Birth name: Charles Anderson Edward Berry
Born: October 18, 1926 - St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Died: March 18, 2017 (age 90)
Years active: 1955 - 2017
Official site: http://www.chuckberry.com
Chuck Berry's nickname is "Father of Rock 'n' Roll". You don't get a nickname like that for nothing. He refined R&B and blues into the major elements that became known as rock 'n roll. He had the guts to do things that weren't being done yet, to push music into new realms.
One of his greatest strengths was his showmanship, a master at watching his audience's reactions and amusing them in the best possible way.
Chuck Berry had always created great music, and his lyrics were equally groundbreaking. He was one of the first rock guitarists and shaped music as we know it by pioneering rock and roll. The guitar was always a prominent feature of his music. The rhythm bits during his vocals really drove the songs forward, and he used the lead melodies to accent the vocals. A perfect balance at a time.
His songs are famous for using double stops (two-note chords), he used them a lot during his songs' intros and solos.
His guitar technique is far from flawless, but his sound is still very distinctive, earning him the #7 spot on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the greatest guitarists of all time.
He always played guitar himself on all his recordings, he wrote the songs, and he sang.
Chuck was born into a middle-class family, being the 4th child in a family with 6 children. He was interested in music from a young age, giving his first performance in high school. He received thunderous applause, and from then on, he had to be on stage.
Before finishing high school at the age of 18, Chuck Berry committed a carjacking with his friends, after his own car broke down. He was caught and sentenced to 3 years in prison for armed robbery. He left prison at the age of 21.
At 22, he married his wife, Themetta, and started working in a number of jobs, one of which was sitting in as a guitarist for local bands. His first band was the Johnnie Johnson Trio, which played mostly country music most popular with white people at the time.
His big break came in 1955 when he met Muddy Waters by chance at a club in Chicago. Chuck asked him who to see about making an album, and Muddy Waters replied, “Yeah, Leonard Chess. Yeah, Chess Records over on Forty-seventh and Cottage.”
Chuck talked to Leonard, auditioned a week later, and was signed to Chess Records, releasing his first hit "Maybellene" that summer, which reached #5 on the pop charts, and #1 on the R&B charts. He was on his way to stardom. In the coming years, he released hits such as Roll Over Beethoven, Johnny B. Good and Sweet Little Sixteen.
In 1959, he found himself in trouble with the law again, when he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, which he appealed, and only served a year and a half. He has opened a nightclub at the time and hired a 14-year-old Mexican waitress, whom he brought to the USA. She was later arrested for prostitution, and Chuck was convicted of sexual intercourse with a minor.
He was released from jail in 1963, and his fame grew to its height since superstar bands like The Beatles and Rolling Stones were covering his songs. He released several new hit singles in the years to come.
Chuck Berry continues to hold concerts well into his 80's.
He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985, and in 1986, he became the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's first inductee.
His work has been covered and copied, by many great bands and artists, which is the best measure of Chuck Berry's influence. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys are just a few bands, who were massively influenced by "The Father of Rock n' Roll".
Trouble with the law
Chuck Berry has had a number of brush-ins with the law:
- 1944 carjacking - 3 years in prison
- 1962 MANN Act - 1.5 years in prison, $5000 fine
- 1979 tax evasion - 4 months in prison and 1,000 hours of community service
- 1990 class action settlement with 59 women, who accused him of installing a camera in his restaurant's women's toilet - $1.2 million + legal expenses
- 1990 raid found 62 grams of marijuana in his house - 6 months suspended jail sentence, 2 years probation, had to donate $5,000 to a local hospital
Chuck Berry is married to Themetta Suggs-Berry, and has 4 children:
- Darlin Ingrid Berry-Clay
- Melody Exes Berry-Eskridge
- Aloha Isa Lei Berry
- Charles Edward Berry Jr.
Chuck Berry is mostly known for using the Gibson ES-355, which is a luxury version of the ES-335
Before that, he used the Gibson 350ET with single-coil pickups, then changed it to humbuckers. He also used the ES330.
He always used a tube amp, and always set the amp the way he liked it, never accepting technical staff's advice on settings.
If you watch videos of his performances you can see him with Epiphone amps, Orange Top amps, and mostly the Fender Dual Showman.
1972 concert from London
Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry jam