There were a few musicians who helped to popularize the transition of rhythm and blues into rock and roll during the 1950s. As far as guitarists are concerned, Chuck Berry is frequently cited as one of the most notable. He wrote a number of influential songs during the heyday of his career, including “Around and Around,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Maybellene,” and the aptly titled “Rock and Roll Music.”
He was also well-known for “Johnny B. Goode,” as well as about thirty other songs featuring the title character such as “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Johnny B. Blues,” and the nearly twenty-minute “Concerto in B. Goode.” His songs have been covered by some of the most influential names in rock and roll to follow him, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and “Johnny B. Goode” alone is one of the most covered songs of its time.
Chuck Berry is not just known for his skills on the guitar, but for how he incorporated it into his songs. He popularized the use of guitar solos, and the way in which he used the guitar as the driving force and primary rhythmic element in his songs was largely responsible for his influence on the creation of the rock and roll genre.
Berry’s work in the 1950s demonstrated his abilities as a songwriter as well. He covered a diverse range of lyrical themes. Some were relatively serious takes on issues such as consumerism, while others were basic songs about teen life or even about music itself. He also knew how to tell a story, as evidenced by songs featuring the character of Johnny B. Goode. When Berry was writing his lyrics, he always chose his words carefully in order to tell a story as thoroughly as possible over the course of a single song.
It is notable that Berry began his career during the days of segregation, yet he still managed to compose music that was mainstream enough to appeal to white audiences and ensure record sales. This was one of the reasons that he wrote a number of songs such as “School Days,” which covered topics that white teenagers could easily fine relatable. He also ensured that his lyrics and melodies were catchy on a pop level, even if they were still technically innovative for their time.
Between his songwriting, his showmanship, his guitar solos and his sheer skill, Chuck Berry was an influence on some of the greatest guitar players who came after him. His legacy has influenced numerous artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Joe Perry, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. He was one of the first guitar players to ever show off by playing the guitar between his legs or behind his head. Listening to his music and actually watching him play were two completely different experiences.
Chuck Berry is technically still active, his last tour having been in 2008. But it is his early music that is deemed most influential. Many of his most classic hits can be found on his third album, Chuck Berry Is on Top, although there are dozens of albums featuring his music. While Berry is the star of many of these albums, he also appears alongside other musicians such as the Moonglows and Bo Diddley. These early collaborations, as well as his early singles, comprise some of the most influential and historically important music in the entirety of the rock and roll genre.
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