On Chuck Berry

Ian Penman at Harper’s Magazine:

Berry never claimed that he invented rock and roll, and was always quite happy to point out where he’d gotten his inspiration: from the great hinterland and invisible college of rhythm and blues. He happily fessed up to his influences, such as Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker. There was a lot of guilt-free recycling involved—transplanting a riff or a lick, a line or a trope, into fresh new settings. (Jordan’s guitarist Carl Hogan was the source for the famous opening guitar riff of “Johnny B. Goode.”) Even the execrable (but insanely popular) late hit “My Ding-A-Ling” was a virtual xerox of a roiling 1952 R & B side by the marvelous Dave Bartholomew. He tinkered, customized, and retooled songs as if giving an old car a new coat of paint, adding horsepower, then taking them back out on the open road again.

What he did do, indisputably, was visualize a whole new postwar landscape, and provide a soundtrack for its leisure time: a hybrid somewhere between white pop and black R & B. Smith has a lovely phrase for this: “Scraps and rags and things given away for free were pulled together and made into a brand new flag.”

more here.