The world has recently lost a rock legend. Chuck Berry, born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri, passed away at 90 of natural causes on March 18, 2017.
Chuck Berry, or the Father of Rock and Roll, was born at a time when St. Louis was an extremely segregated area. Trying to escape the racial issues, Berry, like his 5 siblings, pursued hobbies. His music career started at just six years old when he joined the local church choir. When Berry entered his high school talent show with a friend, he quickly became addicted to the emotion that he experienced performing for a crowd. This was what sparked his interest in guitar. He began taking guitar lessons soon thereafter.
After dropping out of high school, he and his friends made a few impulse choices and ended up in jail for robbing a few small stores. After being released in 1947, seven years early for good behavior, he returned to St. Louis to work for his father’s construction business, be a part time photographer, and act as a janitor at a local auto plant.
Four years after his return, a former high school classmate, Tommy Stevens, asked Berry to join his band. The band played at local black nightclubs and Berry quickly gained a good reputation for his lively showmanship. A year passed and Berry joined Sir John’s Trio. This band played at upscale black nightclub and began to draw in a white crowd. By 1955 Berry began his search for a record contract in Chicago.
Legendary blues musician Muddy Water met with Berry and encourage him to speak with Chess Records. A few weeks after their first meeting, Berry wrote “Maybellene.” He brought the song back to Chess Records, and they immediately signed him. Within a month Berry’s song “Maybellene” hit the number 1 spot on the R&B charts and the number 5 spot on the Pop charts. While reforming the music world with a combination of a blues beats, country licks, and stories, Berry quickly constructed many other unique singles. As he was influencing the rock world, he was also influencing the community. People of all races got together in harmony to enjoy Berry’s music and he spoke to the youth with his stories. In 1959 he was charged and later convicted of transporting a young woman for “immoral purposes” under the Mann Act and imprisoned for 20 months. He came out a new man and produced some of his most famous pieces like “Nadine” and “Promise Land.” Instead of being his easy going self he was more of a businessman. He had changed into a serious and distant person towards the end of his career. Berry released his last album called Rock It, in 1979. He continued to play into the 1990’s but lost some of his stage personality and popularity.
Chuck Berry is one of the most influential rockers of all time. His playing style and bad boy personality inspired many current blues and rock players. He formulated many different playing styles into one. His contributions to the rock world will always be remembered.