A founding father of rock & roll, Chuck Berry has also been described sometimes
as a "hillbilly" or "rockabilly" songwriter. And indeed, his songs have become
major country hits for such country music stars as Buck Owens, Marty Robbins,
George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Freddy Weller, Ernest Tubb and
Emmylou Harris. In 1965, Grand Ole Opry bluegrass artists Jim & Jesse devoted
an entire LP, Berry Pickin' in the Country, to the songs of Chuck
As a young man, Chuck Berry was sent to a reformatory, worked on a General
Motors assembly line and attended cosmetology school. In the early 1950s, he
rose to become the most prominent artist on the St. Louis R&B nightclub
circuit. During his sets, he alternated blues, swing and country
He traveled to Chicago to audition for Chess Records and was signed to the
label in 1955. His career took off with his self-penned "Maybellene" that year,
and during the next five years he was a leader of the rock & roll revolution.
Along the way, he popularized a supercharged blues style of lead guitar playing
that influenced countless rock and country guitar players, including the
Beatles and British Invasion bands that followed him up the charts a decade
after his debut. As a songwriter, he proved adept at writing three-minute
musical vignettes full of carefully chosen details that made his songs
unforgettable. His biggest songs are foundation blocks of American music in the
twentieth century: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music," "Brown-Eyed
Handsome Man," "Johnny B. Goode," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Memphis," and "Around &
Berry appeared in the early rock films Rock! Rock! Rock!, Go, Johnny
Go! and Mr. Rock 'n' Roll. Following a prison stint on a trumped-up
morals charge in 1962-1963, he staged a comeback in the 1970s with "My
Ding-a-Ling" and "Reelin' and Rockin,'" both recorded live in
He also appeared in such movie features as The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) and
American Hot Wax (1978). Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987) was a
filmed all-star concert celebrating his 60th birthday.
He won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984, and he wrote his life
story in Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, published in 1987.
Chuck Berry was among the inaugural inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame in 1986.