Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in St. Louis on October 18, 1926, and spent the early 1950s playing music at night and working as a beautician by day. On December 31, 1952, local pianist/bandleader Johnnie Johnson had a gig and needed a replacement for an ailing saxophonist. He called a guitar-playing acquaintance named Chuck Berry, and the rest is rock and roll history.
In 1955, Berry recorded “Maybellene,” which went to Number 5 on the Billboard charts. The song included a scorching guitar solo built around his trademark double-string licks. Berry’s repertoire, which includes “Johnny B. Goode,” “Memphis,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “School Day,” “Nadine,” “No Particular Place to Go” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” defined the standards of the genre and has become required listening for serious rock fans. It’s also required learning for serious rock musicians – his catalog influenced such rock legends as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen. In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named “Johnny B. Goode” the “Greatest Guitar Song of All Time.”
In 1986, Berry was the first artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Keith Richards, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, inducted Berry and said, “It’s hard for me to induct Chuck Berry because I lifted every lick he ever played!” That same year, Richards led an all-star band in a concert tribute to Berry. The documentary and concert “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” was filmed at St. Louis’ Fox Theatre and featured such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Linda Ronstadt and Julian Lennon.
Hailed as the “Father of Rock and Roll,” Berry pulled the essential pieces together that identified the genre. His guitar genius – combining country & western, rhythm & blues and rapid-fire lyrics about cars and girls – laid the foundation for rock and roll’s sound as well as its swagger.
His skills as a songwriter and musician, as well as his contributions to American culture have been acknowledged with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Kennedy Center Honors Award, induction into the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a brass star and biographic plaque on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Fittingly, Chuck’s St. Louis star shines at the entrance to Blueberry Hill, the club where he still plays live each month.