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Chuck Berry's final album was made on his own terms

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/6/2017 By JIM SALTER, Associated Press
FILE - In this Oct. 17, 1986 file photo, Chuck Berry performs during a concert celebration for his 60th birthday at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Mo. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/James A. Finley, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Oct. 17, 1986 file photo, Chuck Berry performs during a concert celebration for his 60th birthday at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Mo. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/James A. Finley, File)

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chuck Berry did things his own way, right up to his final album, a 10-song set nearly four decades in the making.

FILE- In this Jan. 19, 1993 file photo, Chuck Berry dances on stage at the Presidential Gala for President-elect Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in Landover, Md. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File) © The Associated Press FILE- In this Jan. 19, 1993 file photo, Chuck Berry dances on stage at the Presidential Gala for President-elect Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in Landover, Md. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

The St. Louis native widely hailed as the father of rock 'n' roll announced plans for the album "CHUCK" in October on his 90th birthday. The music took on added poignancy when Berry died in March. The album will be released Friday.

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2012 file photo, Chuck Berry plays "Johnny B. Goode" at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, an event where he and Leonard Cohen were honored with Awards for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2012 file photo, Chuck Berry plays "Johnny B. Goode" at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, an event where he and Leonard Cohen were honored with Awards for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds, File)

It's a fitting finale from the guitar master who melded blues, R&B and country music into a sound that took over the 1950s, forever changing the cultural landscape. Some of the new songs, like "Wonderful Woman" and "Big Boys," feature the same driving rhythm of his earliest hits like "Maybellene" and "Roll Over Beethoven." In fact, one of the new songs, "Lady B. Goode," offers the perspective of the woman left behind by his legendary "Johnny B. Goode."

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 1984 file photo, American singer and guitarist Chuck Berry poses with his Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him at the 26th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Feb. 28, 1984 file photo, American singer and guitarist Chuck Berry poses with his Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him at the 26th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo, File)

But Berry's son, Charles Berry Jr., said his father did not set out to make a legacy album.

In this Wednesday, May 31, 2017, photo, Charles Berry Jr., son of rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry, poses alongside a statue of his late father, in University City, Mo. Berry Jr. plays guitar on his father's final album entitled "Chuck", a 10-song set nearly four decades in the making. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) © The Associated Press In this Wednesday, May 31, 2017, photo, Charles Berry Jr., son of rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry, poses alongside a statue of his late father, in University City, Mo. Berry Jr. plays guitar on his father's final album entitled "Chuck", a 10-song set nearly four decades in the making. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

"I think this was just his next body of work, and it just took a lot longer than the other albums to get released," Charles Berry Jr., 55, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2008, file photo, Chuck Berry poses in front of his childhood home in St. Louis. Leaders in St. Louis are hoping to develop the home into a museum to honor the man credited by many with inventing rock 'n' roll. Berry died March 18, 2017. (Dawn Majors/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2008, file photo, Chuck Berry poses in front of his childhood home in St. Louis. Leaders in St. Louis are hoping to develop the home into a museum to honor the man credited by many with inventing rock 'n' roll. Berry died March 18, 2017. (Dawn Majors/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

That's an understatement. Jim Marsala, who played bass guitar in Berry's band for 41 years, said Berry began working on new material soon after the release of his previous album, "Rock It," in 1979.

FILE - This April 4, 1980 file photo shows American guitarist and singer Chuck Berry doing the "duck walk" during a performance. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo, File) © The Associated Press FILE - This April 4, 1980 file photo shows American guitarist and singer Chuck Berry doing the "duck walk" during a performance. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo, File)

Always marching to his own beat, Berry was in no particular hurry. For 10 years, he recorded songs, or riffs for songs, or whatever came to mind. All of the tracks were destroyed in a 1989 fire at a studio near his home in Wentzville, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb.

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 1984 file photo, American singer and guitarist Chuck Berry is shown at the annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/Douglas Pizac, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Feb. 28, 1984 file photo, American singer and guitarist Chuck Berry is shown at the annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Berry died March 18, 2017 at the age of 90. His last album, "Chuck," will be released on Friday, June 9, a fitting finale from the man who melded blues, rhythm and blues and country music into a sound that changed the cultural landscape. (AP Photo/Douglas Pizac, File)

At that point, "he has nothing," Charles Berry Jr. said. "So, he builds another studio and goes back to work, re-creating and creating new music."

This image released by Dualtone shows "Chuck," the final album by Chuck Berry. (Dualtone via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by Dualtone shows "Chuck," the final album by Chuck Berry. (Dualtone via AP)

In the meantime, Berry continued to perform, including monthly shows for nearly two decades at Blueberry Hill, a venue in another St. Louis suburb, University City, until age 88. Marsala directed the band, Charles Berry Jr. played guitar, and the always unpredictable frontman commanded the stage, taking his bandmates on a nightly trip they could never anticipate.

"The show was completely ad-libbed," Marsala said. "You never knew what was coming next. We usually started out with 'Roll Over Beethoven,' 'School Days,' and then 'Sweet Little Sixteen,' and then from there it was whatever he felt like playing."

Marsala made sure he stood to Berry's left, better to see where Berry's hands were on the neck of his guitar "so I knew what key he was in. So when he would do his four-bar intro I had hand signals. I would flash to the keyboard player so he would know what key we were in. And we'd come in on the fifth bar. It worked great."

Charles Berry Jr. smiled as he recalled those shows.

"He'd be up onstage and just start doing stuff," he said. "And it'd be, 'OK, let's just follow him wherever he's going.'"

"CHUCK" was a family affair. Charles Berry Jr. plays guitar, as does his own son, Charles Edward Berry III, who turns 23 this week. Ingrid Berry-Clay, one of Chuck's three daughters, sings and plays harmonica.

She sings along with her dad on "Darlin'," a country-tinged ballad that resonates as a final message to his children.

"Darlin', your father's growing older each year," Berry sings. "Strands of gray are showing bolder/Come here and lay your head upon my shoulder/My dear, the time is passing fast away."

Typical of Berry, the lyrics of "CHUCK" are at times poetic, at other times playful. "Big Boys" harkens to his earlier odes to teenage cravings. "The girls wanna stay and the boys wanna play/So let's rock 'n' roll 'til the break of day," he sings.

But in the closing song, "Eyes of Man," Berry warns philosophically of worshipping false idols.

"So be the temples men have cherished/Crumble in ruins to rot and rust/Low lies each pillar and arch to perish/Doomed to decay and rot to dust."

Berry's impact on music was evident, said Joe Edwards, the owner of Blueberry Hill and a close friend of Berry's.

"But the fact that he changed culture around the world by bringing black kids and white kids together through music was an even greater accomplishment, perhaps," Edwards said.

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"It was just unbelievable the influence he had."

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Online: http://www.chuckberry.com

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