Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (born October 18, 1926) is an immensely influential African American guitarist, singer, and composer, and one of the pioneers of rock & roll music. Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri and was part of the first group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2000.
Born in St.Louis, Missouri, Chuck Berry was a third child in a family of six. He grew up in an area of St.Louis known as the Ville, one of the few areas of the city where blacks could own property, which consequently made it synonymous with black prosperity. His father was a contractor and a deacon of a nearby baptist church, his mother a qualified schoolteacher. His middle class upbringing allowed him to pursue his interest in music from an early age and he made his first public performances while still in high school. Before he could graduate he was arrested and convicted for attempted burglary in 1944, after taking a joy ride with his friends to Kansas City, Missouri. Although, in his 1987 autobiography Chuck Berry :The Autobiography, he retells the story of coming upon a broken down vehicle, owned by a white man, on the highway, and claimed the man had asked him and his friends to drive the car into Kansas City to be fixed. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 10 years in reform school of which he served three. He was released on his 21st birthday.
Chuck Berry had been playing a form of the "blues" since his teens and by early 1953 was performing with "Sir John's Trio," a band that played at a popular club in St. Louis. The group included Berry's long-time collaborator, and the group's namesake, piano man Johnnie Johnson. In May of 1955, he traveled to Chicago where he met Muddy Waters who suggested he contact Chess Records. Signed to a contract, that September he released a unique version of the Bob Wills song, "Ida Red," under the title, "Maybellene." The song eventually peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts. At the end of June 1956, his song "Roll Over Beethoven" reached #29 on the Billboard charts. Berry's early LP records sometimes contained well-delivered blues standards to round out the customary dozen tracks. In the autumn of 1957, Berry joined the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and other rising stars of the new rock and roll to tour the United States.
In December 1959, Berry had legal problems after he invited a 14-year-old Apache waitress he met in Mexico to work as a hat check girl at Berry's Club Bandstand, his nightclub in St. Louis. The girl was arrested on a prostitution charge and Berry was arrested under the Mann Act (interstate transport of females for immoral purposes). Berry was convicted, fined $5,000, and sentenced to five years in prison. This event, coupled with other early scandals, such as Jerry Lee Lewis's marriage to his fourteen year old cousin, and Alan Freed's payola conviction gave rock and roll an image problem that limited its acceptance into mainstream society. However, when Berry was released from prison in 1963, his musical career enjoyed a resurgence due to many of the British Invasion acts of the '60's (most notably the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) releasing cover versions of classic Berry hits.
Touring as Chuck Berry the legend
In the 1970s Berry toured off his earlier success. He did release a hit single, recorded years earlier as a novelty track, "My Ding-a-Ling". It remains his highest charting single ever. Berry toured for many years carrying only his Gibson guitar, confident that he could hire a band that already knew his music no matter where he went. Among the many bandleaders performing this backup role were Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller when each was just starting their careers. Springsteen related in Hail! Hail Rock and Roll that Berry did not even give the band a set list and just expected the muscians to follow his lead after each opening chord. He also did not speak to or thank the band after the show. Nevertheless, Springsteen backed Berry again when he appeared at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. This type of touring style, traveling the "oldies" circuit in the 1970s, where he was often paid in cash by local promoters, added ammunition for the Internal Revenue Service's indictment that Berry was a chronic tax evader. The third time Berry would face criminal sanction was after he pled guilty to income tax evasion and was sentenced to four months imprisonment and 1,000 hours of community service, doing benefit concerts in 1979.
Recognized for his Contributions
A documentary by Taylor Hackford Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll was made about Berry to document a celebration concert for his sixtieth birthday. Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Etta James, Robert Cray, and Linda Ronstadt, among others, appear with Berry on stage and film. During the concert Berry plays on a Gibson ES 355, the luxury version of the ES 335. Keith Richards plays a black Fender Telecaster Custom, Robert Cray plays a Fender Stratocaster and Eric Clapton plays a large hollow body electric from Gibson. In the late 1980s, Berry owned a restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri, called The Southern Air. Berry also owns an estate in Wentzville called Berry Park. For many years, Berry hosted rock concerts throughout the summer at Berry Park. He eventually closed the estate to the public due to the riotous behavior of many guests. Although in his late 70s, Berry continues to perform regularly, playing both throughout the United States and overseas. He performs one Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar located in the Delmar Loop neighborhood in St. Louis.
A pioneer of rock and roll, Chuck Berry was a significant influence on development of early rock and roll guitar techniques and a major catalyst in rhythm and blues to rock & roll transition. His guitar skill is legendary, and many later guitar musicians acknowleged it as a major influence in their own style. When Keith Richards inducted Berry into the Hall of Fame, he said, "It's hard for me to induct Chuck Berry, because I lifted every lick he ever played!". John Lennon, another devotee of Berry, borrowed a line from Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" for his song "Come Together," and was subsequently sued by Berry's management, namely Morris Levy. Nevertheless, they became good friends, and played together on more than one occasion. Lennon once commented: "If you tried to give Rock & Roll another name, you might try calling it Chuck Berry". Angus Young of AC/DC, who has cited Berry as one of his biggest influences, is famous for using Berry's duckwalk as one of his gimmicks. Berry was also a large influence on Elvis Presley.
While there is debate about who recorded the first rock and roll record, Chuck Berry's early recordings, including "Maybellene" (1955) fully synthesized the rock and roll form, combining blues and country music with teenaged lyrics about girls and cars, with impeccable diction alongside distinctive electric guitar solos and an energetic stage persona. Chuck Berry also popularized use of the boogie in rock and roll.
Most of his famous recordings were on Chess Records with pianist Johnnie Johnson from Berry's own band and legendary record producer Willie Dixon on bass, Fred Below on drums, and Berry's guitar, arguably the epitome of an early rock and roll band. It should be noted, however, that Lafayette Leake, not Johnnie Johnson, played the piano on "Johnny B. Goode", "Reelin' and Rockin'", "Sweet Little Sixteen", and "Rock & Roll Music". Additionally, Otis Spann played the piano on "You Can't Catch Me" and "No Money Down".
Producer Leonard Chess recalled laconically:
I told Chuck to give it a bigger beat. History the rest, you know? The kids wanted the big beat, cars, and young love. It was a trend and we jumped on it.
Clive Anderson wrote for the compilation Chuck Berry—Poet of Rock 'n' Roll:
While Elvis was a country boy who sang "black" to some degree ... Chuck Berry provided the mirror image where country music was filtered through an R&B sensibility.
Berry's musical influences included Nat King Cole, T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, and Muddy Waters — who was both the singer and guitarist vital in the transformation of Delta blues into Chicago blues and the man who introduced Berry to Leonard Chess at Chess Records.
Throughout his career Berry recorded both smooth ballads like "Havana Moon" and blues tunes like "Wee Wee Hours" but it was his own mastery of the new form that won him fame. He recorded more than 30 Top Ten records, and his songs have been covered by hundreds of blues, country, and rock and roll performers.
In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named him number six on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  His compilation album "The Great Twenty-Eight" was also named 21st on the magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. . In 2004 six of his songs were included in the Rolling Stone magazines 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, namely "Johnny B. Goode" (# 7), "Maybelline" (# 18), "Roll Over Beethoven" (# 97), "Rock and Roll Music" (#128), "Sweet Little Sixteen" (# 272), "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (# 374).
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Chuck Berry (1926- ) is the guy that invented Rock and Roll Guitar. In addition to writing such bona fide classics as Johnny Be Goode and Maybelline, his signature guitar style consists of fast, rhythmic double-stops. The picture shows Chuck Berry doing his famous "Duck Walk" while playing his guitar.
He took the Traditional Blues form and transformed it into what we now call Rock N' Roll. Below is the chord progression he used on such early Rock N' Roll hits as Johnny B. Goode (verse), Maybellene (chorus), School Days and No Particular Place To Go.
|I / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |
|IV / / / | / / / / | I / / / | / / / / |
|V / / / | / / / / | I / / / | / / / / |
Chuck Berry often used a "I5-I6-I5-I6" shuffle pattern as shown below for one bar of the "E" chord.
The guitar Chuck played on all those late '50s hits was a blonde Gibson ES-350T which can be seen in the book cover below. The guitar was later replaced by a red Gibson ES-335 which is pictured in the album cover below. To learn more about the man that started it all, visit the web pages below, several of which include tab of Chuck Berry's best known songs.