Chuck Berry Biography
Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (born October 18, 1926) is an American guitarist, singer, and song writer.
Chuck Berry is an immensely influential figure, and one of the pioneers of rock & roll music. Cub Koda wrote, "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." John Lennon was more succinct: "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry' ."
Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2000 in a "class" with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Plácido Domingo, Angela Lansbury, and Clint Eastwood.
Born October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, (although some biographies establish San Jose, California as his birthplace) Berry was the 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 black people 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 performance while still in high school.
In 1944, before he could graduate, he was arrested and convicted for attempted burglary after taking a joy ride with his friends to Kansas City, Missouri.
In his 1987 autobiography Chuck Berry: The Autobiography he retells the story that his car broke down on the side of a highway and, not having a way home, he flagged down a passing car and when he got in he pulled the muzzle of a gun out of his coat (it wasn't a working gun—just the metallic part with no handle) and told the man to get out. The man went to a nearby payphone and called the police who quickly pulled over Berry in the car and arrested him and his friends.
A pioneer of rock and roll, Chuck Berry was a significant influence on the development of early rock and roll guitar techniques and a major catalyst in the rhythm and blues to rock & roll transition. His guitar skill is legendary and many later guitar musicians acknowledge him 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!". Richard Berry (no relation) drew on Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" as an inspiration for his own song, the now classic "Louie, Louie". 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 music publisher Morris Levy. Nevertheless, they became good friends and played together on more than one occasion.
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 many other artists such as Elvis Presley, The Who and Bob Dylan. The Beach Boys' hit "Surfin' USA" resembled Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" so closely that they were forced to give Berry a co-writing credit in order to avoid a lawsuit. In the '80s George Thorogood created a reasonable career out of what was essentially a Chuck Berry tribute show. Covering a number of Chuck Berry songs and appropriating the duckwalk, Thorogood toured relentlessly as a high-energy, rock and roll revival show.
While there is debate about who recorded the first rock and roll record, Chuck Berry's early recordings, including "Maybellene" (1955) are perhaps among the first fully synthesized rock and roll singles, 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".
As quoted in the liner notes of Berry's album 28 Greatest hits producer Leonard Chess recalled laconically:
Many of his songs are among the leading rock and roll anthems: