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It’s only Chuck ‘n’ Roll: 3 Contributions Chuck Berry Gave to Music

Monday March 20, 2017. 10:06 PM , from Sweetwater inSync
To say that rock ‘n’ roll will have to go on without Chuck Berry is ridiculous. Chuck Berry is rock ‘n’ roll. His impact, influence, and innovation physically changed the way we approach the genre today. In other words, as long as there is rock ‘n’ roll, we will never be without Chuck Berry. Here are just a few samples of Chuck’s massive contribution to the music we love.

1) Johnny.
Studies show that 87% of all rock bands have played “Johnny B. Goode” at some point in their careers. The same studies reveal that the remaining 13% are lying. You’re probably already humming that sweet opening riff in your head, so let’s talk about it. Many believe that it’s a note-for-note rendition of Louis Jordan’s 1946 hit “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman.” That’s where the similarities end.

Inspired by Louis’ song, Chuck strapped on his electric Gibson ES-350 and went to work. He pushed the song, and his tube amp, to the limit. By playing hard on heavy strings, including the wound third string that was popular at the time, Chuck translated his view of Louis’ melody into an interpretation that was all his own. The result was “Johnny B. Goode,” the thinly veiled autobiography about the boy from New Orleans who made it big by playing guitar.  

For a little extra credit, Back to the Future‘s Marty McFly must’ve packed more future goodies in the DeLorean than we first thought. Marty takes the stage at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance to belt out his version of “Johnny B. Goode” armed with a 1958 Gibson ES-345. The dance was held on a stormy November 2, 1955.

2) Duck Walk
Before Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll acts would find their spot and stay there. Not Chuck. Literally moved by the music, Chuck would jump, hop, and swing his hips, delighting audiences into feigned disgust. And then there was the duck walk — the gloriously silly but infinitely cool move that propelled Chuck from one end of the stage to the other. Legend has it Chuck learned the move as a young boy, walking under tables to retrieve his ball.

3) A Little Help from Their Friend

While some members of rock ‘n’ roll royalty would still be the legends they are without his help, there were times when Chuck’s work definitely “greased the skids.”
The Rolling Stones’ first single was a cover of Chuck’s “Come On.” An extremely Chuck-like riff also appears in “Brown Sugar.”

While the melodic similarities are subtle, John Lennon’s “Come Together,” written for the Beatles in 1969, was suspiciously close to Chuck’s 1956 song, “You Can’t Catch Me.” So close, in fact, that the two would settle out of court, with John Lennon recording “You Can’t Catch Me” for his 1975 album, Rock ‘n’ Roll. It is almost alarming to hear John Lennon sing “You Can’t Catch Me.” Chuck certainly had a point.

Not to be outdone, the Beach Boys set the lyrics of their surf anthem “Surfin’ USA” to Chuck’s 1958 hit “Sweet Little Sixteen,” releasing it in 1963. Brian Wilson remembers it this way,
“I was going with a girl called Judy Bowles, and her brother Jimmy was a surfer. He knew all the surfing spots. I started humming the melody to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, ‘God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’s’ melody?'” It would take the Beach Boys three years to give credit to Chuck, beginning with The Best of the Beach Boys in 1966.

From the way he rocked to the way he walked, Chuck Berry left an indelible imprint on rock ‘n’ roll. Thanks for all of it Chuck. It’s only Chuck ‘n’ roll — and we like it.

The influence of Chuck Berry can’t be overstated. What influential moments from Chuck Berry’s career would you add to this list?
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