"If you had to give rock and roll another name," John Lennon once said, "you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'" The man known as the father of rock and roll turns 85 today and he's still going strong. To celebrate, we bring you this powerful 1958 performance of "Johnny B. Goode."
Berry was born October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri. He developed a love of music early, and made his debut playing a blues song in a high school talent show. While still in high school, Berry was sentenced to juvenile prison for armed robbery. After getting out, he joined pianist Johnnie Johnson's trio. It didn't take long before Johnson was the sideman and Berry was the bandleader. His big break came in 1955, when he made a road trip to Chicago and sought out his hero, Muddy Waters. Waters suggested he go see Leonard Chess at Chess Records. Berry returned to Chicago with a demo tape that included an up-tempo adaptation of a traditional country song called "Ida Red." Chess liked it, but said it needed a new name. Berry recorded it as "Maybellene." The song went to number one on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart. Over the next few years Berry virtually invented the Rock and Roll form, with songs like "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music," "Johnny B.Goode," and "No Particular Place to Go."
"He was the king of rock and roll," Jerry Lee Lewis said in the biopic Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. "My mama said, 'You and Elvis are pretty good, but you're no Chuck Berry.'" When Keith Richards inducted Berry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, he joked that he had stolen every lick Berry ever played. "The beautiful thing about Chuck Berry's playing," Richards wrote in his autobiography, Life, "was it had such an effortless swing. None of this sweating and grinding away and grimacing, just pure, effortless swing, like a lion."
For one more look at the lion in action--this time playing "Roll Over Beethoven"--here's another clip from the 1958 television broadcast: