Happy Birthday Johnny B.
Between St. Louis and outer space, there is only one person who can stand up and be saluted with the refrain, “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in St. Louis, Missouri on October 18, 1926, ‘Chuck’ Berry was destined to become a musical icon, the creative artist who established rock ‘n’ roll as its own art form.
With influences like Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters, Berry led the Sir John’s Trio, which soon became the Chuck Berry Combo, to big success at the well-known Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis. It was 1955, and Chuck Berry was ready to move on to bigger things like a recording contract. Muddy Waters introduced him to Leonard Chess (Chess Records). As fate would have it, it wasn’t a rhythm and blues song that influenced Chess to sign Berry, but a country number, Ida Red, the forerunner of Maybellene.
Maybellene was true to Chuck Berry, kick-starting his trip to stardom. When it hit #5 on the Billboard pop charts, Berry became a rarity … a black performer entertaining mostly white teenagers. Berry theorized that it was his diction (the Nat King Cole influence) that helped him climb the pop charts. He said, “The pop fan could understand what I was saying better than many other singers.” Looking back, we can confidently add that his success was his innate ability to relate to his young audience through his lyrics and music. The thirtysomething singer/songwriter’s list of hits became high school anthems: School Days, Rock and Roll Music, Roll Over, Beethoven, etc.
Chuck Berry also inspired the musicians of the ’60s … groups like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys (who borrowed Sweet Little Sixteen for their own hit, Surfin’ U.S.A. only to be forced, legally, to give Chuck Berry due credit). He appeared on stage in concerts, in films, including playing himself in American Hot Wax, and, in 1979, performed at the White House for US President Jimmy Carter. Berry received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards in 1985, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year by Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who quipped, “It’s hard for me to induct Chuck Berry, because I lifted every lick he ever played!”
Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll’s only #1 pop chart hit of his career was the novelty ditty, My Ding-a-Ling, in 1972. But it was a clip of his most famous tune, Johnny B. Goode from 1958 that made it into outer space on the Voyager I spacecraft to represent rock music.
Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry.
Last edited by bumblebee; 10-18-2006 at 12:13 PM.