I usually try to keep my videos to a shorter length, but the above video of Chuck Berry on The Tonight Show is worth watching in full. First, you get to hear Berry perform three full songs, but you also hear Berry talk at length about his many influences. Among them:
Louis Jordan, for his lyrics. Here’s Jordan’s “G.I. Jive.”
Nat King Cole, for his voice. Here’s Cole’s “Orange-Colored Sky.”
Charlie Christian, for his electric guitar work with Benny Goodman. Here’s Christian with Goodman in “Wholly Cats.”
Carl Hogan, for his guitar riffs as part of Jordan’s Tympani Five. You’ll hear the prototype for the “Johnny B. Goode” intro in Hogan’s opening to “Ain’t it Just Like a Woman.”
Muddy Waters, for his soul. Waters introduced Berry to Chess Records, and “Maybellene,” Berry’s first hit, was the result. Here’s Waters on “Sugar Sweet” recorded in 1955, around the time he met Berry.
Berry doesn’t mention it on The Tonight Show, but according to the New York Times, “Maybellene” was a variant of the old country tune “Ida Red”, here performed by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.
I appreciate Elvis and what he did to kickstart the rock-and-roll era, but to me Berry is really the one who put it all together: the irreverent attitude, the primacy of the guitar, the focus on youth, the melting pot of genres. Elvis would become a crooner, but Berry kept on rockin’, as his 1987 appearance on Carson – when he was 60 years old and still able to “duck walk” – says it all. The audience was having so much fun that Carson dropped his last two guests and let Berry stay on and perform “Johnny B. Goode.”
“Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news…” –Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry, October 18, 1926-March 18, 2007.