• The Breakthrough
  • Chuck Berry - the father of
  • rock´n roll
  • Where did he get his ideas?
  • Berry Park Country Club
  • The crime path
  • The Sixties
  • His last hit and thereafter
  • Top

    Childhood

    Chuck Berry´s real name is Charles Edward Anderson Berry. He was born 6.59 A.M. on October 18th 1926 on 2520, Goode Avenue. His family moved to St. Louise, Missouri and later on to Wentzville. Chuck´s dad, Henry was a carpenter and a laypreacher. His mom, Martha, was a housewife and raised Chuck and her other five children. The names of his sisters was Thelma and Lucy.

    He started early in a babtistchoir, which used to practise in the kitchen in his home. This was one of his first memories. Long before he could walk, he moved to the rythm of the babtistsongs. When he looks back he believes that his musical roots were planted during this time. At the age of six he began to sing gospel. He went to the Cottage Avenue Elementary School. His family had a piano, but his sister didn´t let him use it, so you could say that she delayed the dawn of the rock for twenty years. Still, now and then he got the oportunity to play and practise. 1929 his family bought their first radio, which filled their home with music and voices. Chuck was very fascinated by the the radio and its stationpanel, which glowed in the room, when they sat listening in the dark. He also wondered at how his mother, with just a twist of her hand could switch from city to city and from song to song. To find out whre the sound came from, Chuck unscrewed the backpanel and when his father found out what he had done he got a heavy beating.

    Not until 1940-44, when he went to Summer High School did Chuck learn to play the guitarr. At this time he had to go to juvenile prison, due to robberies. After he was released he started to work in a carfactory. He also took an exam as a hairstylist. The most important one who taught Berry to play the guitarr was the local jazzplayer Ira Harris. Later he was also inspired by the bluesguitarrist T-Bone Walker, together with the jazzguitarrist Charlie Christian. Berry´s first guitarr had four strings, six years later he had an electric one with six strings.

    Top

    The Breakthrough

    1952 Chuck Berry began to play proffessionally at different clubs in St. Louis. That new years eve he played with Sir John's Trio. The leader of the group was Johnnie Johnson and the third person was the drummer Eddie Hardy. Berry mixed a little country sound into the their music. He also brought som ideas from Muddy Waters, who was his idol. The band was renamed to The Chuck Berry Combo, because he had become the leading person. One night when Chuck and one of his friends was in Chicago just to have a good time, they ran into a night-club where Muddy Waters performed live. After paying 50-cents entrance fee they hurried inside. They arrived just in time to hear the last song for the evening, "Mo Jo Working". Chuck and his buddy pushed through the crowd and reached Muddy Waters. This gave Chuck the opportunity to talk to his great favourite. After praysing his songs he asked where he should go to make a record. Muddy Waters told him about Leonard and Phil Chess at Chess Records. Berry took his advice and a few weeks later Berry, Johnson, Willie Dixon and the drummer Jasper Thomas recorded a country-inspired song called "Ida May". The name was later changed to "Maybellene". They also recorded the song "Wee Wee Hours". The record was number one on the R&B-list and number five on the Poplist in 1955.

    The Chess company had previously had great successes with artists like Waters and Little Walter. Thanks to Berry the company got more buyers. At the end of 1956 he sold more records than anybody else. The success continued all through the fifties. The name of some of his hits were "Roll Over Beethoven", "School Day's" and "Johnny B. Goode", which certainly are much alive also today. In these songs he was inspired by C&W, latin, Louise Jordan, Nat King Cole, Charles Brown and Frank Sinatra.

    Top

    Chuck Berry - the father of rock´n roll

    It´s usually said that Chuck Berry is the father of rock´n roll. One could say that Chuck´s songs are a blend of blues and the white county music. He got the blues from the west coast. When he later moved to Chicago he was influenced by country music. This blend of different styles could be compared with the white rockabillysingers from the south. His melodies were simple and often twelve-bar-blues. He often used a Gibsonguitarrsolo as intro.

    Chuck always played the guitarr. On this instrument he was a genius, which he shows among others in the song "Johnny B. Goode". His songs told about the everyday life of the young recordbuyers. He wrote sharpeyed observations of the white amircan teenagers lifestyle, the cars, school, love and the generation-gap. That´s why he is called "one of the greatest american authors". He was probably the first one making rock´n roll records about all this. He sang with distinct pronounciation because he always wanted you to listen to the words.

    Other things that made him special was his "Duck Walk, dancing steps combined with a special walk with bended knees and his unique guitarrplaying.

    Top

    Where did he get his ideas?

    Many have asked Chuck Berry where he got all his inspiration. The fact is he doesn´t know himself. To understand this he has to look at the lyrics and then he starts to remember what inspired him.

    Chuck hasn´t made so many lovesongs and his opinion is that they are very hard to write. To succeed with a lovesong one must expirience the feeling during the time you are working with the song. Here follows the stories behind some of his most well-known songs.

    "Maybellene"

    This was his first really big hit. "Ida Red" was a song he had heard in his youth and it was the inspiration for "Maybellene". Originally the name was "Ida May" but from Chess Records he got the advice to change the name. The story about "Maybellene" is made from memories from High School and how he tried to get the girls to ride with him in his Ford V-8 from 1934.

    Top

    "Wee Wee Hours"

    "Wee Wee Hours" is based on a tune by Joe Tuners, "Wee Baby Blue". That song always made him cry when he was a teenager and in love with Margie. Chuck thought of her when he wrote the lyrics, but the song is a prayer for anybody´s company. With a few minor exceptions it took him an hour to write it.

    "Roll Over Beethoven"

    "Roll Over Beethoven" is based on the feelings chuck had when his sister monopolized the piano when he was young. Most of the word are more directed towards Lucy than Ludwig van Beethoven. Another one of his sisters, Thelma, also took classical piano lessons, but it was Lucy who stopped him from playing it. At the beginning of the song he sings that he tried to talk to his mother to get support for his kond of music but that didn´t help. But to write to the local DJ made a difference.

    "Johnny B. Goode"

    Leonard Chess was immediately delighted with the song and stayed in the studio to help to record it. Chuck thinks that his mother deserves much of the credit for it, because she encouraged him to continue with the song and told him that he probably would be a millionair some day. "Johnny" is more or less Chuck himself, even though he wrote it to Johnnie Johnson. Chuck worked two weeks with the lyrics, which wasn´t that much to the work with the song "Drifting Heart". With that one he worked for four mont, but still it didn´t sell more than 20 records.

    Top

    Berry Park Country Club

    His brother Edward, who always was a player, told him about 30 acres of farmland close to a summerplace he just bought. Chuck bought the land for 8000 dollar on the 21 of April 1957. This was the beginning of something that he dreamt about for a long time. He wanted to live on a place like Glencrest Country Club, where his father took him as a child.

    Nowadays, it is called Berrypark. He had a fantasy that it should become a place where both blacks and whites could live in harmony. His idea was that it should become a place where families could come and enjoy themselves. Activities like fishing, game, dance and picknicks would also be offered. He started to build the park with these goals. On the 29 of July a strip of two acres was added because the real area didn´t agree with the sales contract. Chuck showed som good insights in business, largely thanks to his dad who taught him how his carpenterbusiness worked. The club had a 25 yard guitarrshaped swimmingpool. The drawings he made himself. The little lake up front, one acre, was the first thing built. After that came the pool for 20.000 dollar and the building with the nightclub for 26.000 dollars. During months of hard musical tours he spent a great deal of his money on Berrypark.

    Top

    The crime path

    Chuck was brought to court on the charge that he had moleste a 14 year old girl. The court found him not guilty the first time, but it was not over. In the second trial, one year after the first one, he got three years of prison and 10.000 dollars fine. However, both the judge and the prosecutor held some racial prejudices. Chuck Berry spent time in jail from January 1962 through 1964. all the way he insisted that he was innocent. His family managed economically quite well even though he was in jail because they had been wise enough to save some money. The outcome of the trial made Chuck Berry loose faith in journalists and the judicial process. At the beginning of his time in jail gave inteviews to several journalists. But he put an end to that when he read mean articles.

    Top

    The Sixties

    During the sixties many groups and artists, like Beatles and Rolling Stones, made covers.

    His last hit and thereafter

    1972 Chuck Berry presented his big hit "My Ding-A-Ling". The song was recorded in Lanchester Ballroom, Coventry, England at the end of a concert. The recording was made without his knowing. This method is quite common in the recording business. Even though he was rather satisfied with the result he thought he had the right to know. Before the recording Chuck had played it now and then; it depended on the audience. At the end of 1972 "My Ding-A-Ling" had sold 1.295.075 singles.

    1985 Chuck entered the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame and the year after in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 1987 he published his autobiography. It was the same years as the documentary movie "Hail, Hail Rock & Roll" was realised and where people like och Bruce Springsteen. Rolling Stones, Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen took part.