Columns, Rocko's Travels

Rocko’s Travels – The Beginning of the Rock Guitar

Today I want to bring you to the roots of Rock music and the sound you love today across all the different genres.

I think the most important instrument in Rock and Metal music today is the guitar. Maybe you like to tell me that there are lot of different artists who used the guitar long before the one artist I like to tell you about today, but the artist I like to talk about did everything in a new way. He was the one who made the guitar to an instrument playing the lead-lines and melodies. The artist I like to talk about even invented somebody elses famous signature move.

So who is it? It is Charles Edward Anderson Berry, better known as Chuck Berry. He was born on the 18th of October, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri. You won’t find a lot information about the young Chuck Berry, except that he started playing the guitar in high-school and went to prison because of several delicts, including armed robbery.

After his time in prison he started playing the guitar in some local bar-bands in St.Louis and surrounding areas. In 1951, Chuck started playing the electric guitar and tried to record himself with a little tape recorder. As the house-band of the “Cosmopolitan Club,” Chuck played with Johnnie Johnson on the keys and Ebby Hardy on the drums. They were quite succesful and began to draw the “white” audience to the “black” clubs. In 1955, Chuck went to Chicago to get in personal touch with his idols, who played in the clubs of the Windy City. One of his idols was Muddy Waters, who recommended Chess Records to Chuck to send a demo to. Chess Records was a big indie-label at that time which recorded and sold records by black artists all over the US, for example Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf or Sonny Boy Williamson. (There is a movie called “Cadillac Records” in which the beginning of Chess Records is shown)

So, Chuck sent his demo to Chess Records and became one of their artists. His demo contained two songs, a 12-bar Blues standard called “Wee Wee Hours” and “Ida May,” an interpretation of a country standard called “Ida Red”. “Ida May” became “Maybelline” for Chucks first single with “Wee Wee Hours” on the B-side. This single was released in July 1955 and became number 5 on the Billboard Charts as well as number 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. Several other singles were released until 1960, for example “Roll over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode”. On his tour through the US, Chuck presented the so called “duck walk”, better known to be done by AC/DC’s Angus Young. The idea behind this move was to distract the audience from badly-ironed suits on stage. During that time it was standard to play in suits as a musician. Just have a look on B.B. King, that’s what an artist should look like in these days.

In 1961, Chuck went to prison again because of the so-called Mann-Act, a law which prohibits bringing a minor across a state’s border with immoral intentions. Chuck loved young women, he always travelled with some on tour as “company” – today you would call them escorts, groupies and worse.

Thus, he spent 3 years in prison, but still worked on new tracks. In October 1963, he was released and tried to settle again in the fast-changing music business. Shortly before these years, the British Invasion had started with bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and they made Chuck Berry famous all over Europe with their covers. From that point on, Chuck became even more succesful all over the world. “St. Louis to Liverpool” from 1964 and “The London Chuck Berry Sessions” from 1972 are Chuck’s most popular releases and you get an idea of the importance of the British Invasion for Chuck’s career.

Okay, so far, so good, but what makes Chuck Berry so important to the music we love? In fact, he is responsible for shifting the guitar from a rhythm to a lead instrument. He made Rock and even Metal sound the way they do, not just a fast kind of Blues, but changed the way the instruments worked together. Chuck wasn’t the first “Rocker”, but the first one who made Rock sound the way we love it.

Chuck’s music even left our solar system in 2012, on board of Voyager I and II, two early satellites sent into the depth of space. Chuck is a representative for Earth’s music together with Bach, Mozart and Louis Armstrong. The satellites started in 1977 and were the first man-made objects that left our solar system. That’s all you need to know about the importance of Chuck Berry‘s music, don’t you think?

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