Hi I’m Retro Dee and Welcome to another edition of Today We Remember.
Today we remember Chuck Berry- a man so famous in early Rock N Roll that the name speaks for itself.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, MO. He was the 4th of 6 children. The Berrys were a middle-class family, with respectable jobs- Chuck’s father Henry was a the Deacon at a local Baptist Church, while his mother, Martha, was a school principal.
Chuck studied music from a young age and played blues through his school years. When he was 22, he married Thelma Suggs, (known as “Toddy”) on October 28, 1948. The couple had their first child, a girl named Darlin Ingrid two years later. Mr. Berry worked many jobs to support his family, eventually becoming a beautician. He purchased a home for his family, which is today still preserved and known as The Chuck Berry House on the National Register of Historic places.
In the early 1950’s, Mr. Berry was working in local clubs to raise some extra income. He was part of Johnnie Johnson’s Trio, a group that played mostly blues, but also some country, which was highly requested by audiences.
It was in Chicago in the Spring of 1955 when Mr. Berry met the legendary blues man, Muddy Waters. Waters encouraged Mr. Berry to contact Leonard Chess of Chess records. Chess then suggested that Mr. Berry do an adaptation of the song “Ida Red”. That adaptation turned out to be the hit song “Maybellene”. By Mid-September of that year, “Maybellene” was the Number 5 best-seller in stores and Number One on Billboard’s R&B charts.
In June of 1956, the classic hit, “Roll Over Beethoven” reached number 29 on the charts. Chuck Berry set out on the “Top Acts of ’56” tour where he became friends with fellow Rock N Roll great Carl Perkins.
By the end of 1957, Mr. Berry was touring with other iconic greats such as Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers on Alan Freed’s “Biggest Show of Stars”. He appeared on The Guy Mitchell Show singing his hot new hit “Rock N Roll Music.” He had made it big in the industry and was one of the most sought-after acts in the day. Crowds loved his mix of R&B mixed with country and the brand-new Rock N Roll sound.
Between 1957 and 1959, Chuck Berry had four US Top Ten Hits: “School Days”, “Rock and Roll Music”, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, and perhaps his most famous hit of them all, “Johnny B. Goode”. “Johnny B. Goode” has become an early Rock N Roll favorite, known for its famous guitar riff. The riff itself came from the 1946 song “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” by Louis Jordan.
“Johnny B. Goode” is also said to be one of the most recognized songs of all time. Not only is it’s music memorable, but its tale of a country boy who made it to stardom by playing his guitar is also a classic. It peaked at number 8 on the US Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1958. It’s also listed at number 7 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
As his popularity continued to rise in the 1950’s, Mr. Berry appeared in three films: Rock Rock Rock (1956), Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1958) and Go Johnny Go! (1959)
After his string of hits, film appearances and even owning his very own nightclub, it was clear that Chuck Berry was officially in the house! Stardom was his and on no uncertain terms. But in December of 1959, things took a bad turn…
Mr. Berry was arrested on charges of having sex with an underage girl who worked at his club. The girl had been taken across state lines which was also a crime. After two trials, two appeals and much deliberation, Mr. Berry served a one and a half year prison sentence between 1962 and 1963.
Once the mishap was behind him, Mr. Berry continued to further his career as a very successful musician. The 1960’s were an illustrious time for him, as he turned out three hits “No Particular Place to Go”, “You Never Can Tell” and “Nadine” which he recorded on his new label, Mercury Records.
Interesting to note is that “No Particular Place” had the same tune as “School Days” but different lyrics which told a humorous tale about going for a car ride. Another interesting bit of trivia is that The Beach Boys’ 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA” has the same exact tune as Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”.
Mr. Berry continued to tour and play at large prestigious venues throughout the 60’s. In the early 70’s, he returned to his original label, Chess Records. In 1972, “My Ding-A-Ling” became a new hit for Mr. Berry who wrote the comical song after changing the words to “My Tambourine”, a song from his 1968 album ”From St. Louis to Frisco”.
Throughout the rest of his life, Mr. Berry continued to tour– sometimes facing strange circumstances, sometimes facing criminal charges. Some of the charges he faced were for crimes such as theft, child-abuse, sexual harassment, misdemeanor drug possession and tax evasion.
However, none of these unlawful mishaps made Chuck Berry any less of a music legend. In 1986, he was one of the first to be inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 2008, Mr. Berry went back to the Europe for a lengthy tour. He returned back to the United States and played at the Virgin Festival in Baltimore the same year.
On his 90th Birthday, Chuck Berry announced that he would be releasing his first new album since “Rockit” in 1979. The new album was to be called “Chuck” and had a release date set for 2017. His son, Chuck Berry Jr. and his daughter, Darlin Ingrid were included in the album playing the harmonica. Mr. Berry noted that the album was dedicated to his devoted wife of 68 years, Toddy.
Five months later, on March 18, 2017, Chuck Berry died at his home in Wentzville, MO. at the age of 90. A massive funeral was held for Mr. Berry on April 9, 2017 in St. Louis. There was a public viewing, and he was buried with his red guitar.
In his long and wild life, Chuck Berry gave many people the chance to Rock N Roll with some of the greatest music ever produced. He is listed as Number 6 of the Greatest Guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. The magazine also recognized Mr. Berry as a Father of Rock N Roll.
I liked “Johnny B. Goode” as far back as I can remember. Its classic appeal will never go out of style. It stands the test of time, and like all of Mr. Berry’s music its a true work of genius by a man that no one will ever forget.
I hope you enjoyed this bio on Chuck Berry. I’ve also written a review Retro Dee Reviews: The Definitive Collection – Chuck Berry
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation what-so-ever with any of the aforementioned individuals, places, companies, venues, or other such mentioned items. I do not claim to have any inside information or facts that have not already been stated publicly on the subject. My information comes from various biographies, documentaries and similar sources on the topic. In other words, I’m just a fan.