(I collect this stuff to shore up my theory that, while we never hear the end of “whites stole rock and roll from blacks,” it is almost as true that “blacks stole rock and roll from other blacks.”)
Sure enough, Tim Sommer writes:
But until Chuck Berry, no one had attempted to streamline pure jump blues while keeping the melodic wit, swing, and improvisation intact.
Berry skins and dries the jump blues formula of Jordan, and Wynonie Harris, and others without losing any of the impact; in fact, it seems to get bigger.
Ah, here we go:
Consider this: As Berry emerged, Bo Diddley was singing about chimneys made out of human skulls, the Treniers were howling about “Poon Tang,” and Roy Brown told us about “Butcher Pete” (who hacks, whacks, and smacks his meat).
But here comes Chuck Berry singing about high school, the girls you might meet therein, and other far-from-explicit boy-girl stuff that made sense to teens but wasn’t terribly offensive to radio or parents. No one’s wearing a cobra snake for a necktie in Berry’s songs.
Yeah, er, that process sounds like the opposite of “brilliant” to me. “Brilliant” commercially, sure, but I didn’t think that’s what anybody meant by “brilliant” all this time.
I also thought the attraction to Berry felt by UK youth (including members of the Stones, etc) was that his depictions of America were so exotic. I guess one man’s “exotic” is another man’s “pedestrian,” especially if you live in mostly-white, barely-post-rationing England.