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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 greatestsongwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, withouthim there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor a myriad others. There would be no standard "Chuck Berry guitarintro," the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have beenmainstreamed into the now standard ...read more

Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none is more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He is its greatestsongwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, withouthim there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor a myriad others. There would be no standard "Chuck Berry guitarintro," the instrument's clarion call to get the joint rockin' in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have beenmainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, thewhole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote "all ofthe 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 hismusic and showmanship show their ignorance of rock's development as well as his place as the music's first great creator. Elvis may havefueled 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 bluesearly 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 andwas soon working the local East St. Louis club scene, sitting in everywhere he could. He quickly found out that black audiences liked a widevariety 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 -- besidesthe 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 endedup taking over pianist Johnny Johnson's small combo and a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club soon made the Chuck Berry Trio the topattraction 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 professeda liking for a hillbilly tune on it named "Ida Red" and quickly scheduled a session for May 21, 1955. During the session the title waschanged to "Maybellene" and rock & roll history was born. Although the record only made it to the mid-20s on the Billboard pop chart, itsoverall 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 itto 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 secretto 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 thumpof 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 thehighly 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 theBrooklyn Fox and Paramount theaters (playing to predominately white audiences); and when Hollywood came calling a year or so later, alsomade sure that Chuck appeared with him in Rock! Rock! Rock!, Go, Johnny, Go!, and Mister Rock'n'Roll. Within a years' time, Chuck hadgone from a local St. Louis blues picker making 15 dollars a night to an overnight sensation commanding over a hundred times that, arrivingat 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 OverBeethoven," "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, "Rockand Roll Music." Berry was not only in constant demand, touring the country on mixed package shows and appearing on television and inmovies, but smart enough to know exactly what to do with the spoils of a suddenly successful show business career. He started investingheavily in St. Louis area real estate and, ever one to push the envelope, opened up a racially mixed nightspot called the Club Bandstand in1958 to the consternation of uptight locals. These were not the plans of your average R&B singers who contented themselves with awardrobe of flashy suits, a new Cadillac, and the nicest house in the black section. Berry was smart with plenty of business savvy and wasalready making plans to open an amusement park in nearby Wentzville. When the St. Louis hierarchy found out that an underage hat-checkgirl 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. Chargedwith transporting a minor over state lines (the Mann Act), Berry endured two trials and was sentenced to federal prison for two years as aresult.

He emerged from prison a moody, embittered man. But two very important things had happened in his absence. First, British teenagers haddiscovered his music and were making his old songs hits all over again. Second, and perhaps most important, America had discovered theBeatles 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 thecenterpiece. He came back with a clutch of hits ("Nadine," "No Particular Place to Go," "You Never Can Tell"), toured Britain in triumph, andappeared 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 peacesigns, 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 thesalacious 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 uglyhead and 1979 saw Berry headed back to prison, this time for income tax evasion. Upon release this time, the creative days of Chuck Berryseemed 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 & RollHall of Fame, but steadfastly refused to record any new material or even issue a live album. His live performances became increasinglyerratic, with Berry working with terrible backup bands and turning in sloppy, out-of-tune performances that did much to tarnish his reputationwith younger fans and oldtimers alike. In 1987, he published his first book, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, and the same year saw the filmrelease of what will likely be his lasting legacy, the rockumentary Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll, which included live footage from a 60th-birthdayconcert with Keith Richards as musical director and the usual bevy of superstars coming out for guest turns. But for all of his off-stageexploits and seemingly ongoing troubles with the law, Chuck Berry remains the epitome of rock & roll, and his music will endure long after hisprivate escapades have faded from memory. Because when it comes down to his music, perhaps John Lennon said it best, "If you were goingto give rock & roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'." « hide

Similar Bands: ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones

LPs
Rock It
1979

2.5
1 Votes
Chuck Berry
1975

2.5
1 Votes
Bio
1973

2.5
1 Votes
The London Chuck Berry Sessions
1972

3.8
3 Votes
San Francisco Dues
1971

1.5
1 Votes
Back Home
1970

2.5
1 Votes
Concerto in B. Goode
1969

3.5
1 Votes
From St. Louie to Frisco
1968

3
1 Votes
Chuck Berry in Memphis
1967

2.5
1 Votes
Fresh Berry's
1965

3.5
2 Votes
Chuck Berry in London
1965

3.5
2 Votes
St. Louis to Liverpool
1964

4.4
15 Votes
Two Great Guitars
1964

3.5
1 Votes
New Juke Box Hits
1961

3.2
3 Votes
Rockin' at the Hops
1960

3.1
4 Votes
Chuck Berry Is on Top
1959

4.3
46 Votes
One Dozen Berrys
1958

4.2
9 Votes
After School Session
1957

4.4
24 Votes
Live Albums
Live!
2003

1.5
1 Votes
Chuck Berry – In Concert
2002

Live on Stage
2000

1.5
1 Votes
Chuck Berry Live in Concert
1978

Live at Fillmore Auditorium
1967

Chuck Berry on Stage
1963

2
1 Votes
Compilations
The Anthology
2000

4.8
5 Votes
The Best of Chuck Berry
1996

4.2
18 Votes
Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll [Soundtrack]
1987

4.3
8 Votes
The Great Twenty-Eight
1982

4.4
58 Votes
Johnny B. Goode
1972

More Chuck Berry
1963

3
1 Votes
Chuck Berry Twist
1962

3.3
2 Votes

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