Berry liked to compose with other musicians, throwing words and riffs out and moving slowly till a critical mass that had been long in the making seemed to arrive out of nowhere. Smith writes in much the same manner, taking a song like 'Nadine' from a sketchy beginning to its masterful completion ... Smith regularly steers the reader back to Berry’s never-ending harassment by authorities.
... as smart and punchy as a mono Berry 45 ... Mr. Smith, a veteran music journalist who interviewed more than 100 musicians and Berry associates for the book, illuminates the multi-dimensional quality of songs ... a risqué novelty song, 'My Ding-A-Ling,' went to No. 1, the biggest hit of his career. A puerile ditty about you-know-what, it is reviled by rock critics and fans alike. Mr. Smith makes a less-than-convincing defense of the song as a comic masterpiece and 'a strong, clear message of free play and inclusion' ... With a queasy thoroughness, Mr. Smith sifts through the smut and tries to place Berry’s behavior in the context of the #MeToo movement ... Those faithful, vintage Fender amps, echoing the insolent, let-freedom-ring reverb of the rock revolution he helped create, waiting onstage wherever he played a show: It is one of many nuggets that a reader will take away from Mr. Smith’s unsparing but revelatory account of an American original, a renegade who remained unabashedly 'almost grown' until the bitter end.
It’s got a rock ‘n’ roll tone, for better and worse, but it still manages to bring Berry into sharp focus ... Smith works best in the realms of cultural criticism and history, and Berry, who died in 2017, offers plenty of material. Sometimes Smith is a little too eager to flash his hep credentials...Nevertheless, he has a firm grasp of Berry’s meaning, and he tells the story with a sense of color his subject deserves.
Smith’s approach to Berry combines an almost day-by-day account of events infused with a sense of his own writer’s pride and pleasure in having this amazing man as a focus. He has an admirable ability to pluck out some of his most compelling words, from the amusing and outrageous to the profound ... The man Smith brings to new life is a musical genius whose ambitions could not keep him from stepping out of line when the mood struck him, but whose artistry generally saved the day and, in the end, produced a fortune and an enviable legacy.
This account may become the standard biography that may appeal to general readers. Smith lauds Berry’s accomplishments in music but also characterizes him as a lonely, self-destructive, moody, and aggressively sexual man.
A capable warts-and-all biography ... Smith always returns to the music, which, of course, was world-changing. On that note, Smith’s book is both a corrective and complement to Berry’s 1987 autobiography ... The best life of Berry in several years, though whether artist and art can be separated will be up to readers.