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Special Issue of Rock Music Studies – Chuck Berry

Posted: October 12th, 2015 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

Chuck Berry
Guest-edited by Tom McCourt – Fordham University

“Chuck Berry is the greatest of the rock and rollers . . . his songs are still claimed as encores by everyone from folkies to heavy-metal kids. But Chuck Berry isn’t merely the greatest of the rock and rollers, or rather, there’s nothing mere about it. Say rather that unless we can somehow recycle the concept of the great artist so that it supports Chuck Berry as well as it does Marcel Proust, we might as well trash it altogether.” – Robert Christgau, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll.

Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” was released sixty years ago. Its introduction, a blues-distorted electric guitar playing sped-up country-tinged lines, indicated a hybridity underscored by its vocal, clearly sung by a black man, that avoided the melisma associated with black singers. Its clipped narrative was powered by a relentless rhythm and blues backbeat, and it sounded like nothing else on the radio. At the height of his career, from 1955 to 1960, Chuck Berry created a canon of songs that virtually defined rock and roll and retain their freshness and vitality today.

An issue of Rock Music Studies will be devoted to Chuck Berry’s influences and influence, tracing out the elements, vision, and impact of the first performer elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We invite contributors to reappraise Berry’s contributions to popular music and culture; possible topics include:

  • Why Berry’s particular jumbling of blues, country, and Latin became the lingua franca of rock
  • Berry’s influences, both those he credited (Louis Jordan, Carl Hogan, and T-Bone Walker) and those he left largely unacknowledged (Johnnie Johnson and Leonard Chess)
  • Berry’s tropes of race, youth, and social mobility in the context of the late 1950s as central to his cross-cultural and cross-racial appeal
  • The themes, imagery, and literary aspects of Berry’s lyrics, which balanced glee and frustration in the context of the postwar economic boom and an exploding consumer culture
  • Berry as trickster: slyness, sincerity, calculation, and insouciance in his work
  • Berry’s status as a bluesman, which he claimed was his true vocation, and the way he addressed the issue of race in songs such as “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”
  • Berry’s relationship and rapport with his audience on recordings and in performance, and the tension between self-expression and commercial imperatives in his work
  • The arc of Berry’s recording career, from Chess to Mercury to Chess to Atco to silence
  • The impact of Berry’s legal difficulties on his music and career
  • How Berry’s legendarily hardnosed business style and demand for control affected his work and image
  • Berry’s (at best ambivalent) relationship to younger musicians influenced by his work
  • Depictions of Berry in literature, criticism, and film, including his autobiography and documentaries, and the muddled nature of his biography

Potential contributors should submit an abstract no longer than 250 words, along with their institutional affiliation and postal and e-mail addresses, by November 30, 2016.

Completed manuscripts of 4,000-10,000 words should be submitted by August 31, 2017

Please send abstracts and direct queries to: Tom McCourt, [email protected].

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