St. Louis’ own rock ’n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry turns 90 on Tuesday, but he’s the one who will be giving fans a gift. Berry will release his first new studio album since 1979’s “Rock It.”
Simply titled “Chuck,” the album will be available in 2017 through Dualtone Records. The exact release date hasn’t been determined.
The album will consist mostly of originals. A final track listing will be released at a later date.
"This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy," said Berry in a statement, referring to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry. "My darlin' I'm growing old! I've worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!"
Charles Berry Jr., Berry’s son and guitarist, says the songs “cover the spectrum from hard-driving rockers to soulful, thought-provoking time capsules of a life’s work.”
Recorded in various studios around St. Louis, the album features the legend with his longtime band, dubbed the Blueberry Hill Band, with Berry Jr., Ingrid Berry (harmonica), Jimmy Marsala (bass), Robert Lohr (piano) and Keith Robinson (drums).
Chuck Berry was the album’s sole producer.
Spokesman Joe Edwards, Berry’s longtime friend and consultant who has been close to the project, said “Chuck” will show the world that Berry remains a talented singer and musician. “It’s a really nice gift to the fans,” he says.
Edwards says the songs on the album are mesmerizing. “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.”
In a statement, Dualtone president Paul Roper said he’s honored to be a part of the new record and of 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 ’n’ roll,” he said.
Dualtone, of Nashville, Tenn., also has the Lumineers, Delta Spirit, Langhorne Slim, Robert Earl Keen, Shakey Graves and Guy Clark on its roster.
“Chuck” has been a long time in the making, to say the least. It has been nearly 40 years since “Rock It,” but Berry isn’t washed up, said Marsala, the bassist. “He still has a lot to say.”
Marsala said work on “Chuck” began as far back as when the 1979 album was finished. “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,’” he said.
“It took time to pull all the songs together,” Edwards said. “He has been enjoying performing so much.”
Marsala suggests the album also took as long as it did because Berry wanted to make sure he was releasing an album that lived up to everyone’s expectations. He is, after all, the pioneer who gave us rock staples such as “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnnie B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Rock & Roll Music.”
Photos: Looking back at the career of Chuck Berry
Music legend Chuck Berry is dead at 90 states a police report. First responders were called to his St. Charles home Saturday afternoon for an medical emergency. They could not revive him. Called the father of Rock -n- Roll, Berry's music inspired thousands to follow in his footsteps. He made St. Louis his home.
“He didn’t want to put out a bomb,” Marsala said. “It meant a lot to him that it sounds right.”
Work on the project intensified the past decade when Berry got most serious about it.
Throughout the recording process, Marsala says Berry was definitely in charge of the studio and full of suggestions on what he needed from the musicians. He described the sessions as sporadic and lengthy as Berry pushed until he got the results he wanted.
More details surrounding the release of “Chuck” are forthcoming, though a tour probably won’t be among the plans. Edwards said Berry likely is retired from touring, though “anything can happen. But he’s enjoying relaxing for the first time.”
In his most recent conversation with Berry, Marsala said the legend told him, “‘Let’s go get on the bus and kick some ass like we used to.’”
Berry played his 200th consecutive concert at the Duck Room in Blueberry Hill in 2014 before pulling back from touring. He will celebrate his 90th birthday privately with family.
Tuesday also marks the 30th anniversary of the rock music documentary of director Taylor Hackford's acclaimed "Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll," which documents two concerts organized by Keith Richards for Berry's 60th birthday.