We are not even two months into 2016, and David Bowie is gone. So are Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson. So are Maurice White, Vanity and Otis Clay, Glenn Frey, Gary Loizzo and Dan Hicks.
Time, then — well past time, really — to appreciate four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different.
The legend: Chuck Berry.
Still performing? It’s been almost a year and a half since he last played at the Blueberry Hill nightclub in suburban St. Louis. “Chuck Berry does not have any upcoming events,” his Facebook page says.
What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: Chuck Berry is not necessarily a nice man, from his troubles with the law and the tax man to his reluctance to give longtime co-writer and side man Johnnie Johnson his due.
Where I came in: I’m part of the generation introduced to Chuck Berry by the naughty novelty single “My Ding-A-Ling” in 1972. Then I bought “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” the two-record greatest-hits compilation reissued by Chess in the wake of the success of “My Ding-A-Ling.” Long one of the greatest records in my collection.
My evening with Chuck Berry: Seven years ago, I saw Chuck Berry — then 82 — play our local casino ballroom. After that show, you wondered whether he’d played for roughly an hour, or played roughly for an hour. Which was OK. With Chuck Berry, you never can tell.
Appreciate the greatness:
“Roll Over Beethoven,” 1956. Electric Light Orchestra’s long, raucous cover of this is one of my all-time favorites.
“Too Much Monkey Business” 1956. The roots of hip hop? Dig that patter. Ahhhhhh.
“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” 1956. The flip side to “Too Much Monkey Business.” Dig that Johnnie Johnson piano.
“Johnny B. Goode,” 1958. Rock Guitar 101.
All by Chuck Berry, all from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” 1967. My vinyl copy is a 1972 reissue. It’s out of print. All of these cuts available digitally.