Tales of Rock – Chuck Berry – Rock n’ Roll Pioneer

Berry’s showmanship has been influential on other rock guitarists, particularly his one-legged hop routine, and the “duck walk”, which he first used as a child when he walked “stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical” under a table to retrieve a ball and his family found it entertaining; he used it when “performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the duck walk.”

Charles Edward AndersonChuckBerry (October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017) was an American guitarist, singer and songwriter and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive. 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.[1]

Born into a middle-class African-American family in St. Louis, Missouri, 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 traveled 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. But in January 1962, he was sentenced to three years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act—he had transported a 14-year-old girl across state lines.

“It was into this charged environment that the Mann Act was born. Signed into law by President Taft in 1910, the Act made it a crime to transport women across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”

After his release in 1963, Berry had several more hits, including “No Particular Place to Go“, “You Never Can Tell“, and “Nadine“. But 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 nostalgic performer, playing his past hits with local backup bands of variable quality.[2] 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 list 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.

Legacy

A pioneer of rock and roll, Berry was a significant influence on the development of both the music and the attitude associated with the rock music lifestyle. With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics successfully aimed to appeal to the early teenage market by using graphic and humorous descriptions of teen dances, fast cars, high school life, and consumer culture, and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music. Thus Berry, the songwriter, invented rock as “a music of teenage wishes fulfilled and good times (even with cops in pursuit).” Berry contributed three things to rock music: an irresistible swagger, a focus on the guitar riff as the primary melodic element and an emphasis on songwriting as storytelling. His records are a rich storehouse of the essential lyrical, showmanship and musical components of rock and roll. In addition to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, a large number of significant popular-music performers have recorded Berry’s songs. Though not technically accomplished, his guitar style is distinctive—he incorporated electronic effects to mimic the sound of bottleneck blues guitarists and drew on the influence of guitar players such as Carl Hogan, and T-Bone Walkerto produce a clear and exciting sound that many later guitarists would acknowledge as an influence in their own style. Berry’s showmanship has been influential on other rock guitarists, particularly his one-legged hop routine, and the “duck walk“, which he first used as a child when he walked “stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical” under a table to retrieve a ball and his family found it entertaining; he used it when “performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the duck walk.”

The rock critic Robert Christgau considers Berry “the greatest of the rock and rollers”, while John Lennon said, “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” Ted Nugent said, “If you don’t know every Chuck Berry lick, you can’t play rock guitar.” Bob Dylan called Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll”. Springsteen tweeted, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

When asked what caused the explosion of the popularity of rock ‘n roll that took place in the 1950s, with him and a handful of others, mainly him, Berry said, “Well, actually they begin to listen to it, you see, because certain stations played certain music. The music that we, the blacks, played, the cultures were so far apart, we would have to have a play station in order to play it. The cultures begin to come together, and you begin to see one another’s vein of life, then the music came together.”

 

President Bill Clinton recognizing Chuck Berry after Berry was named a Kennedy Center honoree, Dec. 3, 2000, C-SPAN Among the honors Berry received were the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984[and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. He was ranked seventh on Time magazine’s 2009 list of the 10 best electric guitar players of all time. On May 14, 2002, Berry was honored as one of the first BMI Icons at the 50th annual BMI Pop Awards. He was presented the award along with BMI affiliates Bo Diddley and Little Richard. In August 2014, Berry was made a laureate of the Polar Music Prize. 

Berry is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine’s “Greatest of All Time” lists. In September 2003, the magazine ranked him number 6 in its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.[92] In November his compilation album The Great Twenty-Eight was ranked 21st in Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[93] In March 2004, Berry was ranked fifth on the list of “The Immortals – The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.[8][94] In December 2004, six of his songs were included in “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time“: “Johnny B. Goode” (#7), “Maybellene” (#18), “Roll Over Beethoven” (#97), “Rock and Roll Music” (#128), “Sweet Little Sixteen” (#272) and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (#374).[95] In June 2008, his song “Johnny B. Goode” was ranked first in the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”.

The journalist Chuck Klosterman has argued that in 300 years Berry will still be remembered as the rock musician who most closely captured the essence of rock and roll. Time magazine stated, “There was no one like Elvis. But there was ‘definitely’ no one like Chuck Berry.”

Random Trivia

Chuck Berry is a graduate of the Gibbs Beauty School with a degree in cosmetology.

Near St. Louis, Missouri, Chuck Berry has built an amusement park aptly named, Berry Park.

“It was into this charged environment that the Mann Act was born. Signed into law by President Taft in 1910, the Act made it a crime to transport women across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”

Crazy motherfucker.

Martha, his sister, can be heard singing on her brother’s recordings of Come On and Go Go Go.

In 1979 Chuck Berry was sentenced to a 120 day term in a federal prison for income tax evasion.

In the late 1980s, Berry bought the Southern Air, a restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri.  In 1990 he was sued by several women who claimed that he had installed a video camera in the bathroom. Berry claimed that he had the camera installed to catch a worker who was suspected of stealing from the restaurant. Though his guilt was never proved in court, Berry opted for a class action settlement with 59 women. His biographer, Bruce Pegg, estimated that it cost Berry over $1.2 million plus legal fees. During this time Berry began using Wayne T. Schoeneberg as his legal counsel. Reportedly, a police raid on his house found videotapes of women using the restroom, as well as one minor. Also found in the raid were 62 grams of marijuana. Felony drug and child-abuse charges were filed. In order to avoid the child-abuse charges, Berry agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and two years’ unsupervised probation and was ordered to donate $5,000 to a local hospital.

On March 18, 2017, police in St. Charles County, Missouri, were called to Berry’s house, where he was found unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene, aged 90!

TMZ website posted an audio recording in which the 911 operator can be heard responding to a reported “cardiac arrest” at Berry’s home.

 

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