Looking Back at Chuck Berry’s Last Studio Album
Even though he was 90 years old when he died on Saturday, it was always going to be a sad day for rock and roll when we lost Chuck Berry. What made it particularly sad, however, was the knowledge that Berry had a new album on the horizon: CHUCK, scheduled for release sometime in 2017.
In the press release issued about CHUCK in October 2016, the impression was given that the album was completed:
Comprised primarily of new, original songs written, recorded and produced by the founding rock and roll legend, CHUCK is Berry’s first new album in thirty-eight years. It was recorded in various studios around St. Louis and features Berry’s longtime hometown backing group - including his children Charles Berry Jr. (guitar) and Ingrid Berry (harmonica), plus Jimmy Marsala (Berry’s bassist of forty years), Robert Lohr (piano), and Keith Robinson (drums) - which has supported him for over two decades on over two hundred residency shows at the famed Blueberry Hill club.
As of this writing, however, there’s still been no specific release date offered for CHUCK, so we thought it would be only appropriate to look back at the album which currently remains Berry’s last studio album, especially since it also happens to be his lone LP in our catalog.
His first and only album for Atco after a long and legendary run on Chess Records, ROCKIT found Berry delivering 10 tracks, eight of which were brand-new Berry compositions, all of them featuring piano by his longtime accompanist Johnnie Johnson. Of the bunch, the song which inevitably got the most attention was “Oh What a Thrill,” which – in addition to sounding like a lost classic from Berry’s 1950s heyday – was the track designated as the album’s single. Startlingly, it failed to chart even after Berry made an appearance on The Tonight Show (with guest host David Letterman!) to promote ROCKIT by performing the track.
On the other hand, as you may already be aware, the band Rockpile appreciated the old-school rock ‘n’ roll flavor of the track and covered it on their own album, SECONDS OF PLEASURE.
Depressingly, ROCKIT itself also failed to make it onto the Billboard 200, which effectively ended Berry’s tenure with Atco while also resulting in his decision to step away from working on new material for a pretty long haul. We can only hope that the aforementioned CHUCK ends up seeing the light of day sooner than later, but for now, give ROCKIT a go. It might not have made much of an impact at the time of its initial release, but listening to it now, it’s clear that Berry made some damned fine rock ‘n’ roll music that unjustly fell into obscurity, and it’s high time it was rescued from that state and brought back into the light.