As news of rock pioneer Chuck Berry’s death spread throughout the music world Saturday, employees and musicians at the Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard discussed his influence on generations of musicians.
“He’s a big part of rock music and of this store,” said Patrick Carpenter, the store’s director.
Berry’s handprints are enshrined in cement on the store’s “Rock Walk” display out front. A Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley album sits in a glass case next to the front door. “Johnny B. Goode,” one of Berry’s most famous hits, plays over the store’s speakers a few times a day.
“For some of the guys here, his music is the first stuff they learn to play,” Carpenter said. The store is ordering a bouquet of flowers to decorate Berry’s handprint, he added.
On Saturday afternoon, Carpenter ascended a ladder in the store’s vintage guitars room and snaked his hand across thousands of dollars worth of instruments, searching for an example of Berry’s guitar.
The Gibson ES-355 was a hollow-body, semiacoustic instrument that was used to play some of the first rock ’n’ roll music ever made, Carpenter said. Berry drew attention for using what was known as a bluesy guitar to play rock, and he became known for the instrument’s aggressive sound, he added.
He stepped off the ladder with a Gibson ES-335 cradled in his hands, a model similar to Berry’s guitar. Berry’s specific model, Carpenter said, sells out fast.
Carpenter, 33, believes he was about 10 years old when he first heard Berry and his contemporary Little Richard play. He appreciated that Berry made highly original music during a time when black musicians often couldn’t use the same restrooms as the audiences they played for. And Berry’s era of music, 1950s rock, became Carpenter’s favorite sound.
“It was just raw and original, especially for the time it was in,” Carpenter said. “Berry is a big reason the Beatles happened.”
In the audio equipment section of the store, Laney Stewart — a songwriter, producer and publisher who has played a part in songs like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” — called Berry the architect of rock ’n’ roll.
Over the years, he said, he’s studied Berry’s career and watched documentaries about the musician to learn about navigating the industry.
“He brought great songwriting to popular music and used a lot of complex but easily understood metaphors,” Stewart said.
Mike Smith, 58, of South Central Los Angeles, said he’s been listening to Berry ever since he was a kid growing up in Kansas City, Mo. A casual musician who plays bass and drums, Smith said Berry’s historical significance is unquestionable.
“I remember his style, that stage presence. Exciting and fiery,” Smith said.
Berry died Saturday morning at 90, and his death represented the end of an era for many musicians. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones tweeted that Berry “lit up our teenage years.” Slash, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, called Berry “undisputedly the king.” “The greatest pure rock ’n’ roll writer who ever lived,” tweeted Bruce Springsteen.
Smith added another accolade to the list: “90 years old? For someone in rock ’n’ roll, that’s an eternity.”