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Chuck Berry

Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none is more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He is its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, without him there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor a myriad others. There would be no standard "Chuck Berry guitar intro," the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have been mainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, the whole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote "all of the great songs and came up with all the rock & roll beats." Those who do not claim him as a seminal influence or profess a liking for his music and showmanship show their ignorance of rock's development as well as his place as the music's first great creator. Elvis may have fueled rock & roll's imagery, but Chuck Berry was its heartbeat and original mindset.

He was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry to a large family in St. Louis. A bright pupil, Berry developed a love for poetry and hard blues early on, winning a high school talent contest with a guitar-and-vocal rendition of Jay McShann's big band number, "Confessin' the Blues." With some local tutelage from the neighborhood barber, Berry progressed from a four-string tenor guitar up to an official six-string model and was soon working the local East St. Louis club scene, sitting in everywhere he could. He quickly found out that black audiences liked a wide variety of music and set himself to the task of being able to reproduce as much of it as possible. What he found they really liked -- besides the blues and Nat King Cole tunes -- was the sight and sound of a black man playing white hillbilly music, and Berry's showmanlike flair, coupled with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh verses to old favorites, quickly made him a name on the circuit. In 1954, he ended up taking over pianist Johnny Johnson's small combo and a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club soon made the Chuck Berry Trio the top attraction in the black community, with Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm their only real competition.

But Berry had bigger ideas; he yearned to make records, and a trip to Chicago netted a two-minute conversation with his idol Muddy Waters, who encouraged him to approach Chess Records. Upon listening to Berry's homemade demo tape, label president Leonard Chess professed a liking for a hillbilly tune on it named "Ida Red" and quickly scheduled a session for May 21, 1955. During the session the title was changed to "Maybellene" and rock & roll history was born. Although the record only made it to the mid-20s on the Billboard pop chart, its overall influence was massive and groundbreaking in its scope. Here was finally a black rock & roll record with across-the-board appeal, embraced by white teenagers and Southern hillbilly musicians (a young Elvis Presley, still a full year from national stardom, quickly added it to his stage show), that for once couldn't be successfully covered by a pop singer like Snooky Lanson on Your Hit Parade. Part of the secret to its originality was Berry's blazing 24-bar guitar solo in the middle of it, the imaginative rhyme schemes in the lyrics, and the sheer thump of the record, all signaling that rock & roll had arrived and it was no fad. Helping to put the record over to a white teenage audience was the highly influential New York disc jockey Alan Freed, who had been given part of the writers' credit by Chess in return for his spins and plugs. But to his credit, Freed was also the first white DJ/promoter to consistently use Berry on his rock & roll stage show extravaganzas at the Brooklyn Fox and Paramount theaters (playing to predominately white audiences); and when Hollywood came calling a year or so later, also made sure that Chuck appeared with him in Rock! Rock! Rock!, Go, Johnny, Go!, and Mister Rock'n'Roll. Within a years' time, Chuck had gone from a local St. Louis blues picker making 15 dollars a night to an overnight sensation commanding over a hundred times that, arriving at the dawn of a new strain of popular music called rock & roll.

The hits started coming thick and fast over the next few years, every one of them about to become a classic of the genre: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Thirty Days," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "You Can't Catch Me," "School Day," "Carol," "Back in the U.S.A.," "Little Queenie," "Memphis, Tennessee," "Johnny B. Goode," and the tune that defined the moment perfectly, "Rock and Roll Music." Berry was not only in constant demand, touring the country on mixed package shows and appearing on television and in movies, but smart enough to know exactly what to do with the spoils of a suddenly successful show business career. He started investing heavily in St. Louis area real estate and, ever one to push the envelope, opened up a racially mixed nightspot called the Club Bandstand in 1958 to the consternation of uptight locals. These were not the plans of your average R&B singers who contented themselves with a wardrobe of flashy suits, a new Cadillac, and the nicest house in the black section. Berry was smart with plenty of business savvy and was already making plans to open an amusement park in nearby Wentzville. When the St. Louis hierarchy found out that an underage hat-check girl Berry hired had also set up shop as a prostitute at a nearby hotel, trouble came down on Berry like a sledgehammer on a fly. Charged with transporting a minor over state lines (the Mann Act), Berry endured two trials and was sentenced to federal prison for two years as a result.

He emerged from prison a moody, embittered man. But two very important things had happened in his absence. First, British teenagers had discovered his music and were making his old songs hits all over again. Second, and perhaps most important, America had discovered the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, both of whom based their music on Berry's style, with the Stones' early albums looking like a Berry song list. Rather than being resigned to the has-been circuit, Berry found himself in the midst of a worldwide beat boom with his music as the centerpiece. He came back with a clutch of hits ("Nadine," "No Particular Place to Go," "You Never Can Tell"), toured Britain in triumph, and appeared on the big screen with his British disciples in the groundbreaking T.A.M.I. Show in 1964.

Berry had moved with the times and found a new audience in the bargain and when the cries of "yeah-yeah-yeah" were replaced with peace signs, Berry altered his live act to include a passel of slow blues and quickly became a fixture on the festival and hippie ballroom circuit. After a disastrous stint with Mercury Records, he returned to Chess in the early '70s and scored his last hit with a live version of the salacious nursery rhyme, "My Ding a Ling," yielding Berry his first official gold record. By decade's end, he was as in demand as ever, working every oldies revival show, TV special, and festival that was thrown his way. But once again, troubles with the law reared their ugly head and 1979 saw Berry headed back to prison, this time for income tax evasion. Upon release this time, the creative days of Chuck Berry seemed to have come to an end. He appeared as himself in the Alan Freed bio-pic, American Hot Wax, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but steadfastly refused to record any new material or even issue a live album. His live performances became increasingly erratic, with Berry working with terrible backup bands and turning in sloppy, out-of-tune performances that did much to tarnish his reputation with younger fans and oldtimers alike. In 1987, he published his first book, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, and the same year saw the film release of what will likely be his lasting legacy, the rockumentary Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll, which included live footage from a 60th-birthday concert with Keith Richards as musical director and the usual bevy of superstars coming out for guest turns. But for all of his off-stage exploits and seemingly ongoing troubles with the law, Chuck Berry remains the epitome of rock & roll, and his music will endure long after his private escapades have faded from memory. Because when it comes down to his music, perhaps John Lennon said it best, "If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." ~ Cub Koda, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

michelegolde n 9
A Lot of influencing on the Beatles!!!!!
Hippee ballroom circuit. Indeed. Enjoy your royalty checks, Mr. Berry. You deserve them.
OG Chuck rockzzz&roll z z z Berry*978*4m 1 4 y ~
neongreen977
#Just two words describe it all so amazing !!!!!!!!;P
What a STAR !!!!!!!!!
if you havent, you need to see Hail!Hail! Rock&Roll!
I love love love Chuck Berry and he is still rocking my world!!
? Moo?
Like his music.
Chuck Berry's ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC was one of the Rock 'n Roll songs best ever
hollylynn06
go chuck go
hollylynn06
the greatest!
karohubbs
Kiss your left hand say your crushes name 3x close your hand say a school day post this on 15 different songs and your crush will ask you out on that day.
Chuck Did Songs On Mountain By Leslie West The Lp.Name is Flowers Of evil Look for Dream Secquence 25 Minutes Song
You Never Can Tell--- another great Chuck Berry song
Little Queenie ---One of Chuck Berry's best and one of the best all time Rock 'n Roll songs
Some one on this thread called Chuck a "sell-out". First, the Beach Boys ripped his music; not the other way around. Second, in the case of Chuck Berry; it's called "buying in". A true innovator. Hail, hail rock and roll!
joy.parker4
Great artist
grandschemep r o m o
The REAL King!
Take it easy on arianator 4life, he just came out of a 60 year coma,and he's got a little catching up to do. I'm shore after he,or she gets their bearings, they'll fit right in with the rest of us ROCK ON!!!
Love Chuck Berry so much
Arianator_4l i f e seriously? You don't know him!
Wait who is he
amj1105
These guys also gave us Heart
monikawriter
I met him so cool
Chuck. Berry. Wrote. Memphis. Tenneess. Who. Recorded. It. Johnny. Rivers. And. Elvis. Presley. And. Also. Conway. Twitty. And. His. Music. Will. Lives. For. Ever
Chuck Berry is the architect of R&R. Without him it would probably exist but not in the same way. When the R&R Hall of Fame was created the first two inductees were Chuck & Elvis. The reasons should be obvious to all who know the music. Elvis broke the music open to the masses - a feat that cannot be dismissed. Chuck wrote R&R's greatest songs, created the guitar style that launched millions of impersonator s , and gave voice to it through his singular style. Even Elvis covered his tunes.
Still listen to his music.
Little Queenie one of Chuck's best very seldom played on Pandora another version not as good played often ...???
Alright for one I HATE THE SPAM CHAINS and I think they should go along with the people that created them things.....I f you agree with me Follow Me (I'll follow Back) and copy/paste this on artist comments and Let's make the chains leave Pandora ForEver!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! !
Chuck was a sell out to the white crowd he wanted to play the old black blues but eent for the beach boys sound sad but true still love em and the band buck cherry lives off of his name
LOVE THIS SONG
Bobby Johnson

Don't read this cause it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of your life.tomorro w w will be the best day of your life.however if you don't post this you will die in two days.now you've started reading so don't stop.this is so scary.put this on at least 5songs in 143 minutes.when done press f6 and your lovers name will come on screen in big letters. This is scary because it really works
Jimi Hendrix is the king..
One of the greats!
Don't read this cause it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of your life.tomorro w w will be the best day of your life.however if you don't post this you will die in two days.now you've started reading so don't stop.this is so scary.put this on at least 5songs in 143 minutes.when done press f6 and your lovers name will come on screen in big letters. This is scary because it really works.
Sorry, Elvis is called the king but Chuck Berry is the real king.
Back to the future...
Chuck Berry is the man...
1309612041
Elvis is the king he is the prince and Jerry lee Lewis is the duke. I likem all
I agree with u shauluwillet t 5 back to the future is the best movie ever !!!!
shauliwillet t 5
Back to the Future is the best movie ever. I love this song! <3
rmiller449
Chuck Berry is not the King of Rock-n-Roll. Robert Johnson is the King of Rock-N-Roll.
cyancy1202
Chuck Berry is the founder of the Rock and Roll sound. Get it right!
Little tidbit of info, on the Space probe that just left the solar system, it has a Solid gold LP of johnny be good. Pretty Iconic if you ask me
Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry , the real king of rock n roll.
vic_dlg
Michael j Fox love back to the future my favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite favorite movie
If you don't like this music, you need to get some culture in ya.
Hi good night
queenofextre m e 2
You Never Can Tell was written by Chuck Berry NOT Brian Douglas Wilson and Michael Edward Love
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