Chuck Berry

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Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (born October 18, 1926 in St. Louis) is a world-renowed guitarist, singer, and songwriter, and is one of the pioneers of rock'n'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." [1] John Lennon was more succinct: "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'."[2]

Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986.


Early Years

Born October 18, 1926 -- the third child in a middle-class family of six -- Berry grew up the son of a contractor/deacon and a schoolteacher. He pursued his interest in music from an early age and performed publicly for the first time while still in high school, winning a talent contest with a guitar-and-vocal rendition of Jay McShann's big band number, "Confessin' the Blues."

In 1944, prior to his high school graduation, Berry was arrested and convicted for attempted burglary after carjacking a man (using only the muzzle of a non-working gun, as he tells it in his 1987 autobiography) and taking the car to Kansas City.

Cub Koda writes, "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 showmanlike flair, coupled with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh verses to old favorites, quickly made him a name on the circuit." [3]

Early Career

In 1954, he ended up taking over pianist (and long-time collaborator) Johnnie Johnson's small combo, called Sir John's Trio, and a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club in East St. Louis soon made the Chuck Berry Trio the top attraction in the black community, with Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm their only real competition. [4]

In 1955, Berry made his way to Chicago where he met up with Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Chess Records. Upon listening to Berry's homemade demo, label president Leonard Chess professed a liking for a traditional hillbilly tune on it named "Ida Red" and quickly scheduled a session. During the session, with the addition of more modern lyrics and a driving beat, the title was changed to "Maybellene," and rock'n'roll history was born. The record eventually peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts.

The hits continued through 1959, including such songs as "Roll Over Beethoven," "School Day," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Johnny B. Goode."

Early Scandal

In late 1959, Berry was charged with transporting a minor over state lines under the Mann Act, the minor being a 14-year-old Apache waitress that he met in Mexico, who returned to St. Louis with him to work as a hat check girl at Berry's nightclub Club Bandstand. The girl herself was arrested on a prostitution charge. Berry was convicted, fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years in federal prison.

When Berry was released from prison in 1963, he found his music was enjoying a resurgence due to many British acts (notably The Beatles and The Rolling Stones) putting out cover versions of some of Berry's hits. This inspired Berry to resume recording; songs such as "No Particular Place To Go," "Nadine," and "You Can Never Tell" were released at this time.

Middle Career

Berry left Chess Records in 1965, moving to Mercury Records. He then returned to chess in 1970, releasing what has been his only #1 single ever -- a live recording of "My Ding-a-Ling."

He toured throughout the '70s on the strength of all his previous hits, famously carrying with him only his Gibson guitar. He was confident that he could find a band to back him no matter where he went, and this included such fledgling bandleaders as Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller. Springsteen related in the video Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll that Berry did not even give the band a set list and just expected the musicians to follow his lead after each guitar intro. Neither did he speak to nor thank the band after the show.

More Scandal

Berry's touring style -- traveling the "oldies" circuit in the '70s, often paid in cash by local promoters -- added ammunition to the Internal Revenue Service's indictment that Berry was a chronic income tax evader. Berry pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 1979 and was sentenced to four months imprisonment and 1,000 hours of community service (which he filled by doing benefit concerts).

Later Career

In 1986, Taylor Hackford filmed a documentary of a concert celebrating Berry's sixtieth birthday called Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. Keith Richards was the musical leader, and Eric Clapton, Etta James, Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt, and others, appeared onstage with Berry.

In the late 1980s, Berry owned a restaurant in Wentzville called The Southern Air. He also owns an estate in Wentzville, Berry Park, which for many years hosted rock concerts throughout the summer, but which is now closed to the public.

Even More Scandal

In 1990 Berry was sued by several women who claimed that he had installed a video camera in the ladies' bathrooms at two of his St. Louis restaurants. A class action settlement was eventually reached with 59 women on the complaint. Berry's biographer, Bruce Pegg, estimated that it cost Berry over $1.2 million plus legal fees. A Miami purveyor of celebrity sex videos is currently marketing video footage purporting to show Berry urinating on a young woman in a bathtub. Although the voice sounds similar to Berry's his face is never visible on the tape, making positive identification impossible. [5]


Berry continues to perform regularly, playing both throughout the United States and overseas. He performs one Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill in the Loop.


Cub Koda writes, "Here was finally a black rock & roll record ["Maybellene"] 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 .... 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." [6]

Berry's influence on his contemporaries as well as his successors is legendary:

  • 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) has cited Berry as one of his biggest influences and is famous for using Berry's duckwalk as one of his gimmicks.
  • 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.


  • In 2003 Rolling Stone Magazine named him number six on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. [7]
  • His compilation album The Great Twenty-Eight was also named 21st on that magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. [8].
  • In 2004 six of his songs were included in that magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, namely "Johnny B. Goode" (# 7), "Maybellene" (# 18), "Roll Over Beethoven" (# 97), "Rock and Roll Music" (#128), "Sweet Little Sixteen" (# 272) and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (# 374). [9]
  • Also in 2004, Berry was rated #5 in Rolling Stone Magazine's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time feature. [10]



  • 1955 "Maybellene," "Wee Wee Hours" (B-Side), "Thirty Days," "No Money Down"
  • 1956 "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (B-Side), "You Can't Catch Me"
  • 1957 "School Days," "Oh Baby Doll," "Rock and Roll Music"
  • 1958 "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," "Beautiful Delilah," "Carol," "Sweet Little Rock and Roller," "Jo Jo Gunne" (B-Side), "Merry Christmas Baby," "Run Rudolph Run" (B-Side)
  • 1959 "Anthony Boy," "Almost Grown," "Little Queenie" (B-Side), "Back In The USA," "Memphis, Tennessee" (B-Side), "Broken Arrow"
  • 1960 "Too Pooped To Pop (Casey)," "Let It Rock" (B-Side), "Bye Bye Johnny," "I Got To Find My Baby," "Jaguar and Thunderbird"
  • 1961 "I'm Talking About You," "Come On," "Go Go Go" (B-Side)
  • 1963 "Diploma For Two"
  • 1964 "Nadine (Is It You?)," "No Particular Place To Go," "You Never Can Tell," "Little Marie," "Promised Land"
  • 1965 "Dear Dad," "It Wasn't Me"
  • 1966 "Ramona Say Yes"
  • 1967 "Laugh and Cry," "Back to Memphis," "Feelin' It"
  • 1968 "Louie to Frisco"
  • 1969 "Good Looking Woman"
  • 1970 "Tulane"
  • 1972 "My Ding-A-Ling" (live), "Reelin' and Rockin'" (live)
  • 1973 "Bio"
  • 1975 "Shake, Rattle and Roll"
  • 1979 "California"

Studio Albums

  • Rock, Rock, Rock (with The Moonglows and Flamingos) (1956)
  • After School Session (1958)
  • One Dozen Berrys (1958)
  • Chuck Berry Is on Top (1959)
  • Rockin' at the Hops (1960)
  • New Juke-Box Hits (1961)
  • Chuck Berry Twist (1962)
  • Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits (1964)
  • Two Great Guitars (with Bo Diddley) (1964)
  • St. Louis to Liverpool (1964)
  • Chuck Berry in London (1965)
  • Fresh Berrys (1966)
  • In Memphis (1967)
  • From St. Louie to Frisco (1968)
  • Concerto In B Goode (1969)
  • Back Home (1970)
  • San Francisco Dues (1971)
  • The London Chuck Berry Sessions (1972)
  • Bio (1973)
  • Sweet Little Rock and Roller (1973)
  • Wild Berrys (1974)
  • Flashback (1974)
  • Chuck and His Friends (1974)
  • Chuck Berry (1975)
  • Rock It (1979)
  • Alive and Rockin' (1981)
  • "Retro Rock" - Chuck Berry - Broadcast Week (1982)
  • Chuck Berry (1982)

Live Albums

  • Chuck Berry on Stage (1963) (Actually studio recordings with overdubbed M.C. and audience.)
  • Live at the Fillmore Auditorium (1967) (bonus tracks included on 1994 re-release)
  • The London Chuck Berry Sessions (1972) (Side 2)
  • Chuck Berry Live in Concert (1978)
  • Chuck Berry Live (1981)
  • Toronto Rock 'N' Roll Revival 1969 Vol. II (1982)
  • Toronto Rock 'N' Roll Revival 1969 Vol. III (1982)
  • Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll (1987)
  • Live! (2000)
  • Live on Stage (2000)
  • Chuck Berry - In Concert (2002)


  • Chuck Berry's Golden Decade (1967)
  • Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (1967)
  • Chuck Berry's Golden Decade Vol. 2 (1973)
  • Chuck Berry's Golden Decade Vol. 3 (1974)
  • Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits (1976)
  • The Best of the Best of Chuck Berry (1978)
  • Chuck Berry's 16 Greatest Hits (1978)
  • Chuck Berry All-Time Hits (1979)
  • The Great Twenty-Eight (1982)
  • 20 Hits (1983)
  • Reelin' Rockin' Rollin' (1983)
  • Rock 'N' Roll Rarities (1986)
  • The Chess Box (Box Set) (1988)
  • On the Blues Side (1994)
  • Roll Over Beethoven (1996)
  • Let It Rock (1996)
  • The Best of Chuck Berry (1996)
  • Guitar Legends (1997)
  • Chuck Berry - His Best, Vol. 1 (1997)
  • Chuck Berry - His Best, Vol. 2 (1997)
  • The Latest & The Greatest / You Can Never Tell (1998)
  • Live: Roots of Rock 'N' Roll (1998)
  • Rock & Roll Music (1998)
  • 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Chuck Berry (1999)
  • Johnny B. Goode (Legacy) (2000)
  • Anthology (2000)
  • Blast from the Past: Chuck Berry (2001)
  • Johnny B. Goode (Columbia River) (2001)
  • Crown Prince of Rock N Roll (2003)
  • Gold (2005) - Simply 2000's Anthology Repackaged

Sources/External Links