Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

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Biography

Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (born October 18, 1926) is a guitarist, singer, and songwriter, and considered one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), Chuck Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics focusing on teen life and consumerism and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music.

Born into a middle class family in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry had an interest in music from an early age and gave his first public performance at Sumner High School. While still a high school student he served a prison sentence for armed robbery between 1944 and 1947. On his release, Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant.

By early 1953, influenced by the guitar riffs and showmanship techniques of blues player T-Bone Walker, he was performing in the evenings with the Johnnie Johnson Trio. His break came when he traveled to Chicago in May 1955, and met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. With Chess he recorded "Maybellene"—Berry's adaptation of the country song "Ida Red"—which sold over a million copies, reaching #1 on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart. At the end of June 1956, his song "Roll Over Beethoven" reached #29 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. The hits continued from 1957 to 1959, with Berry scoring over a dozen chart singles during this period, including the top 10 U.S. hits "School Days," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Johnny B. Goode."

By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star with several hit records and film appearances to his name, as well as a lucrative touring career. He had also established his own St. Louis-based nightclub, called Berry's Club Bandstand. But in January 1962 Berry was sentenced to three years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act—he had transported a 14-year-old girl across state lines.

He was released in 1963 and between1964 and 1965 Berry released eight singles, including, "No Particular Place To Go,” "You Never Can Tell" and "Nadine," which achieved commercial success, reaching the Top 20 of the Billboard 100. Between 1966 and 1969 Berry released five albums on the Mercury label, including his first live album “Live at Fillmore Auditorium” in which he was backed by the Steve Miller Band.

By the 1970s he was more in demand as a nostalgic live performer, playing his past hits with local backup bands of variable quality. His insistence on being paid cash led in 1979 to a jail sentence of four months and community service for tax evasion.

Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll included three of Chuck Berry's songs: "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene" and "Rock and Roll Music." Today – well into his 80s - Berry continues to play live.

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