Chuck Berry

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Chuck Berry at a concert in Örebro, Sweden, 2007

Charles "Chuck" Edward Anderson Berry (born October 18, 1926 in St. Louis , Missouri , † March 18, 2017 in Wentzville , Missouri) was an American singer , guitarist , composer and a pioneer of rock 'n' roll . He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1985 and the first member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 . His role models were Nat King Cole , Louis Jordan , Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker . Chuck Berry is an important source of inspiration for the development of beat music and the inventor of the duck walk .


Chuck Berry with his sister Lucy Ann (1965)

Chuck Berry was the son of Henry Berry, a Baptist church deacon , and Martha Berry, a headmistress. Berry began singing and playing guitar at Sumner High School in St. Louis. In 1944 he was convicted of armed robbery after robbing three stores in Kansas City , Missouri. He then allegedly stole a car at gunpoint, which was probably just a toy gun. For these offenses he was held for three years in Algoa Juvenile Prison, near Jefferson City, until his 21st birthday in 1947 . After his early release, he worked as a hairdresser and, according to other sources, in an automobile assembly plant . In 1948 he married Themetta Suggs. The marriage had two children.

From 1951 he was a porter of the radio station WEW and bought an electric guitar from a musician . He bought a tape recorder and started recording his music. In 1952, Chuck Berry made his first public appearances at Huff's Garden - a club in St. Louis. His almost twenty year collaboration with the pianist and composer Johnnie Johnson began with an appearance as a substitute in the Johnnie Johnson Trio . At the end of 1952 he moved to the Cosmopolitan Club. There he played in front of an almost exclusively African American audience. However, word quickly got around that a colored hillbilly was performing there, and soon almost half of the audience was white.

In May 1955 he made together with a school friend on a trip to Chicago to there Howlin 'Wolf , Elmore James and Muddy Waters to see live. When he got an autograph from Muddy Waters, he asked where he could take pictures himself. This referred him to Chess Records . After a few days a demo tape was ready and Berry turned to Leonard Chess with it . The producer was impressed by the piece Ida Red and promised Berry a recording session. On May 21st the two pieces Ida Red - renamed Maybellene  - and Wee Wee Hours were recorded.

With Maybellene he immediately achieved a top ten hit on the Billboard charts . He also received a three-year contract. During the subsequent tours, he presented the duckwalk , which has been his trademark ever since . By his own admission, he originally invented this show insert to distract from the wrinkles in his suit. In April 1956 Chuck Berry recorded one of his most famous hits with Roll Over Beethoven . In the following years such well-known songs as Sweet Little Sixteen , Rock and Roll Music, Memphis, Tennessee , Carol and Johnny B. Goode were created , with Johnson transferring his rights to the composer Berry. The title dedicated to Johnson Johnny B. Goode was later part of the Voyager Golden Records and sent into space with the space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 as an example of "earthly pop / rock music" .

In December 1959, Berry came into conflict with the judiciary. Accused of offending the so-called Mann Act , he was sentenced in March 1961 to three years in prison. After his early release in October 1963, he was able to gain a foothold again. In the UK in particular , he had a number of other hits with songs such as No Particular Place to Go and You Never Can Tell.

Chuck Berry at a concert in France, 1987

In 1964 he released an album called St. Louis to Liverpool. After the Beatles were quite successful with cover versions of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music , Berry was also in demand again. In 1966/1967 he moved from Chess Records to Mercury. However, they were unable to adequately produce and market their earlier sound there. After five relatively weak albums, Berry left the label in 1969.

Back at Chess in 1970, Back Home was created. In 1972 his best-selling album The London Chuck Berry Sessions came out. The single My Ding-a-Ling became his first number one hit in the pop charts, but was not played by some radio stations because the lyrics contained sexual innuendos. In the early 1970s, Berry became one of the most sought-after rock idols and had numerous television appearances. In 1973, for example, it was invited as one of the many attractions to mark the 25th anniversary of Dick Clark's “ American Bandstand ”. After his performance, the audience refused to let him go and asked for one encore after the other. So the event unintentionally turned into a small Chuck Berry show. Berry continued to give numerous concerts worldwide and went to the record studio less and less. In 1979 he recorded his penultimate studio album. In the same year he performed for US President Jimmy Carter, among others .

Since the mid-1960s, Berry's appearances caused mixed feelings in the audience. It was often criticized that he did not bring his own backing band with him, but played with local bands - such as The Firebirds  - with whom he had practically never rehearsed before. The fact that his concerts could still be an experience was probably due to the charisma of the musician, who performed his old hits by syncopating them in a new guise. Even in old age he performed regularly at the Blueberry Hill restaurant in St. Louis and toured around the world - often with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard until 2004 .

In 2008 he was awarded the Golden Camera in Germany for his life's work .

Chuck Berry - Steinegg Live Festival 2013
Chuck Berry at the Steinegg Live Festival, South Tyrol, Italy - as part of the 2013 European tour

In 2013, the British trade magazine Guitar & Bass dedicated the cover story to him in its September issue. Life and work were traced on several pages. In autumn he gave a few concerts in Europe. Shortly after his 87th birthday, he performed in Moscow , at the Steinegg Live Festival in South Tyrol , in Helsinki and Oulu in Finland and in Oslo . Musically he was born by his son Charles Berry Jr. (Guitar), James Marsala (bass), Robert Lohr (keyboards) and Keith Robinson (drums). The original plan was to include his daughter Ingrid Berry-Clay (vocals and harmonica) in the band. In Helsinki he suffered a faint attack and had to be taken to hospital, which did not prevent him from giving the last two concerts of this European tour.

In August 2014 Chuck Berry was honored with the Swedish Polar Music Prize alongside the US opera director Peter Sellars . The Swedish Queen Silvia and Princess Madeleine previously named a certain “dark spot in Berry's past” as the reason why they spoke out against the awarding of the award for the ambivalent legend. The Queen has been campaigning for sexually abused children for years, which she also gave as a reason for this.

An early 1958 Berry hit was Sweet Little Sixteen , in which he described the story of a young girl who begged her father to go to a rock concert. He also described that the young person was dressed up with clothes, lipstick and high heels at the concert, but the next day the sweet 16-year-old girl was back in the classroom. In 1957 he celebrated the forbidden love for a 17-year-old girl in Little Queenie . Even then, that was too much for some in the establishment. When he was also in prison in the early 1960s on charges of “promoting the prostitution of minors”, this was his low point. These things from his past were held against him again in connection with the boycott by the Swedish royal family.

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, Berry announced the release of a new album entitled Chuck . The album was released in mid-2017 on the Dualtone label and is dedicated to Berry's wife Themetta "Toddy", with whom he had been married for 68 years at the time of the announcement. It was published posthumously.

Berry was found dead in his home in St. Charles County , Missouri , on March 18, 2017 . He was buried on April 9, 2017 in his native St. Louis.

Musical influence

Chuck Berry almost single-handedly established the guitar as the leading instrument in rock music in the 1950s. Other artists of the time also liked to show themselves with a guitar, but only used it for rhythmic accompaniment; Solos and interjections came from the backing band. Berry presented the guitar on an equal footing with the vocals. He used them both for accompaniment, mostly with power chords on the lower strings, but also for solos, fills and licks in the higher registers. With the latter, he usually played over at least two strings ("double stops"), which produced a fuller, dynamic tone. His bends were also often done on two strings.

Probably one of the most famous guitar intros or riffs of all, which was even picked up in the 1985 film Back to the Future , is that of Johnny B. Goode, which rises from the third to the octave, then falls and with a staccato of root and The fifth builds up tension.

  \ new Staff {\ set Staff.midiInstrument = # "overdriven guitar" \ relative b '{\ key bes \ major \ time 4/4 \ tempo 4 = 164 r2 r8 d8 [f8 g8] |  <f bes> 8-> <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8-> <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8-> <f bes> 8 |  <f bes> 8 as8 g8 f8 des8 d8 bes8 bes8 |  <f bes> 8-> <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8-> <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8 <f bes> 8 |  d'8 <d f> 8 <d g> 8 <d f> 8 d8 bes8 g8 r8 |  }}

This is followed by four bars on one note, the fifth, which he shifted syncopated alternately, pulled up from the fourth on the G string and strikes straight on the B string. This effect was often copied by other guitarists in the years that followed. Berry himself had taken over the intro almost note for note from the piece Ain't That Just Like a Woman by Louis Jordan , played there by the guitarist Carl Hogan.

The lyrics he wrote for his songs also had a great influence. Familiar with literature, theater and the Bible through his bourgeois origins, he made more demanding texts socially acceptable through profound and language-loving poetry and significantly inspired the early works of Bob Dylan , Mick Jagger and John Lennon .

Chuck Berry, who has always remained true to himself musically, is one of the legends of rock 'n' roll. He ranks alongside stars like Little Richard and Fats Domino . His riffs and licks still shape rock 'n' roll. Many of his hits have been re-enacted by rock greats such as the Beatles , the Beach Boys , the Rolling Stones , Jimi Hendrix , Elvis Presley , Buddy Holly , Paul McCartney , The Sonics or the Electric Light Orchestra . The Beatles once said that without Berry they would never have started making music. The Rolling Stones started their careers with Chuck Berry songs, and Keith Richards repeatedly referred to himself as Berry's biggest fan. Musicians like Simon and Garfunkel , Eric Clapton , Bruce Springsteen , AC / DC (whose guitarist Angus Young is an ardent admirer of Berry's music applies), David Bowie and Motörhead also covered his pieces. Status Quo have ended their concerts with Bye Bye Johnny for over 40 years and also played other Berry compositions such as Rock and Roll Music, Carol or Roll over Beethoven live. The band Pink Floyd played chopped up songs by Chuck Berry using electronic feedback techniques.

The Rolling Stone listed Berry fifth of the 100 greatest musicians , seventh of the 100 best guitarists , fourth of the 100 best songwriters and 41 of the 100 best singers of all time .

Roll Over Beethoven is one of his most influential songs . The university professor and music journalist Lutz Lesle writes:

“This demonstrative gesture, which wanted to wipe out the elitist behavior of the upper class in the US, has set a precedent. The Beatles picked up the song, along with some of the other musicians in the 'scene': And so gradually a chapter of Beethoven's impact on pop music emerged. The rock musicians tried to expose the educated bourgeois either / or, 'Beethoven or Rock', as an ideological prejudice. They propagated 'Rock with Beethoven'. "

- Lutz Lesle : The time

The German musicologist Peter Wicke notes:

“With the technology of audiovisual mass communication and the resulting social changes within culture, the development has actually literally 'rolled over' the aesthetic maxims of Beethoven and the great bourgeois musical tradition. The changes were profound. [...] There are new experiences in the medium of art, tied to the technology of mass communication, conveyed in the everyday life of their recipients. You have found expression in a concept of music for which the terminology of the work of art aesthetics is unsuitable. They have robbed the academic art expert of his authority because in this social model of art, the popular art forms, everyone is an expert at the same time. Therein lies the deeper truth of Chuck Berry's rock'n'roll number from the 1950s - Roll Over Beethoven . "

- Peter Wicke : The time
One of the triggers of the civil rights movement protest: Rosa Parks together with Martin Luther King behind her, around 1955.

What was fundamentally new was the relationship between rock 'n' roll and the mass communication media of records and, above that, radio, TV and film. Rock 'n' Roll had its basic requirements for its existence in these resources. He uncompromisingly accepted this as an opportunity for artistic activity. The money-making power that rock 'n' roll music and pop music in general showed had never been before to this extent. This is not, as is often claimed, based on the interpreted exoticism of its Afro-American roots. Because even in the era of swing - over two decades earlier - “black” artists and bands were confirmed by a very inconsistent, skin-pigmented audience. Contrary to what is often claimed, there had already been exchanges between so-called “black” and “white” music before that. The partial pretense of a completely separate development of Afro- and Euro-American music was based on racist arguments . This attempt was made to legitimize established racial barriers by claiming an actual cultural contrast between "black" and "white" allegedly based on skin pigmentation, which only rock 'n' roll had bridged. The relationships between the African-American minority population in the USA and the Americans “white skin color” are far more complex than such a schematic black-and-white transfiguration suggests, even against the background of arbitrarily erected racial barriers.

The political climate at the time the song was written was: Just a few months earlier, the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955/1956 called racial segregation into question. This event is considered to be the birth of the US civil rights movement.

Among other things, it was Berry's Roll Over Beethoven in which the new musical self-image of the rock 'n' roll enthusiasm, which was already at its height in the USA, found its provocative and challenging expression. This remained as something of a leitmotif of rock 'n' roll.


Chuck Berry played a Gibson ES-350T from the 1950s to the early 1960s , then mainly a Gibson ES-335 in red or a Gibson ES-355 in brown.



  • 1957 - After School Session, Chess LP-1426
  • 1958 - One Dozen Berrys, Chess LP-1432
  • 1959 - Chuck Berry Is on Top, Chess LP-1435
  • 1960 - Rockin 'at the Hops, Chess LP-1448
  • 1961 - New Juke Box Hits, Chess LP-1456
  • 1962 - Twist, Chess LP-1465
  • 1963 - Chuck Berry on Stage, Chess LP-1480
  • 1964 - Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits, Chess LP-1485
  • 1964 - Two Great Guitars (with Bo Diddley ), Chess LP (S) -2991
  • 1964 - St. Louis to Liverpool, Chess LP (S) -1488
  • 1965 - Chuck Berry in London, Chess LP (S) -1495
  • 1966 - Fresh Berry's, Chess LP (S) -1498
  • 1967 Chuck Berry's Golden Hits, Mercury MG-21103 / SR-61103
  • 1967 - Chuck Berry in Memphis, Mercury MG-21123 / SR-61123
  • 1967 - Live at Fillmore Auditorium, Mercury MG-21138 / SR-61138
  • 1968 - From St. Louis to Frisco, Mercury SR-61176
  • 1969 - Concerto in B Goode, Mercury SR-61223
  • 1970 - Back Home, Chess LPS-1550
  • 1971 - San Francisco Dues, Chess CH-50008
  • 1972 - The London Chuck Berry Session, Chess CH-60020
  • 1972 St. Louis to Frisco to Memphis, Mercury SRM2-6501
  • 1973 - Bio, Chess CH-50043
  • 1975 - Chuck Berry, Chess CH-60032
  • 1979 - Rock It, Atco SD38-118
  • 2017 - Chuck, Dualtone 80302-01793-25


  • 1955 - Maybellene / Wee Wee Hours, Chess 1604
  • 1955 - Thirty Days / Together (We Will Always Be), Chess 1610
  • 1955 - No Money Down / The Down Bound Train, Chess 1615
  • 1956 - Roll Over Beethoven / Drifting Heart, Chess 1626
  • 1956 - Too Much Monkey Business / Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Chess 1635
  • 1956 - You Can't Catch Me / Havana Moon, Chess 1645
  • 1957 - School Days / Deep Feeling, Chess 1653
  • 1957 - Oh Baby Doll / Lajaunda, Chess 1664
  • 1957 - Rock and Roll Music / Blue Feeling, Chess 1671
  • 1958 - Sweet Little Sixteen / Reelin 'and Rockin', Chess 1683
  • 1958 - Johnny B. Goode / Around and Around, Chess 1691
  • 1958 Vacation Time / Beautiful Delilah, Chess 1697
  • 1958 - Carol / Hey Pedro, Chess 1700
  • 1958 - Sweet Little Rock and Roller / Jo Jo Gunne, Chess 1709
  • 1958 - Run Rudolph Run / Merry Christmas Baby, Chess 1714
  • 1959 - Anthony Boy / That's My Desire, Chess 1716
  • 1959 - Almost Grown / Little Queenie, Chess 1722
  • 1959 - Back in the USA / Memphis, Tennessee , Chess 1729
  • 1959 - Broken Arrow / Childhood Sweetheart, Chess 1737
  • 1960 - Too Pooped to Pop / Let It Rock, Chess 1747
  • 1960 - Bye Bye Johnny / Worried Life Blues , Chess 1754
  • 1960 - I Got to Find My Baby / Mad Lad, Chess 1763
  • 1960 - Jaguar and Thunderbird / Our Little Rendezvous, Chess 1767
  • 1961 - I'm Talkin About You / Little Star, Chess 1779
  • 1961 - Go Go Go / Come On, Chess 1799
  • 1963 - I'm Talkin About You / Diploma for Two, Chess 1853
  • 1963 - Sweet Little Sixteen (Surfin 'USA) / Memphis Tennessee, Chess 1866
  • 1964 - Nadine (Is It You?) / O'Rangatung, Chess 1883
  • 1964 - No Particular Place to Go / You Two, Chess 1898
  • 1964 - You Never Can Tell / Brenda Lee, Chess 1906
  • 1964 - Chuck's Beat / Bo's Beat, Checker 1089
  • 1964 - Little Marie / Go, Bobby Soxer, Chess 1912
  • 1964 - Promised Land / Things I Used to Do, Chess 1916
  • 1965 - Dear Dad / Lonely School Days, Chess 1926
  • 1965 - It Wasn't Me / Welcome Back Pretty Baby, Chess 1943
  • 1966 - Lonely School Days / Ramona, Say Yes, Chess 1963
  • 1966 - Ramona, Say Yes / Havana Moon, Chess 1963
  • 1967 - Club Nitty Gritty / Laugh and Cry, Mercury 72643
  • 1967 - Back to Memphis / I Do Really Love You, Mercury 72680
  • 1967 - It Hurts Me Too / Feelin 'It, Mercury 72748
  • 1968 - Louie to Frisco / Ma Dear, Mercury 72840
  • 1969 - It's Too Dark in There / Good Lookin 'Woman, Mercury 72963
  • 1970 - Tulane / Have Mercy Judge, Chess 2090
  • 1972 - My Ding-A-Ling / Johnny B. Goode , Chess 2131
  • 1972 - Reelin 'and Rockin' / Let's Boogie, Chess 2136
  • 1973 - Bio / Roll 'Em Pete, Chess 2140
  • 1975 - Shake, Rattle and Roll / Baby What You Want Me to Do , Chess 2169
  • 1979 - Oh What a Thrill / California, Atco 7203


  • Werner Faulstich : From Rock 'n' Roll to Bob Dylan (= Tübingen lectures on rock history. Part 1: 1955–1963 ). Edition of the Rockpaed authors, Gelsenkirchen (Buer) 1983, ISBN 3-89153-004-8 .
  • Chuck Berry: The Autobiography . Translated by Frank Laufenberg , the book for the film: Hail Hail Rock'n Roll. Moewig, Rastatt 1988, ISBN 978-3-8118-1026-6 .
  • Bruce Pegg: Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry. Routledge, New York, NY / London © 2002, 2005, ISBN 978-0-415-93751-1 .
  • Krista Reese: Chuck Berry. Mr Rock n 'Roll. Proteus Books, London, New York, NY 1982, ISBN 0-86276-018-6 .
  • Morten Reff: The Chuck Berry International Directory. Volume 1. Music Mentor Books, New York, NY 2008, ISBN 978-0-9547068-6-9 .
  • Fred Rothwell: Long Distance Information. Chuck Berry's Recorded Legacy. Music Mentor Books, York, NY 2001, ISBN 0-9519888-2-4 .

Individual evidence

  1. a b Rock and roll legend Chuck Berry dies aged 90.BBC News, March 19, 2017, accessed March 18, 2017 .
  2. For the interpretation of his songs and the musical historical relevance of Chuck Berry see Werner Faulstich: Chuck Berry: "Roll Over Beethoven", "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B. Goode" - expression of the new "youth culture". In: Werner Faulstich: From Rock 'n' Roll to Bob Dylan. Tübingen lectures on rock history. Part I: 1955-1963. Gelsenkirchen: Rockpaed Verlag 1983, pp. 54-59.
  3. Andreas Borcholte: Obituary for Chuck Berry. Outlaw unwillingly. In: March 19, 2017. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  4. Bernard Weinraub: Sweet Tunes, fast beats and a hard edge . In: New York Times , February 23, 2003. Retrieved February 18, 2010. 
  5. ^ Bob Gulla: Guitar Gods: The 25 Players Who Made Rock History . ABC-CLIO, 2009, ISBN 978-0-313-35806-7 , pp. 32 ( Google Books [accessed February 6, 2014]).
  6. John Pareles: Chuck Berry, Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer, Dies at 90. In: March 18, 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  7. Legends Of Rock 'n' Roll. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard. At:
  8. Chuck Berry honored with the Polar Prize in his absence. Süddeutsche Zeitung , August 26, 2014, accessed on August 26, 2020 . .
  10. Chuck Berry, 90, announces first album in 38 years. (HTTPS) In: October 18, 2016, accessed October 18, 2016 .
  11. Chuck Berry died. Mourning for Mister Rock 'n' Roll. (HTTPS) (No longer available online.) In: March 18, 2017, formerly in the original ; Retrieved March 19, 2017 .  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives )@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  12. "My voice is gone". Emotional memorial service for Chuck Berry. On: . April 10, 2017. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  13. ^ Hannes Fricke: Myth guitar: history, interpreters, great hours. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-020279-1 , p. 20 f. and 24-26.
  14. ^ Youtube: Johnny B. Goode - Back to the Future .
  15. ^ Ernst Hofacker: Chuck Berry. Hail! Hail! Rock and roll . In: Guitar. Magazine for guitarists and bassists . No. 50 . PPVMedien GmbH, 2004, ISSN  1430-9769 , p. 44-50 .
  16. ^ Wieland Harms: Wish You Were Here. In: Wieland Harms: The Unplugged Guitar Book. 20 of the most beautiful songs for acoustic guitar. Gerig Music, ISBN 3-87252-249-3 , pp. 34–39, here: p. 34.
  17. 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Rolling Stone , December 2, 2010, accessed August 8, 2017 .
  18. 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Rolling Stone , December 18, 2015, accessed August 8, 2017 .
  19. 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. Rolling Stone , August 2015, accessed August 8, 2017 .
  20. 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Rolling Stone , December 2, 2010, accessed August 8, 2017 .
  21. a b Lutz Lesle: Ludwig van Pop . In: The time . No. 15 , April 1, 1977, ISSN  0044-2070 ( online , [accessed on September 10, 2019] only readable after registration).
  22. Peter Wicke: Rock Music . On the aesthetics and sociology of a mass medium (=  Reclams Universal Library . No. 1197 ). Reclam , Leipzig 1987, ISBN 978-3-379-00141-0 , "Roll Over Beethoven" ( online [accessed September 10, 2019]).
  23. Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry draws on dozens of interviews done by the author himself and voluminous public records to paint a complete picture of this complicated figure. This biography uncovers the real Berry and provides us with a stirring, unvarnished portrait of both the man and the artist. Berry has long been one of pop music's most enigmatic personalities. Growing up in a middle-class, black neighborhood in St. Louis, his first major hit song, Maybellene, was an adaptation of a white country song, wedded to a black-influenced beat ...

Web links

Commons : Chuck Berry  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files