Back in the day, when I was in high school in the late 60s and early 70s, I always liked the "oldies." And back then the "oldies" were the songs of the late 50s and early 60s. You know, tunes by the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dion and the Belmonts and so many more - - including the Chuck Berry, the Father of Rock and Roll.
Chuck Berry was born in 1926 in St. Louis. After a three year stint in prison in the 1940s, Berry started playing the guitar in earnest in 1951. Known almost immediately for his showmanship, he got his big break in 1955 when he met with Muddy Waters, who referred him to the folks at Chess Records, who, after hearing Berry's first song, Maybellene, immediately signed him to a contract. Maybellene reached #1 on the R&B charts and #5 on the pop charts. A star was born. And many consider Maybellene the first true rock and roll song.
Following Maybellene, there was a stream of Chuck Berry hits in the 1950s: Roll Over, Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Johnny B Goode, Sweet Little Sixteen, Carol and more.
In 1961, Berry was convicted under something called the Mann Act for illegally transporting a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes." Following his two year prison term, Chuck Berry recorded a few more chart toppers, including Promised Land and My Ding-a-Ling, but, according to Carl Perkins, he "never saw a man so changed." He released his last album of original music in 1979, and he continued to perform live for many years after that. And in 1986 Chuck Berry was the very first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I saw Chuck Berry in 1971 or 1972 at the Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee. He was incredible. He played virtually all of his hits. And I remember thinking how amazing it was that I was actually seeing this legend perform live. Other than the Beatles, he was the most iconic rock and roll star that I had seen up until then.
So, to honor Chuck Berry, and to show you pretty much what I saw back in '71 or '72, here he is doing Song 30, Roll Over, Beethoven, from a performance in 1972 in London. And, to give you an idea of what happened in the 1950s, here is another version of Roll Over, Beethoven from 1956.