When having a discussion about the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll, the name Chuck Berry is inevitably going to be one of the first uttered in the conversation. The St. Louis, Missouri-born Charles Edward Anderson Berry came into this world on October 18th, 1926. He would go on to be one of the most influential figures in music over the course of the last half of the 20th century. Exuding swagger and showmanship unlike anyone that came before him, Berry took the rhythm & blues and turned it into what we now know as rock ‘n’ roll. Without Berry, we very well may have never witnessed the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or modern day rock, in general—and that is not even remotely a stretch to say such a thing.
During a chance meeting with Muddy Waters in 1955, the legendary bluesman suggested Berry meet with Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Upon this suggestion, Chuck Berry met with the executive and was signed to Chess Records, going on to record hit after hit. Singles such as “Maybellene”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Rock and Roll Music”, “Johnny B. Goode”, and “Sweet Little Sixteen” would become instant classics, and that was all before 1960. Berry toured and shared the stage with icons such as Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, John Lennon, Johnnie Johnson, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, and many more over the course of his career. The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards even organized a 60th birthday party for Berry, which would be filmed and released as the documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Truly one to live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Berry was no stranger to run-ins with the law and the IRS during his lifetime, but he would also be invited to play the White House in 1979 at the request of President Jimmy Carter. One of the first artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame upon its opening in 1986, Berry continued to tour well into his eighties and showed up at St. Louis’ Blueberry Hill for his monthly Wednesday residency gig until from 1996 through 2014. Berry passed on March 18th, 2017, at the age of ninety, leaving what is truly the definition of a legacy behind him.
As we honor Chuck Berry on his birthday today, watch his collaboration with The Beatles’ John Lennon below. During the 1972 performance on The Mike Douglas Show, the duo performed renditions of “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Johnny B. Goode”.
Chuck Berry & John Lennon
[Originally published 10/18/17]