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Guide Profile: Chuck Berry

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Chuck Berry in the Fifties

Chuck Berry in the Fifties

Born:

Charles Edward Anderson Berry

Birthdate:

October 18, 1926 (St. Louis, MO)

Genres:

Rock and Roll, Blues, Chicago Blues

Instruments:

Vocals, guitar

#1 Hits :

"My Ding-A-Ling" (pop), "Maybellene," "School Day," "Sweet Little Sixteen" (R&B)

Top 10 Hits:

"Maybellene," "Rock & Roll Music," "School Day," "Carol," "Johnny B. Goode," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "No Particular Place To Go" (pop), "Thirty Days," "Wee Wee Hours," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "No Money Down," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Almost Grown" (R&B only)

Top 10 Albums:

The London Chuck Berry Sessions

Biography:

Others may claim the title "creator of rock and roll," but Chuck Berry arguably has more right than most. This has something to do with his inimitable guitar style -- the "Chuck Berry intro" is the building block for any traditional rock and roll tune -- but it has more to do with his songwriting. Berry is simply one of the greatest writers of this or any other musical era, a canny synthesist who took the structure of blues, married it to hillbilly rhythms, and tied the whole thing into ageless teenage concerns like getting girls, racing cars, and trying to find work. In Berry's hands, the traditional laments of the blues found a parallel in every kid's struggle to be taken seriously.

Chuck Berry was a stylistic innovator in his head from the very beginning, a man who worshipped Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters with equal fervor. But it was in 1953, when the young hairdresser and guitarist joined The Sir John's Trio in his native St. Louis, that he hit upon the formula that would change history. Playing a little of everything in order to maximize his audience, Chuck learned a few hillbilly riffs and mixed them in with the blues he'd been performing. Black AND white audiences ate it up, and when his idol Waters suggested Chess Records, Berry auditioned with a revamped version of an old bluegrass tune, "Ida Red." It was renamed "Maybellene," and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chuck didn't have an easier ride than any of his contemporaries; although he was a shrewd businessman, his sexual appetite and thorny personality helped land him in jail twice. But Berry adapted, experiencing not one but two comebacks -- once during the British Invasion, when admirers like the Beatles covered his songs, and again during the late Sixties and early Seventies, when he reintroduced himself to festival audiences as a blues-rocker. Thing is, he never changed his sound to do either. The music of Chuck Berry embodies the rock and roll spirit so perfectly, he never needed to.

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