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Blues Highlight: Chuck Berry – The Father of Rock ‘N’ Roll

This week’s Blues Highlight Of the Week is the infamous Chuck Berry! 

Standing in one of his many famous poses, you can see the commanding effect Chuck Berry had on people.  Considered by many as the “father of rock ‘n’ roll,” Chuck Berry grew up in a time when segregation was prevalent in St. Louis.  Berry pursued a lot of hobbies as a child such as carpentry work, photography and a natural gravitation towards music. He began singing in his church choir from the age of six.  A performance at a talent show sparked his interest in music and soon after, he started learning to the play the guitar and taking lessons. 

After some up & downs in his life, in 1948 he got married, had four (of 6) children and in 1951 he started performing in a friend’s band.  It was during this time in the mid-1950’s that Berry started doing trips to Chicago trying to get his name out in the world and in search of a record contract.  In 1955, he met Muddy Waters who suggested that he go to Chess Records. He pitched his song “Maybellene” and the rest is history! He got his contract and “Maybellene” had reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 5 on the pop charts. With its unique blend of a rhythm and blues beat, country guitar licks and the flavor of Chicago blues and narrative storytelling, many music historians consider “Maybellene” the first true rock ‘n’ roll song. 

The late rocker and archivist Cub Koda once wrote for the All Music Guide defines that – “Quite simply, without him, there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor a myriad others. There would be no standard ‘Chuck Berry guitar intro,’ the instrument’s clarion call to get the joint rockin’ in any setting. The clippety-clop rhythms of rockabilly would not have been mainstreamed into the now standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. There would be no obsessive wordplay by modern-day tunesmiths; in fact, the whole history (and artistic level) of rock & roll songwriting would have been much poorer without him. … Those who do not claim him as a seminal influence or profess a liking for his music and showmanship show their ignorance of rock’s development, as well as his place as the music’s first great creator. Elvis may have fueled rock & roll’s imagery, but Chuck Berry was its heartbeat and original mindset.”Cub Koda

Lastly, Berry still remains one of the genre’s most influential musicians. In 1985, he received the “Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.”  A year later, in 1986, he became the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s” first inductee. Furthermore, perhaps the best measure of Berry’s influence is the extent to which other popular artists have copied his work. The Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and along with the Beatles have all covered various Chuck Berry songs, and Berry’s influences—both subtle and profound—pervade all of their music.

Introducing Berry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones said, “It’s very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry ’cause I’ve lifted every lick he ever played. This is the man that started it all!”

– Keeping the Blues Alive

Photograph by: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images & 

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