In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Chuck Berry #5 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He was also ranked 6th on Rolling Stone’s Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of All Time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included three of Chuck Berry’s songs (Johnny B. Goode, Maybellene, Rock & Roll Music), of the 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll. Chuck Berry also influenced many of the great rock ‘n’ roll bands that we know today including The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.
in 1966 Berry sought to regenerate his career by moving from Chess to Mercury Records. However, an ill-advised Golden Hits set merely featured re-recordings of old material, while attempts to secure a contemporary image on Live At The Fillmore Auditorium (recorded with the Steve Miller Band) and Concerto In B. Goode proved equally unsatisfactory. Berry returned to Chess Records in 1969 and immediately re-established his craft with the powerful ‘Tulane’. Back Home and San Francisco Dues were cohesive selections and in-concert appearances showed a renewed purpose.
Through 1958 Berry had a string of hits. "School Day" (Number Three pop, Number One R&B, 1957), "Rock & Roll Music" (Number Eight pop, Number Six R&B, 1957), "Sweet Little Sixteen" (Number Two pop, Number One R&B, 1958), and "Johnny B. Goode" (Number Eight pop, Number Five R&B, 1958) were the biggest. With his famous duck walk, Berry was a mainstay on the mid-Fifties concert circuit. He also appeared in such films as Rock, Rock, Rock (1956), Mister Rock and Roll (1957), and Go, Johnny, Go (1959). Late in 1959 Berry was charged with violating the Mann Act: He had brought a 14-year-old Spanish-speaking Apache waitress and prostitute from Texas to check hats in his St. Louis nightclub, and after he fired her she complained to the police. Following a blatantly racist first trial, he was found guilty at a second. Berry spent two years in federal prison in Indiana, leaving him embittered.
Unbeknownst to him, Berry shared writing credits for "Maybellene" with Russ Fralto and New York disc jockey Alan Freed as part of a deal Chess had made (also known as payola). The scam worked for the most part because by mid-September the song, which had taken 36 cuts to complete, was number 1 on the R&B charts. Berry was bilked out of two-thirds of his royalties from the song, but in later years he would reflect upon the lesson he learned. He insists on running his career and managing his finances the way he sees fit.
In 1954, he ended up taking over pianist Johnny Johnson's small combo and a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club soon made the Chuck Berry Trio the top attraction in the black community, with Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm their only real competition. But Berry had bigger ideas; he yearned to make records, and a trip to Chicago netted a two-minute conversation with his idol Muddy Waters, who encouraged him to approach Chess Records. Upon listening to Berry's homemade demo tape, label president Leonard Chess professed a liking for a hillbilly tune on it named "Ida Red" and quickly scheduled a session for May 21, 1955. During the session the title was changed to "Maybellene" and rock & roll history was born.
In October 1947, he was married and started a family. Berry worked as a carpenter and a hair stylist after he was married, but he also continued to play guitar. In late 1952 a piano player named Johnnie Johnson called and asked him to play a New Year's Eve show at the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis. The band would play steadily at the club for the next three years. Berry's influence changed not only the band's name (to the Chuck Berry Combo) but also its style. The music was a mostly fast-paced combination of country, pop, and rhythm and blues. Berry also admired the comical sense of singer Louis Jordan, which he added to his performances.
The fourth of six children, Berry pursued a variety of interests and hobbies as a child. He enjoyed doing carpentry work for his father and learned photography from his uncle, Harry Davis, a professional photographer. Chuck Berry had early exposure to music at school and church. As a teen, he was sent to prison for three years for armed robbery.
He grew up in the north St. Louis neighborhood known as "The Ville", an area where many middle class St. Louis blacks lived at the time. His father was a contractor and a deacon of a nearby Baptist church, his mother a qualified principal.
Born in St. Louis on October 18, 1926 Berry had many influences on his life that shaped his musical style. He emulated the smooth vocal clarity of his idol, Nat King Cole, while playing blues songs from bands like Muddy Waters. For his first stage performance, Berry chose to sing a Jay McShann song called "Confessin' the Blues." It was at his high school's student musical performance, when the blues was well-liked but not considered appropriate for such an event. He got a thunderous applause for his daring choice, and from then on, Berry had to be onstage.
Chuck Berry's paternal great-grandmother, was born into slavery on the Wolfolk plantation in Kentucky, and Charles Henry Banks, his maternal grandfather, was born into slavery on the Banks Plantation in the Oklahoma Territory- a slabe by the name of Dred Scott, along with his wife, filed petitions in the St. Louis courthouse charging that they had been illegally deprived of their freedoms. Although their first suits failed, a subsequent suit was affirmed by the Missouri State Supreme Court in 1850.