Inspired by the electrified Delta blues of Muddy Waters, the wild showmanship of T-Bone Walker and Guitar Slim, the smooth crooning of Nat “King” Cole, and the storytelling of Hank Williams, Chuck Berry scrambled his influences and came out with a concoction that was uniquely his own.
The screaming, overdriven guitar intro to “Maybelline,” Berry’s Chess Records debut, tells the story, walloped with the power of the blues, honed to perfection. Berry’s Chess sides sound fully formed, solid, the raw power of a band of incredible musicians led by a true musical visionary. Even today, they come howling out of speakers like pure energy. Loose, swinging, grooving, Berry’s songs are nearly perfect. The classics he penned are too many to mention. Here are just a few: “Maybelline,” “No Money Down,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Around and Around,” “Carol,” “Let It Rock,” “Come On,” “Nadine (Is it You?),” and “Roll Over Beethoven."
Chuck Berry's music has transcended generations. He earns respect to this day because he is truly an entertainer. Berry, also known as "The Father of Rock & Roll", gained success by watching the audience's reaction and playing accordingly, putting his listeners' amusement above all else. For this reason, his songs have become anthems to an integrated American youth and popular culture. Berry is a musical icon who established rock and roll as a musical form and brought the worlds of black and white together in song.
Born in St. Louis on October 18, 1926 Berry had many influences on his life that shaped his musical style. He emulated the smooth vocal clarity of his idol, Nat King Cole, while playing blues songs from bands like Muddy Waters. For his first stage performance, Berry chose to sing a Jay McShann song called "Confessin' the Blues." It was at his high school's student musical performance, when the blues was well-liked but not considered appropriate for such an event. He got a thunderous applause for his daring choice, and from then on, Berry had to be onstage.
Berry took up the guitar after that, inspired by his partner in the school production. He found that if he learned rhythm changes and blues chords, he could play most of the popular songs on the radio at the time. His friend, Ira Harris, showed him techniques on the guitar that would become the foundation of Berry's original sound. Then in 1952, he began playing guitar and singing in a club band whose song list ranged from blues to ballads to calypso to country. Berry was becoming an accomplished showman, incorporating gestures and facial expressions to go with the lyrics.