This Day In Rock ‘n’ Roll. Chuck Berry
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, 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.
Berry took up the guitar, 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.
In 1955, Berry went on a road trip to Chicago, where he chanced upon a club where his idol, Muddy Waters, was performing. He arrived late and only heard the last song, but when it was over he got the attention of Waters and asked him who to see about making a record. Waters replied, “Yeah, Leonard Chess. Yeah, Chess Records over on Forty-seventh and Cottage.” Berry went there on Monday and discovered it was a blues label where greats like Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley recorded. He didn’t have any tapes to show, but Chess was willing to listen if he brought some back from St. Louis. So Berry went home and recorded some originals, including the would-be “Maybellene,” then called “Ida May,” and drove back to Chicago later that week to audition. Much to Berry’s surprise, it was that hillbilly number that caught Chess’ attention. Berry was signed to Chess Records and in the summer of 1955, “Maybellene” reached #5 on the Pop Charts and #1 on the R&B Charts. Through Chuck Berry, Chess Records moved from the R&B genre into the mainstream and Berry himself was on his way to stardom.
Berry continued his success with such hits as “Brown-Eyed Man,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Memphis,” “Roll Over, Beethoven!” and “Johnny B. Goode.” “Johnny B. Goode” is Berry’s masterpiece, as it brought together all the elements of Berry’s unique musical sound.