Chuck Berry

By Gary:

This guitar (the ES355) was made famous in the mid to late fifties by a Rock and Roller who changed the face of Rock again.  In the top 500 Rock and Roll Songs, he placed #7 and #18 and #6 on The Top 100 Guitarist’s.  A young man who single-handedly kept Chess Records at the top for quite a few years.

In 1954 when he adapted a country Song Ida Red, he had know idea how well it would be received after they changed the name to “Maybellene”.

Unfortunately, in December 1959 Berry encountered legal problems.  He had invited a 14-year-old Apache waitress., whom he met in New Mexico, to work as a hat check girl at his club. She didn’t work out so he had to let her go.

Some time after being fired from his club, the girl was arrested on a prostitution charge and Berry was arrested under the Mann Act. After a trial and retrial, he was convicted, fined $5,000, and sentenced to five years in prison.

Now from everything I have read, the Judge was racially biased, the charges where obscure and his lawyer did not do a good job.  Berry was never the same after that and it showed in his concerts and attitude.  I was around and could testify to there being a difference.  But let’s just deal with the man.

 

His weapon of Choice!

Gibson ES 335

 

The Man

Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry)

(October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017)

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Videos:

The History

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1972 London Concert /
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1958 / Dick Clark / Sweet Little Sixteen /
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Johnny B Goode / it’s says 1958, I do not think so / I think England or Germany maybe 1962 /
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Roll Over Beethoven /
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1969 / Toronto Peace Festival /
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The Three Concerts on You Tube are just great.
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From the 1956 Film “Rock,Rock, Rock” You can’t catch me/
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With Sha-Na-Na/ Roll over Beethoven/
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In 1989 from Melbourne/ Let it Rock/
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Sweet Little Sixteen rare Dick Clark performance/
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and in Melbourne/

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1995 / Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert / Chuck Berry (at 69) with Bruce Springsteen (Clarence Clemons) / Johnny B Goode /

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Billboard Top 40:

1.   Maybellene/ Chess 1604/ 8/20/55/ #5 Billboard (#1 R&B hit for 11 weeks)

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2.   Roll Over Beethoven/ Chess 1626/ 6/30/56/ #29 Billboard

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3.   School Days/ Chess 1653/ 4/20/57/ #3 Billboard

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4.   Rock & Roll Music/ 1671/ 11/11/57/ #8 Billboard

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5.   Sweet Little Sixteen/ Chess 1683/ 2/24/58/ #2 (for 3 weeks) Billboard (Beach Boys Surfin’ USA)

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6.   Johnny B. Goode/ Chess 1691/ 5/5/58/ #8 Billboard

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7.   Carol/ Chess 1700/ 9/15/58/ #18 Billboard

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8.   Almost Grown/ Chess 1722/ 4/20/59/ #32 Billboard

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9.   Back in the U.S.A./ Chess 1729/ 7/13/59/ #37 Billboard

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10. Nadine/ Chess 1883/ 4/4/64/ #23 Billboard

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11. No particular place to go/ Chess 1898/ 6/13/64/ #10 Billboard

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12. You never can tell/ Chess 1906/ 8/22/64/ #14 Billboard

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13. My Ding-A-Ling/ Chess 2131/9/9/72/ #1 (finally for the wrong song) Billboard

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14. Reelin’ & Rockin’ (live)/ Chess 2136/ 1/6/73/ #27 Billboard

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Other Great Songs:

1.   Thirty Days (1955)

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2A.   Brown Eyed Handsome Man (1956)

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2B.   Too Much Monkey Business (1956) B side

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3.   You Can’t Catch Me (1956)

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4.   Run Rudolph Run (1958)

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5.   Sweet Little Rock and Roller (1958)

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6.   Memphis (1959)

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7.   Around and Around (album 1959)

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8.   Let It Rock (1960)

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9.   Promised land (1964)

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He was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry to a large family in St. Louis. A bright pupil, Berry developed a love for poetry and hard blues early on, winning a high school talent contest with a guitar-and-vocal rendition of Jay McShann’s big band number, “Confessin’ the Blues.

With some local tutelage from the neighborhood barber, Berry progressed from a four-string tenor guitar up to an official six-string model and was soon working the local East St. Louis club scene, sitting in everywhere he could. He quickly found out that black audiences liked a wide variety of music and set himself to the task of being able to reproduce as much of it as possible. What he found they really liked — besides the blues and Nat King Cole tunes — was the sight and sound of a black man playing white hillbilly music, and Berry’s show manlike flair, coupled with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh verses to old favorites, quickly made him a name on the circuit.

In 1954, he ended up taking over pianist Johnny Johnson’s small combo and a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club soon made the Chuck Berry Trio the top attraction in the black community, with Ike Turner’s “Kings of Rhythm” their only real competition.

But Berry had bigger ideas; he yearned to make records, and a trip to Chicago netted a two-minute conversation with his idol Muddy Waters, who encouraged him to approach Chess Records. Upon listening to Berry’s homemade demo tape, label president Leonard Chess professed a liking for a hillbilly tune named “Ida Red” and quickly scheduled a session for May 21, 1955.During the session the title was changed to “Maybellene” and rock & roll history was born.

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Although the record only made it to the mid-20s on the Billboard pop chart, its overall influence was massive and groundbreaking in its scope. Here was finally a black rock & roll record with across-the-board appeal, embraced by white teenagers and Southern hillbilly musicians (a young Elvis Presley, still a full year from national stardom, quickly added it to his stage show), that for once couldn’t be successfully covered by a pop singer like Snooky Lanson on Your Hit Parade.

Part of the secret to its originality was Berry’s blazing 24-bar guitar solo in the middle of it, the imaginative rhyme schemes in the lyrics, and the sheer thump of the record, all signaling that rock & roll had arrived and it was no fad.

Helping to put the record over to a white teenage audience was the highly influential New York disc jockey Alan Freed, who had been given part of the writers’ credit by Chess in return for his spins and plugs. But to his credit, Freed was also the first white DJ/promoter to consistently use Berry on his rock & roll stage show extravaganzas at the Brooklyn Fox and Paramount theaters (playing to predominately white audiences); and when Hollywood came calling a year or so later, also made sure that Chuck appeared with him in Rock! Rock! Rock!, Go, Johnny, Go!, and Mister Rock’n’Roll.

Reelin’ & Rockin (Original Version)

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Within a years’ time, Chuck had gone from a local St. Louis blues picker making 15 dollars a night to an overnight sensation commanding over a hundred times that, arriving at the dawn of a new strain of popular music called Rock & Roll.

 

The hits started coming thick and fast over the next few years, every one of them about to become a classic of the genre: “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Thirty Days,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “School Days,” “Carol,” “Back in the U.S.A.,” “Little Queenie,” “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and the tune that defined the moment perfectly, “Rock and Roll Music.”

Berry was not only in constant demand, touring the country on mixed package shows and appearing on television and in movies, but smart enough to know exactly what to do with the spoils of a suddenly successful show business career. He started investing heavily in St. Louis area real estate and, ever one to push the envelope, opened up a racially mixed nightspot called the Club Bandstand in 1958 to the consternation of uptight locals.


Chuck Berry Live:

 

This is from the film done by Keith Richards

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These were not the plans of your average R&B singers who contented themselves with a wardrobe of flashy suits, a new Cadillac, and the nicest house in the black section. Berry was smart with plenty of business savvy and was already making plans to open an amusement park in nearby Wentzville.

When the St. Louis hierarchy found out that an underage hat-check girl Berry hired had also set up shop as a prostitute at a nearby hotel, trouble came down on Berry like a sledgehammer on a fly. Charged with transporting a minor over state lines (the Mann Act), Berry endured two trials and was sentenced to federal prison for two years as a result.

He emerged from prison a moody, embittered man. But two very important things had happened in his absence. First, British teenagers had discovered his music and were making his old songs hits all over again. Second, and perhaps most important, America had discovered the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, both of whom based their music on Berry’s style, with the Stones’ early albums looking like a Berry song list.

Rather than being resigned to the has-been circuit, Berry found himself in the midst of a worldwide beat boom with his music as the centerpiece. He came back with a clutch of hits (“Nadine,” “No Particular Place to Go,” “You Never Can Tell“), toured Britain in triumph, and appeared on the big screen with his British disciples in the groundbreaking T.A.M.I. Show in 1964.

Berry had moved with the times and found a new audience in the bargain and when the cries of “yeah-yeah-yeah” were replaced with peace signs, Berry altered his live act to include a passel of slow blues and quickly became a fixture on the festival and hippie ballroom circuit.

After a disastrous stint with Mercury Records, he returned to Chess in the early ’70s and scored his last hit with a live version of the salacious nursery rhyme, “My Ding a Ling,” yielding Berry his first official gold record.

By decade’s end, he was as in demand as ever, working every Oldies revival show, TV special, and festival that was thrown his way. But once again, troubles with the law reared their ugly head and 1979 saw Berry headed back to prison, this time for income tax evasion.

Upon release this time, the creative days of Chuck Berry seemed to have come to an end. He appeared as himself in the Alan Freed bio-pic, American Hot Wax, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but steadfastly refused to record any new material or even issue a live album.

His live performances became increasingly erratic, with Berry working with terrible backup bands and turning in sloppy, out-of-tune performances that did much to tarnish his reputation with younger fans and old timers alike.

In 1987, he published his first book, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, and the same year saw the film release of what will likely be his lasting legacy, the rockumentary Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll, which included live footage from a 60th-birthday concert with Keith Richards as musical director and the usual bevy of superstars coming out for guest turns.

But for all of his off-stage exploits and seemingly ongoing troubles with the law, Chuck Berry remains the epitome of rock & roll, and his music will endure long after his private escapades have faded from memory. Because when it comes down to his music, perhaps John Lennon said it best, “If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” ~All Music Guide

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4 responses to “Chuck Berry

  1. Yes, Chuck was The Architect of Rock & Roll. “Sweet Little Sixteen” may have been the first 45 I ever bought (or else it was “Penny Loafers & Bobby Sox” by Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones.) “Roll Over Beethoven” eventually came to be my favorite Berry tune – but I loved “Back in the USA” too. (I even liked Linda Ronstadt’s version.) But “Johnny B. Goode” is considered by many to be the greatest R&R record of all time. (I personally would vote for “Good Golly Miss Molly” by Little Richard. Either way, Richard & Berry are the R&R Prime Movers in my opinion.)

    You’re right about Chuck not taking his personal appearances too seriously over the years. He’d usually just show up and use whatever band was on the bill as his backup – and without any rehearsals. They’d be lucky if he even told them the key of the song before he started.

    I LOVE “Hail, Hail, Rock & Roll” – easily one of the top 5 R&R movies.

    Hey, I talked you up on my own blog this week. That should guarantee you at least 3 or 4 new visitors this month! 🙂

  2. Hi John
    Your a good man! Thanks so much for “talking us up” on your own blog this week… very much appreciated, as you can imagine.
    When I think back to my own ‘teen days, the music of that time was personified by Chuck Berry. At so many house parties and dances, and if you walked into a restaurant back then, you’d hear Chuck on the jukebox. If I were a creating a movie to depict the Rock n Roll era, Chuck’s music would be wailing away in the background.

  3. I find that as time passes the lines between Blues, R.& B., Rock and Roll and Soul begin to blur. I see music placed in categories that, in my humble opinion, are incorrect. Then I realize that some musical categories that I mentioned go back over 70 years ago. I can recall staying up late at night when reception was at its best listening to low wattage radio stations in the south playing rhythm and blues ( so called race music) that was non-existent on Canadian and most mainstream U.S. radio.
    So the lines blur along with my memory but Gary and Russ , you do an excellent job of putting the music into the correct slot and most of keeping the spirit alive . Thanks Guys

  4. HUGH "BABE" O'DONNELL

    My sons and I were doing an OLDIES DANCE when we received notification of Chuck Berry passing and we announced playing his first hit “MAYBELLINE” to the packed dance floor and a loud sound of this can’t be that a living LEGEND died.
    Thanks for sharing some great videos of him who we cherished and loved to hear him sing and dance to for over 50 years. He is truly a “MAD LAD” and a “HAVANA MOON” forever.

    THE EMPEROR OF OLDIES AND DANCES IN PITTSBURGH, PA.

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