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Of all the early breakthrough rock & roll artists, none was more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He was its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers. Quite simply, without him there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, nor 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. Like Brian Wilson said, he wrote "all of the great songs and came up with all the rock & roll beats." 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.

He was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry to a large family in St. Louis. A bright pupil, Berry developed a love for poetry and hard blues early on, winning a high-school talent contest with a guitar-and-vocal rendition of Jay McShann's big-band number "Confessin' the Blues." 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. In 1954, he ended up taking over pianist Johnny Johnson's small combo, and a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club soon made the Chuck Berry Trio the top attraction in the black community, with Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm their only real competition.

But Berry had bigger ideas; he yearned to make records, and a trip to Chicago netted a two-minute conversation with his idol Muddy Waters, who encouraged him to approach Chess Records. Upon listening to Berry's homemade demo tape, label president Leonard Chess professed a liking for a hillbilly tune on it named "Ida Red" and quickly scheduled a session for May 21, 1955. During the session the title was changed to "Maybellene" and rock & roll history was born. Although the record only made it to the mid-20s on the Billboard pop chart, its overall influence was massive and groundbreaking in its scope. Finally, here was a black rock & roll record 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), that for once couldn't be successfully covered by a pop singer like Snooky Lanson on Your Hit Parade. 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. Helping to put the record over to a white teenage audience was the highly influential New York disc jockey Alan Freed, who had been given part of the writers' credit by Chess in return for his spins and plugs. But to his credit, Freed was also the first white DJ/promoter to consistently use Berry on his rock & roll stage show extravaganzas at the Brooklyn Fox and Paramount Theaters (playing to predominately white audiences); and when Hollywood came calling a year or so later, he also made sure that Berry appeared with him in Rock! Rock! Rock!, Go, Johnny, Go!, and Mister Rock'n'Roll. Within a year's time, Berry had gone from a local St. Louis blues picker making $15.00 a night to an overnight sensation commanding over a hundred times that, arriving at the dawn of a new strain of popular music called rock & roll.

The hits started coming thick and fast over the next few years, every one of them about to become a classic of the genre: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Thirty Days," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "You Can't Catch Me," "School Day," "Carol," "Back in the U.S.A.," "Little Queenie," "Memphis, Tennessee," "Johnny B. Goode," and the tune that defined the moment perfectly, "Rock and Roll Music." Berry was not only in constant demand, touring the country on mixed package shows and appearing on television and in movies, but smart enough to know exactly what to do with the spoils of a suddenly successful show business career. He started investing heavily in St. Louis area real estate and, ever one to push the envelope, opened up a racially mixed nightspot called The Club Bandstand in 1958 to the consternation of uptight locals. These were not the plans of your average R&B singers who contented themselves with a wardrobe of flashy suits, a new Cadillac, and the nicest house in the black section. Berry was smart, with plenty of business savvy, and was already making plans to open an amusement park in nearby Wentzville. When the St. Louis hierarchy found out that an underage hat-check girl Berry hired had also set up shop as a prostitute at a nearby hotel, trouble came down on Berry like a sledgehammer on a fly. Charged with transporting a minor over state lines (the Mann Act), Berry endured two trials and was sentenced to federal prison for two years as a result.

He emerged from prison a moody, embittered man. But two very important things had happened in his absence. First, British teenagers had discovered his music and were making his old songs hits all over again. Second, and perhaps most important, America had discovered the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, both of whom based their music on Berry's style, with the Stones' early albums looking like a Berry song list. Rather than being resigned to the has-been circuit, Berry found himself in the midst of a worldwide beat boom with his music as the centerpiece. He came back with a clutch of hits ("Nadine," "No Particular Place to Go," "You Never Can Tell"), toured Britain in triumph, and appeared on the big screen with his British disciples in the groundbreaking T.A.M.I. Show in 1964.

Berry had moved with the times and found a new audience in the bargain, and when the cries of "yeah-yeah-yeah" were replaced with peace signs, Berry altered his live act to include a passel of slow blues and quickly became a fixture on the festival and hippie ballroom circuit. After a disastrous stint with Mercury Records, he returned to Chess in the early '70s and scored his last hit with a live version of the salacious nursery rhyme "My Ding-A-Ling," yielding Berry his first official gold record. By decade's end, he was as in-demand as ever, working every oldies revival show, TV special, and festival that was thrown his way. But once again, troubles with the law reared their ugly head and 1979 saw Berry headed back to prison, this time for income tax evasion. Upon release this time, the creative days of Chuck Berry seemed to have come to an end. He appeared as himself in the Alan Freed biopic American Hot Wax, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but steadfastly refused to record any new material or even issue a live album. His live performances became increasingly erratic, with Berry working with terrible backup bands and turning in sloppy, out-of-tune performances that did much to tarnish his reputation with young and old fans alike. In 1987, he published his first book, Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, and the same year saw the film release of what will likely be his lasting legacy, the rockumentary Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll, which included live footage from a 60th-birthday concert with Keith Richards as musical director and the usual bevy of superstars coming out for guest turns.

For the next three decades, Berry devoted himself to the oldies circuit, regularly appearing at the Blueberry Hill restaurant in his hometown of St. Louis and sometimes embarking on tours of the U.S. or Europe. In several interviews he promised the existence of a new record but nothing was made official until he announced the 2017 release of Chuck on his 90th birthday. Berry didn't live to see its release: he died at his home on March 18, 2017.

For all of his off-stage exploits and seemingly ongoing troubles with the law, Chuck Berry remains the epitome of rock & roll, and his music will endure long after his private escapades have faded from memory. Because when it comes down to his music, perhaps John Lennon said it best, "If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'."

-- Cub Koda, All Music Guide

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Johnny B GoodeJohnny B Goode
Roll Over Beethoven Roll Over Beethoven
Chuck on Johnny CarsonChuck on Johnny Carson


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1957After School Session
1958One Dozen Berrys
1959Chuck Berry Is On Top
1960Rockin' At The Hops
1961New Juke Box Hits
1962Chuck Berry Twist
1963Chuck Berry On Stage (Live)
1964St. Louis To Liverpool
1965Chuck Berry In London
1965Fresh Berry's
1967Chuck Berry In Memphis (Live)
1967Live! At The Fillmore Auditoriun
1968From St. Louie To Frisco
1969Concerto In B Goode
1969Rock Rock
1970Rock Home
1971Home Again
1971San Francisco Dues
1972The London Chuck Berry Sessions (Live)
1973Back In The U. S. A.
1975Chuck Berry '75
1979Rock It
1981Tokyo Session (Live)
1983Live! At The Roxy
1987Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll (Live)


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1957 After School Session

01. School Days
02. Deep Feeling
03. Too Much Monkey Business
04. Wee Wee Hours
05. Roly Poly
06. No Money Down
07. Brown Eyed Handsome Man
08. Berry Pickin'
09. Together (we'll always be)
10. Havana Moon
11. Downbound Train/Drifting Heart

1958 One Dozen Berrys

01. Sweet Little Sixteen
02. Blue Feeling
03. La Jaunda (Espanola)
04. Rockin' At The Philharmonic
05. Oh Baby Doll
06. Guitar Boogie
07. Reelin' And Rockin'
08. In-Go
09. Rock & Roll Music
10. How You've Changed
11. Low Feeling
12. It Don't Take But A Few Minutes

1959 Chuck Berry Is On Top

01. Almost Grown
02. Carol
03. Maybellene
04. Sweet Little Rock & Roller
05. Anthony Boy
06. Johnny B. Goode
07. Little Queenie
08. Roll Over Beethoven
09. Around And Around
10. Hey Pedro
11. Blues For Hawaiians

1960 Rockin' At The Hops

01. Bye Bye Johnny
02. Worried Life Blues
03. Down The Road A Piece
04. Confessin' The Blues
05. Too Pooped To Pop
06. Mad Lad
07. I Got To Find My Baby
08. Betty Jean
09. Childhood Sweetheart
10. Broken Arrow
11. Driftin' Blues
12. Let It Rock

1961 New Juke Box Hits

01. I'm Talking About You
02. Diploma For Two
03. Thirteen Question Method
04. Away From You
05. Don't You Lie To Me
06. The Way It Was Before
07. Little Star
08. Route 66
09. Sweet Sixteen
10. Run Around
11. Stop And Listen
12. Rip It Up

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1962 Chuck Berry Twist

01. Maybellene
02. Roll Over Beethoven
03. Oh Baby Doll
04. Around And Around
05. Come On
06. Let It Rock
07. Reelin' And Rockin'
08. School Days
09. Almost Grown
10. Sweet Little Sixteen
11. Thirty Days
12. Johnny B. Goode
13. Rock & Roll Music
14. Back In The U. S. A.

1963 Chuck Berry On Stage (Live)

01. Introduction
02. Go Go Go
03. Memphis
04. Maybellene
05. Surfing Street
06. Rocking On The Railroad
07. Brown Eyed Handsome Man
08. Still Got The Blues
09. Sweet Little Sixteen
10. Jaguar And Thunderbird
11. I Just Want To Make Love To You
12. All Aboard
13. Trick Or Treat
14. The Man And The Donkey

1964 St. Louis To Liverpool

01. Little Marie
02. Our Little Rendezvous
03. No Particular Place To Go
04. You Two
05. Promised Land
06. You Never Can Tell
07. Go Bobby Soxer
08. The Things I Used To Do
09. Liverpool Drive
10. Night Beat
11. Merry Christmas, Baby
12. Brenda Lee
13. Fraulein
14. The Little Girl From Central
15. O'Rangutang

1965 Chuck Berry In London

01. My Little Love Light
02. She Once Was Mine
03. After It's Over
04. I Got A Booking
05. Night Beat
06. His Daughter Caroline
07. You Came A Long Way From St. Louis
08. St. Louis Blues
09. Jamaica Farewell Song
10. Dear Dad
11. Butterscotch
12. The Song Of My Love
13. Why Should We End This Way
14. I Want To Be Your Driver

1965 Fresh Berry's

01. It Wasn't Me
02. Run Joe
03. Every Day We Rock & Roll
04. One For My Baby(and one more for the road)
05. Welcome Back Pretty Baby
06. It's My Own Business
07. Right Off Rampart Street
08. Vaya Con Dios
09. Merrily We Rock And Roll
10. My Mustang Ford
11. Ain't That Just Like A Woman
12. Wee Hour Blues

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1967 Chuck Berry In Memphis (Live)

01. Back To Memphis
02. I Do Really Love You
03. Ramblin' Rose
04. Sweet Little Rock And Roller
05. My Heart Will Always Belong To You
06. Oh Baby Doll
07. Check Me Out
08. It Hurts Me Too
09. Bring Another Drink
10. So Long
11. Goodnight Well It's Time To Go
12. Flying Home

1967 Live! At The Fillmore Auditoriun

01. C. C. Rider
02. Driftin' Blues
03. Every Day I Have The Blues
04. Feelin' It
05. Flying Home
06. (I'm your) Hoochie Coochie Man
07. It Hurts Me Too
08. Fillmore Blues
09. Wee Baby Blues
10. Johnny B. Goode

1968 From St. Louie To Frisco

01. C. C. Rider
02. Driftin' Blues
03. Every Day I Have The Blues
04. Feelin' It
05. Flying Home
06. (I'm your) Hoochie Coochie Man
07. It Hurts Me Too
08. Fillmore Blues
09. Wee Baby Blues
10. Johnny B. Goode
11. Ma Dear, Ma Dear
12. Soul Rockin'
13. Check Me Out
14. Little Fox
15. Back To Memphis
16. My Tambourine
17. Misery
18. It's Too Dark In There
19. I Do Really Love You
20. I Can't Believe
21. My Heart Will Always Belong To You
22. So Long

1969 Concerto In B Goode

01. Good Looking Woman
02. My woman
03. It's Too Dark In There
04. Put Her Down
05. Concerto In B Goode

1969 Rock Rock

1970 Rock Home

01. Tulane
02. Have Mercy Judge
03. Instrumental
04. Christmas
05. Gun
06. I'm A Rocker
07. Flyin' Home
08. Fish & Chips
09. Some People


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1971 Home Again

1971 San Francisco Dues

01. Oh Louisiana
02. Let's Do Our Thing Together
03. Your Lick
04. Festival
05. Bound To Lose
06. Bordeaux In My Pirough
07. San Francisco Dues
08. Viva Rock & Roll
09. My Dream (poem)
10. Lonely School Days

1972 The London Chuck Berry Sessions (Live)

01. Let's Boogie
02. Mean Old World
03. I Will Not Let You Go
04. London Berry Blues
05. I Love You
06. Reelin' And Rockin'
07. My Ding-A-Ling
08. Johnny B. Goode

1973 Back In The U. S. A.

1973 Bio

01. Aimlessly Drifting
02. Bio
03. Got It And Gone
04. Hello Little Girl, Goodbye
05. Rain Eyes
06. Talkin' About My Buddy
07. Woodpecker

1975 Chuck Berry '75

01. Swanee River
02. I'm Just A Name
03. I Just Want To Make Love To You
04. Too Late
05. South Of The Border
06. Hi Heel Sneakers
07. You Are My Sunshine
08. My Babe
09. Baby What You Want Me To Do
10. A Deuce
11. Shake, Rattle And Roll
12. Sue Answer
13. Don't You Lie To Me

1979 Rock It

01. Move It
02. Oh What A Thrill
03. I Need You Baby
04. If I Were
05. House Lights
06. I Never Thought
07. Havana Moon
08. Wuden't Me
09. California
10. Pass Away

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1981 Tokyo Session (Live)

01. School Days
02. Roll Over Beethoven
03. Wee Wee Hours
04. My Ding-A-Ling
05. Memphis
06. Sweet Little Sixteen
07. Rock & Roll Music
08. Medley: Carol/Little Queenie
09. Bio
10. Johnny B. Goode

1983 Live! At The Roxy

1987 Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll (Live)

01. Maybellene
02. Around And Around
03. Sweet Little Sixteen
04. Brown Eyed Handsome Man
05. Memphis
06. Too Much Monkey Business
07. Back In The U. S. A.
08. Wee Wee Hours
09. Johnny B. Goode
10. Little Queenie
11. Rock & Roll Music
12. Roll Over Beethoven
13. I'm Through With Love

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graphics by YSM

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