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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
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Blues

1. House Of Blue Lights

2. Wee Wee Hours

3. Deep Feeling (Instrumental)

4. I Just Want To Make Love To You

5. How You've Changed

6. Down The Road Apiece

7. Worried Life Blues

8. Confessin' The Blues

9. Still Got The Blues

10. Driftin' Blues

11. Run Around

12. Route 66

13. Sweet Sixteen

14. All Aboard

15. The Things That I Used To Do

16. St. Louis Blues

x

Track List: Gold

Disc 1

1. Maybellene (1955)

2. Wee Wee Hours

3. Thirty Days

4. You Can't Catch Me

5. Downbound Train

6. No Money Down

7. Brown Eyed Handsome Man

8. Roll Over Beethoven

9. Too Much Monkey Business

10. Havana Moon

11. School Day

12. Rock And Roll Music

13. Oh Baby Doll

14. Sweet Little Sixteen

15. Guitar Boogie

16. Reelin' & Rockin'

17. Johnny B. Goode

18. Around And Around

19. Beautiful Delilah

20. House Of Blue Lights

21. Carol

22. Jo Jo Gunne

23. Memphis, Tennesse

24. Sweet Little Rock & Roller

25. LIttle Queenie

26. Almost Grown

Disc 2

1. Back In The USA

2. Do You Love Me?

3. Betty Jean

4. Childhood Sweetheart

5. Let It Rock

6. Too Pooped To Pop

7. I Got To Find My Baby

8. Don't You Lie To Me

9. Bye Bye Johnny

10. Jaguar & Thunderbird

11. Down The Road Apiece

12. Confessin' The Blues

13. I'm Talking About You

14. Come On

15. Nadine (Is It You?)

16. You Never Can Tell

17. Promised Land

18. No Particular Place To Go

19. Dear Dad

20. I Want To Be Your Driver

21. Tulane

22. My Ding-A-Ling (Live, Single Edit)

23. Reelin' & Rockin' (Live)

24. Bio

x

Track List: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best Of Chuck Berry

1. Maybellene

2. Roll Over Beethoven

3. Brown Eyed Handsome Man

4. School Days

5. Rock And Roll Music

6. Sweet Little Sixteen

7. Johnny B. Goode

8. Carol

9. You Never Can Tell

10. My Ding-A-Ling (Live)

11. No Particular Place To Go

x

Track List: His Best, Volume 1

2. Thirty Days

3. You Can't Catch Me

4. Downbound Train

5. Brown Eyed Handsome Man

6. Roll Over Beethoven

7. Too Much Monkey Business

8. Havana Moon

9. School Days

10. Rock And Roll Music

11. Oh Baby Doll

12. Reelin' And Rockin'

13. Sweet Little Sixteen

14. Johnny B. Goode

15. Around And Around

16. Beautiful Delilah

17. Carol

18. Anthony Boy

19. Jo Jo Gunne

20. Memphis

x

Track List: The London Chuck Berry Sessions

1. Let's Boogie

2. Mean Old World

3. I Will Not Let You Go

4. London Berry Blues

5. I Love You

6. Reelin' & Rockin' (Live)

7. My Ding-A-ling

8. Johnny B. Goode (Live)

x

Track List: Chuck Berry Is On Top

1. Almost Grown

2. Carol

3. Maybelline

4. Sweet Little Rock & Roller

5. Anthony Boy

6. Johnny B. Goode

7. Little Queenie

8. Jo Jo Gun

9. Roll Over Beethoven

10. Around And Around

11. Hey Pedro

12. Blues For Hawaiians

x

Track List: Golden Hits

1. Sweet Little Sixteen

2. Memphis

3. School Days

4. Maybellene (1955)

5. Back In The USA

6. Around And Around

7. Brown Eyed Handsome Man

8. Johnny B. Goode

9. Rock And Roll Music

10. Roll Over Beethoven

11. Thirty Days

12. Carol

13. Let It Rock

14. Reelin' And Rockin'

15. Club Nitty Gritty

Comments

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smortensen11
Great Scott
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Elvis learned his moves from somewhere else .. that is all ..
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hi lol
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lizjacobo89
Hey lol
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Guess you guys aren't really ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it.
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That can also be selected memory I was born in 1955 and the for every Chuck Berry or Little Richard song, there were three or four Mockingbird Hill or Canadian Sunset songs that totally made mainstream Fifties songs what they were--utterl y forgettable!
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Wish I was born back in the 50's when music was good and people actually went outside.
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when music was music ,rock on
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I wish i was born back then. Todays music sucks.
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Elva Reyes,75 and I still rock to the fifties.
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Back to the future anyone?
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He'a dead.
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johnjnealon
Hookatooka
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Influenced basically every artist after him. Without him, there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, or anything! Everyone influenced by Chuck Berry influenced the next generation. The Beatles are said to be the most influential band of all time, I agree with that but without Chuck Berry, The Beatles most certainly would have been nothing.
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nevershouttu n e c h i
Who Elvis stole his style from
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I'd like a log cabin.
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I think john Lennons quote says it all
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Classic!
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Im 17 and I just love this style of music! I wish it was the style of the day! I hate the modern music today its so unclean, but the decade of the 50's were so clean and uplifting! and I JUST LOVE IT!!!!
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I have seen Chuck johnny b goode' live quite a few times over the years and I never saw a bad show. The guy loved performing and getting adulation from the audience. He not only created a whole stylistic type of rock and roll, later adopted by the Stones and the Beatles, he also understood showmanship and relating to his audience.
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CHUCK BERRY IS THE FATHER OF ROCK&ROLL LITTLE RICHARD IS THE ARCHITECT OF ROCK&ROLL AND ELVIS PRESLEY? THE UNDISPUTED KING OF ROCK&ROLL!!!
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one of the all time greats...... o n e of a kind.... would liked to have seen this man on stage......
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My real name is Johnny!
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saw him about 10 years ago playing at a local festival in NJ. Holy s! What a show at almost 80!
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No particular place to go......1960 cruzin the burger drive in's in my 56 De Soto hard top.
some great memories... Thanks again Pandora
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Loved to see him perform.. great entertainer/ a r t i s t
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79 and still love beat.
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Planes, trains, and buses? Chuck Berry's cross country trek to California to the Promised Land.;)
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Age is only a number and at my age lol ok 52yrs ole lol
Ah music you can understand ��✌️��
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Im 14 and started listening to chuck and i cant stop listening.
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Chuck Berry - the innovator, the very foundation of R&R
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Lean on it ! Roll with it thx !
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tdoug_78
Ok, I love Chuck Berry. I am 37 and have been listening to his music as long as I can remember. However, after all these years I just caught an error in this brilliant man's lyrics. Brown Eyed Handsome Man... who gets any kind of hit with the count at 2-3? That's a slow stroll back to the dugout, Chuck
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Another fantastic live show......He a r i n g it is one thing, however, to see him on stage was really something. He must have lost 15 pounds a show.
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This is one smooth talking, slow walking dude...... Good Stuff here......
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Every time I hear this song I think of Back to the Future which is where I originally heard it!
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The little country boy could play!
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"Roll Over Beethoven "is by far my favorite Chuck Berry song.It's the song that introduced me to the Beatles.
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Kiss your hand ten times
Close your fist
Say your crushes name
Post this on two other comments
Open your hand
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What a great song by a great song writer.Chuck Berry really knew how to tell a story,and Johnny Johnson is smoking on the piano.Highly underated musician.
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read this because it actually works - go back and get your GED and stop posting stupid stuff
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Amazing. He even inspired such great bands that changed the face of music cough Beatles cough
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I know Chuck Berry is an icon in his own right, but every time I hear Johnny B.Goode I think of 'Back to the Future.' I can't help it!
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one of the greats!
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zeeksgold
That's entertainmen t , not the junk of today.
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the best string man!!
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Once punch Keith Richards in the face for stroking his guitar. Keith Richards replied that's the best hit he's ever had
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Good music!
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Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will be injured (you won't die) in two days. Now that you have started reading this don't stop. Post this on at least five other stations/son g s in the next 143 minutes. When you're done press f6 and your lovers name will appear on the screen in big letters this is so scary it actually works
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Pop0 kids alone now hi Reyes
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