - Billboard, 3/13/17...... A limited-edition vinyl release of recordings made by infamous '60s cult leader Charles Manson during the 1980s while imprisoned at San Quentin is being made available ahead of a new ABC documentary on Manson which premiers on Mar. 17. Manson was once befriended by the Beach Boys who recorded one of his songs, which charted in 1968. But a record deal eluded him; despite his connection to Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, Manson failed to convince record producer Terry Melcher to take him seriously. Until now, Manson's music has existed mostly in bootleg form. Manson, who is now 82, cannot make money on his art while imprisoned in California's Corcoran prison. He has been serving life sentences since being convicted of the Sharon Tate murders in 1971, and made news earlier in 2017 when he was hospitalized. - Billboard, 3/17/17...... Paul Simon will kick off a 17-city US tour on June 1 in St. Augustine, Fla., to support the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. In an interview with the environmental issues website Mongabay, Simon said he hopes the tour can generate "millions of dollars" for the Foundation and boost awareness for its good causes. "I don't want people to come and think they're going to be lectured to. But I don't mind having Ed's book available or having (Half-Earth) caps there," Simon said. The tour will run through June 28 at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Denver, Co. - Billboard, 3/14/17...... A relief fund set up by Dolly Parton to benefit the almost 1000 families who lost their homes in Nov. 2016 in Parton's home territory of East Tennesse has raised upwards of $9 million and helped 921 residents of Sevier county. Parton, arguably the most famous person from the region, singlehandedly created countless jobs after buying an old theme park and converting it into Dollywood, which is now the "largest employer" in the area. In other Dolly Parton news, the singer/songwriter's longtime manager Don Warden died on Mar. 11 at age 87. Mr. Warden met Parton when the young country singer joined The Porter Wagoner Show in the 1960s. Parton said in a statement posted on her website that Mr. Warden was "like a father, a brother, a partner and one of my best friends." Mr. Warden was a self-taught steel guitar player who was a founding member of the Porter Wagoner Trio and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1957. - Jezebel.com/AP, 3/14/17...... James Cotton, a Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica master whose full-throated sound backed such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson IIand Howlin' Wolf, died on Mar. 16 of pneumonia at St. David's Medical Center in Austin. He was 81. Known as "Mr. Superharp," Mr. Cotton was honored by New York's Lincoln Center in 2010, and his most recent album, 2013's Cotton Mouth Man, was nominated for a Grammy. - AP, 3/16/17...... Music industry veteran Maxx Kidd, who helped pioneer go-go music, died on Mar. 13 in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 75. Kidd's first major industry breakthrough was working as a producer for Curtis Mayfield's Curtom Records, where he collaborated with such artists as Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler and Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers. Kidd later played a role in producing and supporting D.C.'s infamous go-go sound, working with Brown & the Soul Searchers as well as fellow funk groups Trouble Funk and E.U. He also became an independent promoter and marketer, with a client list that included the O'Jays, the Temptations, Lou Rawls, Van McCoy, Johnnie Taylor and Shalamar. - Billboard, 3/15/17.