My Legends of Pop Music – Part Forty-One – Chuck Berry
If get this right, there will be many cover versions by future bands. I shall try and link live versions if they exist from the tellybox or a film, the sound quality may not be the best, but there is nothing like watching a real talent live.
So, in a sort of chronological order, my forty first legend is: Chuck Berry
By all accounts, not a nice man. However, his music is a legacy of how great Rock ‘n’ Roll really can be and an inspiration to many a pop star from the 50’s to this day.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry (Born 18th October 1926 – Died 18th March 2017) was an American singer, songwriter and guitarist who pioneered rock and roll. Nicknamed the “Father of Rock and Roll“, he refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive with songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958). Writing lyrics that focused on teen life and consumerism and developing a music style that included guitar solos and showmanship, Berry was a major influence on subsequent rock music.
Born into a middle-class black family in St. Louis, Berry had an interest in music from an early age and gave his first public performance at Sumner High School. While still a high school student he was convicted of armed robbery and was sent to a reformatory, where he was held from 1944 to 1947. After his release, Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant. By early 1953, influenced by the guitar riffs and showmanship techniques of the blues musician T-Bone Walker, Berry began performing with the Johnnie Johnson Trio. His break came when he travelled to Chicago in May 1955 and met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess, of Chess Records. With Chess, he recorded “Maybellene”—Berry’s adaptation of the country song “Ida Red“—which sold over a million copies, reaching number one on Billboard magazine’s rhythm and blues chart.
By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star, with several hit records and film appearances and a lucrative touring career. He had also established his own St. Louis nightclub, Berry’s Club Bandstand.
He was sentenced to three years in prison in January 1962 for offenses under the Mann Act—he had transported a 14-year-old girl across state lines for the purpose of having sexual intercourse. After his release in 1963, Berry had several more successful songs, including “No Particular Place to Go“, “You Never Can Tell“, and “Nadine“. However, these did not achieve the same success or lasting impact of his 1950s songs, and by the 1970s he was more in demand as a nostalgia performer, playing his past material with local backup bands of variable quality. In 1972 he reached a new level of achievement when a rendition of “My Ding-a-Ling” became his only record to top the charts. His insistence on being paid in cash led in 1979 to a four-month jail sentence and community service, for tax evasion.
Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986; he was cited for having “laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance.” Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine’s “greatest of all time” lists; he was ranked fifth on its 2004 and 2011 lists of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll includes three of Berry’s: “Johnny B. Goode”, “Maybellene”, and “Rock and Roll Music”. Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is the only rock-and-roll song included on the Voyager Golden Record.
A full discography is here: Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry – Maybellene – here he is on stage in 1972. His first hit from 1955. DJ Alan freed had his name as a writer on this. Berry was not happy about that, and a legal case made him sole writer. He did like his money!
Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards – Wee Wee Hours – I do like some Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, which to me is where Rock ‘n’ Roll came from. Some great artists and solos on this track, originally from 1955.
Chuck Berry – Thirty Days (To Come Back Home) – 1955, not heard this for ages.
Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven – I have always enjoyed this song, it is the definition of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Chuck Berry – School Days – From a performance in 1986 for his 60th birthday. Hail hail Rock ‘n’ Roll
Chuck Berry – Oh Baby Doll – TV performance in 1957. Now tell me where Elvis got his nickname the Pelvis from!
Tina Turner & Chuck Berry – Rock n roll music – Any excuse to get a bit of Tina Turner in.
Chuck Berry – Sweet Little Sixteen – Melbourne 1989. Famously the tune was stolen by the Beach Boys for Surfin USA! (See here: Chuck Berry was Pissed at the Beach Boys | “Sweet Little Sixteen” & “Surfin’ U.S.A.”)
Chuck Berry – Carol (BBC Theater, London – May 1972) – Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Chuck Berry – No Particular Place To Go – All time classic
Chuck Berry, My Ding-A-Ling (Live 1985) – Sorry, had to be in the list. This is a short version from a Bo Diddley concert.
My other top favourite has been hijacked by a film; you will know this:
Chuck Berry – (You Never Can Tell) C’est La Vie (from Pulp Fiction)
Singalong, enjoy and be happy!
Links to previous Legend articles:
Featured image: “RIP Chuck Berry 1926 – 2017” by Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis is marked with CC BY 2.0.
© Phil the ex test manager 2022