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Chuck Berry's final album shows his lasting talents as a songwriter and musician

Charles Berry, Jr. stands behind a podium with a giant image of Chuck Berry behind.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Charles Berry, Jr. speaks at his father's funeral.

For more than 40 years, bassist Jim Marsala toured with Chuck Berry. They played together in the Kremlin in Moscow, on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, and at Berry’s regular Duck Room show at Blueberry Hill in the Loop.

In the early 2000s, Berry’s son Charles Berry Jr. joined the band. Berry then began music, writing piano lines, lyrics and guitar parts for what would be his final work — tapping Marsala and his son on guitar.

Those recordings will be released today in the rock icon’s final album, “CHUCK.” The younger Berry says it’s a classic, and shows that late in life his father remained a gifted songwriter with a knack for making people dance.

“He just had that ability,” Berry said of his father. “He knew what people were going to like even before they knew they liked it. And this album is just another reflection of that.”

The album’s filled with songs about fun, love, and cars – three themes that permeated the musicians work.  Although the album adheres to his traditional rock and roll sound, there are nods to changing times. The track “Big Boys” features guitarist Tom Morello and Nate Rateliff, two contemporary musicians. “Lady B. Goode” is intended to mirror Berry’s classic “Johnny B. Goode.” The song “Jamaica Moon” is Berry’s own reinterpretation of his 1978 song “Havana Moon.”

Marsala recalled that Berry’s approach to recording was detailed – perhaps because he knew it might be the last album he made. The bassist says Berry was speaking to his legacy.

“He was very concerned about the quality of it over the years. And I think that’s what took so long. He was constantly nit-picking it, and doing this and doing that,” Marsala said. “Changing this and changing that. It was a long, long process. And I think he just wanted it to be as good as possible.”

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold