In 2001 Rolling Stone ran a feature to mark Chuck’s 75th birthday confirming rumors that had persisted throughout the 1990s: Berry had written a new batch of songs and was recording them in a St. Louis studio. And with that the countdown to Chuck’s new album began – move over “Chinese Democracy” and “M B V!” Being that his last studio album was 1979’s “Rock It,” Chuck’s forthcoming follow-up would be the decades-delayed album for the ages!
Shortly after Rolling Stone’s 2001 profile was published Berry told Billboard he was using ProTools at St. Louis’ Four Seasons Media Productions to modernize his sound. “That’s a big change,” he said of digitally recording for the first time. “I’ve done 30 hours there already, and I’m going to finish the record there. It’s great, really up to date, and brand-new.” Berry said he hoped to have an album combining his new material with updated versions of a few choice cuts from his back catalog out by the end of the year. 2002 arrived with no new album. And then 2003, and so on – but every so often in the decade that followed an update would arrive – well, not so much an update as a tease. On Chuck’s 80th birthday in 2006 Associated Press confirmed the album was still in the works, and in 2012, when Berry was honored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with their prestigious “American Music Masters” award, he was asked for a status update on the album. “As soon as I can get someone to guide me — and I do know a little about the business — I want to push them [new songs] out,” Berry told reporters outside the ceremony (though “new” is perhaps not the most accurate word to describe the material – some date back decades). “I’m going to come back and push them out if you know what I mean, somehow. They might be old, but they are the same type of music that I have been playing.”
Today, Chuck’s 90th birthday, the long promised album has finally been announced!
It’s called simply “Chuck,” and Dualtone Music Group will issue it next year. No exact release date or tracklist has been announced yet but the press release reveals it’s “comprised primarily of new, original songs written, recorded and produced by the founding rock and roll legend.” According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Berry is the sole producer of the album. “It’s a really nice gift to the fans,” spokesman Joe Edwards, Berry’s longtime friend and consultant, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He has the rock songs to get you hooked and those great Chuck Berry lyrics. He was the first great poet laureate of rock ’n’ roll. When people hear these songs, they’re going to be fascinated.”
Recorded in various studios around St. Louis, “Chuck” features Berry’s longtime backing group: his children Charles Berry Jr. (guitar) and Ingrid Berry (harmonica), with Jimmy Marsala (bass), Robert Lohr (piano), and Keith Robinson (drums). This is the group Berry fronted at hundreds of residency shows since the early ’90s at his Blueberry Hill club. “The St. Louis band, or as dad called us ‘The Blueberry Hill Band,’ fell right into the groove and followed his lead,” says Chuck’s son – who has played his father’s band for many years and manages his online presence – in the press release. “These songs cover the spectrum from hard driving rockers to soulful thought provoking time capsules of a life’s work.”
According to Jimmy Marsala – Berry’s bassist of forty years – work on the forthcoming album dates back to 1979. “He was constantly working on stuff all the time, on airplanes, writing lyrics down, always coming up with new ideas — ‘Let’s try this, let’s try that.It took time to pull all the songs together. He has been enjoying performing so much.” Marsala adds that even at 90 Berry “still has a lot to say” and suggests the long delay was due to Berry’s demand that the album lived up to his legacy. “He didn’t want to put out a bomb,” Marsala said. “It meant a lot to him that it sounds right.”
“This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy,” Berry is quoted in the press release, referring to Themetta Berry, his wife of 68 years. “My darlin’ I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”
Dualtone president Paul Roper adds: “It is a great honor to be a part of this record and the broader legacy of Chuck Berry. This body of work stands with the best of his career and will further cement Chuck as one of the greatest icons of rock and roll.”
Dualtone, of Nashville, Tennessee, is a perfect fit for a 2017 Chuck Berry album – their roster is filled with the modern day Americana of Robert Earl Keen, The Lumineers, Delta Spirit, Langhorne Slim, Shakey Graves, Guy Clark and others.
Although Berry regularly gigged through 2014, since playing his 200th consecutive monthly show at the Duck Room in Blueberry Hill in October 2014 he seems to have retired from live performance. Then again, the St Louis Post Dispatch quotes Marsala about his most recent conversation with Chuck: “‘Let’s go get on the bus and kick some ass like we used to'” Berry said….