22 November 2012

What Einstein Was to Physics,
CHUCK BERRY is to Rock -n- Roll

Where to start... the guy basically invented modern rock-n-roll and inspired all others that followed, no less: the sound, the look, the moves- songs about hot cars and beautiful girls. It's basically impossible to create or perform rock-n-roll music without borrowing some element from him...

Legendary guitarist Kieth Richards said of the first time he heard Berry playing his signature hit 'Johnny B. Goode':
"Floored me... 
knocked me out. After (hearing) that,
I knew 
what I wanted to do..."
Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry -dob 10.18.26- is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter, and it's surely an understatement to say he's 'one of the pioneers of rock'.

With hits like 'Maybellene' (1955), 'Roll over Beethoven' (1956), 'Rock and Roll Music' (1957) and 'Johnny B. Goode' (1958), Chuck Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, utilizing guitar solos and truly inspired showmanship that would be a major influence on the evolution of rock music forever.

Born into a middle class family in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry had an interest in music from an early age and gave his first public performance high school. Unfortunately -while still a student- he also served a prison sentence for armed robbery from 1944-47 (as a teen, also a pioneer in carjacking).

On release Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant. But -influenced by the guitar riffs and stage presence of blues player T-Bone Walker- by early 1953 he was performing in the evenings with the Johnnie Johnson Trio in St. Louis clubs.

The big break came when he traveled to Chicago in May 1955 and luckily met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Chess recorded Berry's adaptation of the country song 'Ida Red', which became 'Maybellene' -a lyric he derived from the cosmetic brand because he liked the name- and it was a smash hit, selling over one million copies and reaching #1 on Billboard's R-n-B chart.
Right then and there, Chuck Berry was a rock-n-roll star.

By the end of the 50s, Chuck Berry was a household name with several hit records and film appearances to his name, as well as a lucrative touring career. He also had his own St. Louis-based nightclub -Berry's Club Bandstand- but in December 1959, he was again in trouble with the law: after two trials with tinged with racism, Berry was sentenced to five years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act: he had transported a 14-year-old girl to work at his club, but sadly she was later picked-up on solicitation charges.

Following his release in 1963 Berry proceeded to chart a few more hits, including 'No Particular Place To Go', 'You Never Can Tell', and 'Nadine', but these did not achieve the same success
-nor lasting impact- of his biggest 50s songs, and by the 70s he was more in demand as a retro/nostalgia performer, playing past hits with local backup bands of variable quality. 

His insistence on being paid cash led to a third prison sentence in 1979 - four months for tax evasion. Since then, he's stayed out of trouble- now in his eighties, Berry continues to play live.

Chuck Berry was -of course- among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame upon its opening in 1986, where they noted he "laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance."

These videos are from a 1965 television appearance where Berry presented his first new post-prison single 'Promised Land'
-a personal favorite of mine. It's a song re. a fictional adventure of a 'poor boy' leaving home in Virginia for California. He penned it in prison, and the geographical procession of the story was written using a road atlas borrowed from the penitentiary library...

Chuck Berry: Maybelline

Chuck Berry: Promised Land

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