Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry, the Father of Rock & Roll, Is 85

“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:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bud­dy Hol­ly at Age 12: His First Record­ing

Hunter S. Thomp­son Inter­views Kei­th Richards

The Rolling Stones Jam With Their Idol, Mud­dy Waters

Mud­dy Waters on the Blues and Gospel Train

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