Chuck Berry

From New World Encyclopedia

Chuck Berry
Berry in Örebro, Sweden on July 18, 2007.
Berry in Örebro, Sweden on July 18, 2007.
Background information
Birth name Charles Edward Anderson Berry
Born October 18 1926(1926-10-18)
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Died March 18 2017 (aged 90)
Genre(s) Rock and roll
Occupation(s) Guitarist, Songwriter
Instrument(s) Guitar, Vocals
Years active 1955 - 20017
Label(s) Chess
Notable instrument(s)
Gibson ES-335
Gibson ES-125

Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (October 18, 1926 - March 18, 2017) was an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter. In terms of performance, song-writing, and guitar playing, Berry is considered one of, if not the greatest of the pioneer rock-and-roll artists. His catalog of early rock hits includes some of the most iconic songs of the genre, many of which became hits again when covered by later artists. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame includes three of Berry's songs—"Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene," and "Rock & Roll Music"—among its "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll." Other classic hits for Berry include "Roll Over Beethoven," "Sweet Little Sixteen," School Days, and "Memphis, Tennessee."

Known as the "Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll," Berry's string of hits in the mid-late 1950s came to an end when he ran afoul of the law in 1959 and spent the next several years in a youth reformatory. He continued to reach high on the pop charts after his release in 1963 with songs like "No Particular Place To Go," "You Never Can Tell," and "Nadine." In 1972, he reached number one with a live recording of "My Ding-a-Ling." A perennial favorite as a live performer, he toured constantly in the 1970s and 1980s except for another break to serve time in prison in 1979.

Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him number five on their list of "The Immortals: The First Fifty." He was also ranked sixth on Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.


Early life and career

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Berry was the third child in a family of six. He grew up in the north St. Louis neighborhood known as "The Ville," where many middle-class blacks lived at the time. His father was a contractor and a deacon of a nearby Baptist church, while his mother worked as a school principal. His middle-class upbringing allowed him to pursue his interest in music from an early age, and he made his first public performance while still in high school.

However, in 1944, before he could graduate, Berry was arrested and convicted of armed robbery in a car-jacking episode with two friends. Sentenced to ten years, he was released early from the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa, near Jefferson, Missouri on his twenty-first birthday in 1947.

Berry had been playing the blues since his teens and inherited some of both the guitar riffs and grandstanding done earlier by jump-blues player T. Bone Walker. By early 1953, he performed with the Johnnie Johnson Trio at a popular club called The Cosmopolitan, in East St. Louis. He also played country music, sometimes provoking comments from his predominantly black audiences about the "that black hillbilly at the Cosmo."

Berry's calculated showmanship soon began luring larger white audiences to the club. Included in his repertoire were songs ranging from Nat "King" Cole to Muddy Waters.

Ascent to stardom

In May 1955, Berry traveled to Chicago where he met Waters himself, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Berry thought his blues material would be of most interest to Chess. To his surprise it was an old country-and-western recording by Bob Wills, entitled "Ida Red," that got Chess's attention. Chess had seen the blues market shrink and was looking to move beyond the rhythm and blues market, and he thought Berry might be the artist who could do it. The result was the "Ida Red"-inspired "Maybellene," with Johnny Johnson on piano, Jerome Green (from Bo Diddley's band) on maracas, Jasper Thomas on drums, and blues legend Willie Dixon on bass. "Maybellene" sold over a million copies, reaching number one on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart and number five on the pop "Hot 100".

At the end of June 1956, Berry's song "Roll Over Beethoven" reached number 29 on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and his touring show was one of the nation's top acts. When he and rockabilly artist Carl Perkins toured together, Perkins discovered that Berry truly liked country music and that Jimmie Rodgers was one of his favorites. "Chuck knew every Blue Yodel" and most of Bill Monroe's songs as well, Perkins said.

In the autumn of 1957, Berry joined the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and other rising stars of rock and roll to tour the United States. His hits continued from 1957 to 1959, with Berry scoring over a dozen chart singles during this period, including the Top-10 U.S. hits "School Days," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Johnny B. Goode."

Berry appeared in two early rock movies. The first was Rock Rock Rock, released in 1956, where he is shown singing "You Can't Catch Me." He had a speaking role as himself in the 1959 film Go, Johnny, Go! along with Alan Freed, and is also shown performing his songs "Johnny B. Goode," "Memphis, Tennessee," and "Little Queenie."

Prison and resurgence

Berry in Deauville France in 1987

By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star. He had also established his own St. Louis-based nightclub, called Berry's Club Bandstand.

In December 1959, however, he encountered serious legal problems after he invited a 14-year-old Apache waitress whom he met in Mexico to work as a hat-check girl at his club. After being fired from the club, the girl was arrested on a prostitution charge, and Berry was arrested under the Mann Act. After two trials, Berry was convicted, fined $5000, and sentenced to five years in prison. This event, coupled with other early rock-and-roll scandals such as Jerry Lee Lewis's marriage to his 13-year-old cousin and Alan Freed's payola conviction contributed to rock and roll's image problem that limited its acceptance into mainstream U.S. society.

When Berry was released from prison in 1963, his musical career enjoyed a resurgence due his songs being covered by many of the British invasion acts of the 1960s — most notably the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Additionally, The Beach Boys' hit "Surfin' USA" also paid homage to Berry's by borrowing the melody to "Sweet Little Sixteen."

In 1964–65 Berry resumed recording and placed six singles in the U.S. Hot 100, including "No Particular Place To Go" (number 10), "You Never Can Tell" (number 14), and "Nadine" (number 23).

In 1966, Berry left Chess Records, moving to the Mercury label. The hits stopped coming during the Mercury era, but he was still a top concert draw. In July 1969 Berry was the headliner of the Schaefer Music Festival in New York City's Central Park, along with The Byrds, Miles Davis, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, B.B. King, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, and Patti LaBelle.

After a four-year hitless stint, Berry returned to Chess from 1970 to 1973. His 1970 Chess effort Back Home yielded no hit singles. However, in 1972 Chess released a new live recording of "My Ding-a-Ling," a song Berry had initially recorded years earlier as a novelty track. The track became Berry's only number one single, and it remains popular today. A live recording of "Reelin' And Rockin'" was also issued as a follow-up single that same year and would prove to be Berry's final top-40 hit in both the US and the UK. Both singles were featured on the part-live/part-studio album "The London Chuck Berry Sessions." Berry's second tenure with Chess ended with the 1973 album Bio, after which he did not make a studio record for six years.


In the 1970s, Berry toured without a traveling band, confident that he could hire musicians that already knew his music no matter where he went. Among the many bandleaders performing this backup role were Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller, when each was just starting their careers. Springsteen related that Berry did not even give the band a set list and expected the musicians to follow his lead after each guitar intro. This resulted in erratic quality, but audiences were nearly always pleased by Berry's charisma, stage antics, and his classic songs.

Berry's type of touring style, traveling the "oldies" circuit in the 1970s — where he was often paid in cash by local promoters — added ammunition to the Internal Revenue Service's accusations that Berry was a chronic income tax evader. Facing criminal sanction for the third time, Berry pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to four months imprisonment and 1000 hours of community service — doing benefit concerts — in 1979.

Berry performing live in 1997

At the request of Jimmy Carter, Chuck Berry performed at The White House on June 1, 1979. In the same year, he released Rockit for Atco Records, his last studio album to date. Berry continued to play 70 to 100 one night stands per year in the 1980s, still traveling solo and requiring a local band to back him at each stop. In 1986, Berry starred in the documentary film, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, featuring a celebration concert for Berry's sixtieth birthday and produced by Taylor Hackford. Keith Richards was the musical leader of the tribute, while Eric Clapton, Etta James, Julian Lennon, Robert Cray, and Linda Ronstadt, among others, appeared with Berry on stage and film.

In the spring of 2008, Berry toured Europe, with stops in Sweden, England, Ireland, Switzerland, and Spain. He also played in the Virgin Mobile Music Festival 2008 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Last years

Berry lived in Ladue, Missouri, approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of St. Louis. He also had a home at "Berry Park," near Wentzville, Missouri, where he lived part-time since the 1950s, and was the home in which he died. This home, with the guitar-shaped swimming pool, is seen in scenes near the end of the film "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll". He regularly performed one Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar located in the Delmar Loop neighborhood of St. Louis, from 1996 to 2014.

Berry announced on his 90th birthday that his first new studio album since Rockit in 1979, entitled Chuck, would be released in 2017. His first new record in 38 years, it includes his children, Charles Berry Jr. and Ingrid, on guitar and harmonica and is dedicated to his beloved wife of 68 years, Toddy.[1]


On March 18, 2017, police in St. Charles County, Missouri, were called to Berry's house, near Wentzville, Missouri, where he was found unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene, aged 90, by his personal physician.

His funeral was held on April 9, 2017, at The Pageant, in Berry's hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. He was remembered with a public viewing by family, friends, and fans in The Pageant, a music club where he often performed, with his cherry-red guitar bolted to the inside lid of the coffin and with flower arrangements that included one sent by the Rolling Stones in the shape of a guitar. Afterwards a private service was held in the club celebrating Berry's life and musical career, with the Berry family inviting 300 members of the public into the service.


Beyond his catalog of classic hits that defined the genre as much as any other performer, Chuck Berry was a significant influence on the development of early rock-and-roll guitar techniques and a major catalyst in the transition from rhythm and blues and rockabilly to rock and roll.

He was the first to define the classic subjects of rock and roll in his songwriting: cars, girls, and school. His guitar style is legendary and many later guitar musicians acknowledge him as a major influence in their own style: "it's not an exaggeration to say that he's the most influential figure on modern rock & roll: Name any major band—the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith—and they'll have cited Berry as an inspiration."[2] The Beach Boys' hit "Surfin' USA" resembled Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" so closely that they eventually gave Berry a co-writing credit in order to avoid a lawsuit.

Berry was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984. In 2003, Rolling Stone named him number six on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

His compilation album The Great Twenty-Eight was also named twenty-first on the magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2004, six of his songs were included in Rolling Stones "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list, namely "Johnny B. Goode" (number seven), "Maybellene" (number 18), "Roll Over Beethoven" (number 97), "Rock and Roll Music" (number 128), "Sweet Little Sixteen" (number 272) and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (number 374). Also in 2004, Berry was rated number five in Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Artists of All Time feature.



Release date Title Chart Positions
US Hot 100 US R&B UK
1955 "Maybellene" (A-Side) #5 #1
→ "Wee Wee Hours" (B-Side) #10
1955 "Thirty Days" #2
1955 "No Money Down" #8
1956 "Roll Over Beethoven" #29 #2
1956 "Too Much Monkey Business" #4
→ "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (B-Side) #5
1956 "You Can't Catch Me"
1957 "School Days" #3 #1 #24
1957 "Oh Baby Doll" #57 #12
1957 "Rock and Roll Music" #8 #6
1958 "Sweet Little Sixteen" #2 #1 #16
1958 "Johnny B. Goode" #8 #2
1958 "Beautiful Delilah" #81
1958 "Carol" #18 #9
1958 "Sweet Little Rock and Roller" (A-Side) #47 #13
→ "Jo Jo Gunne" (B-Side) #83
1958 "Merry Christmas Baby" (A-Side) #71
→ "Run Rudolph Run" (B-Side) #69 #36
1959 "Anthony Boy" #60
1959 "Almost Grown" (A-Side) #32 #3
→ "Little Queenie" (B-Side) #80
1959 "Back in the U.S.A." (A-Side) #37 #16
→ "Memphis, Tennessee" (B-Side) #6
1959 "Broken Arrow" #108
1960 "Too Pooped To Pop (Casey)" (A-Side) #42 #18
→ "Let It Rock" (B-Side) #64 #6
1960 "Bye Bye Johnny"
1960 "I Got To Find My Baby"
1960 "Jaguar and Thunderbird" #109
1961 "I'm Talking About You"
1961 "Come On" (A-Side)
→"Go Go Go" (B-Side) #38
1963 "Diploma For Two"
1964 "Nadine (Is It You?)" #23 #27
1964 "No Particular Place To Go" #10 #3
1964 "You Never Can Tell" #14 #23
1964 "Little Marie" #54
1964 "Promised Land" #41 #26
1965 "Dear Dad" #95
1965 "It Wasn't Me"
1966 "Ramona Say Yes"
1967 "Laugh and Cry"
1967 "Back to Memphis"
1967 "Feelin' It"
1968 "Louie to Frisco"
1969 "Good Looking Woman"
1970 "Tulane"
1972 "My Ding-A-Ling" (live) #1 #42 #1
1972 "Reelin' and Rockin'" (live) #27 #18
1973 "Bio"
1975 "Shake, Rattle and Roll"
1979 "California"

Note that not all of Berry's UK singles were released in the same year as the initial US release, and not all of Berry's UK singles featured the same A-Side/B-Side configurations as in the US.

Billboard did not publish a separate R&B singles chart in 1964, hence Berry's absence from the R&B charts for the singles "Nadine" through "Promised Land".

Studio albums

  • Rock, Rock, Rock (with The Moonglows and The 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 Berry's (1965)
  • Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (1967) - re-recordings
  • 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 Berry (1975)
  • Rock It (1979)
  • Chuck (2017)

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)
  • Alive and Rockin' (1981)
  • 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)
  • Oh Yeah! Live in Detroit (2009), 1963 Concert at Walled Lake Casino in Novi MI

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Berry, Chuck. Chuck Berry: The Autobiography. New York: Harmony Books, 1987. ISBN 978-0517566664
  • Collis, John. Chuck Berry: The Biography. London: Aurum, 2002. ISBN 978-1854108739
  • Pegg, Bruce. Brown-eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry: An Unauthorized Biography. New York: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 978-0415937481
  • Perkins, Carl, and David McGee. Go, Cat, Go! Hyperion Press, 1996. ISBN 0786860731

External links

All links retrieved December 10, 2023.


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  1. Christina Beck, Chuck Berry to release new studio album at 90 Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2016. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  2. Chuck Berry Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved August 9, 2019.