The passing of Chuck Berry on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90 put the final punctuation mark at the end of this musical pioneer’s story. But the legacy left behind by the man who made rock ‘n’ roll what it is today largely rests on a relatively small group of milestone singles—about a dozen or so, mostly released between the mid ’50s and mid ’60s. And, when you’re talking about an artist like Berry, that leaves a lot of things out.
Though Berry mostly stopped having hits by 1964, he kept on recording at a fairly steady clip through the late ’70s. And even though most of his later records flew below the radar, they were full of worthwhile tunes. The deeper you dig into Berry’s catalog, the clearer it becomes that he had plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
Of course, the rock ‘n’ roll godhead will be forever associated with the style he introduced on titanic tracks like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Maybellene,” “Johnny B. Goode,” et al, and rightly so—they were the road map for generation after generation of rockers. But Berry’s endlessly surprising (and rewarding) eclecticism is revealed by even a casual spelunk into his archives.
Traipsing through this collection of Chuck Berry esoterica, you’ll find just about everything you can think of and then some: the spooky, minor-key “Down Bound Train,” the calypso-flavored “Run Joe,” the jazzy swinger “Bring Another Drink,” the Latin-tinged instrumental “Berry Pickin’,” the dreamy Charles Brown cover “Driftin’ Blues,” the startling psychedelic experimentation of “Oh Captain,” the 18-minute wah-wah-flecked jam “Concerto in B Goode”—you name it.
And alongside all these surprising stylistic detours are tunes in the signature Berry style like “Tulane,” “Jo Jo Gunne,” and “Oh What a Thrill” that stand up right alongside their more famous cousins. It makes for a great way to remember rock’s godfather, who, for all his renown, was an even mightier musical figure than many people realize.