Chuck Berry, the father of rock n’ roll, passed away Saturday at 90 years old. His music was sent to space for aliens to find, and for Back to the Future fans, he’s the guy on the phone who heard Marty McFly perform “Johnny B. Goode” and knew it would change the future. That’s right, Chuck Berry has transcended both space and time.
From the first guitar riff on, Berry ushered in a new era of rock n’ roll music across the world, inspiring The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and pretty much every other rock and blues musician we know. So it’s no surprise Carl Sagan agreed to add his iconic 1958 song “Johnny B. Goode” to the Golden Records on Voyager I and II, a 1977 time capsule that showcases the best and brightest of humanity for extraterrestrials... even though Berry’s music was considered “adolescent” at the time. He’s the only American rock musician on the record.
In the first Back to the Future film, Marty performed “Johnny B. Goode” at the Enchanted Under the Sea dance, because those darn kids wanted to dance and Michael J. Fox had already spent weeks learning how to play the song note-for-note. As Marty and The Starlighters performed this literally ahead-of-its-time song, injured guitarist Marvin Berry called his “cousin” and got him in on the ground level of that new sound that he himself had already invented. “Chuck, Chuck, it’s Marvin, your cousin Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you’re looking for? Well, listen to this!”
Berry passed away at his home about 45 miles outside St. Louis. He was working on a new album titled Chuck, set to be released in June, and was still performing live shows occasionally. It’s unknown whether any of the new songs will be released, but we’ve still got his lifelong collection of groundbreaking music... which could help us make First Contact one day. As Steve Martin showed on a 1978 episode of Saturday Night Live, future aliens will likely have one demand: “Send More Chuck Berry.”