Many people consider Chuck Berry to be the father of rock and roll. He was born in 1926 in Missouri. In St. Louis, he grew up surrounded by music, in his academic and ecclesiastical environments (he sang in his church choir). He grew up in middle-class black community, with five siblings. Berry was in high school when he started playing guitar. He left the school without graduating when he was 17, alongside two friends. They went on a road trip, but—while they were in California—they came upon an abandoned gun. They went on a robbing spree, robbing 3 businesses and stealing a car before they were arrested. He was imprisoned, but, thanks to good behavior, was released after only 3 years. He worked multiple jobs during this period: in construction, as a photographer, and as a janitor.
In the 1950s, Berry joined two bands. In 1955—following on a suggestion from blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters—he showed his song “Maybellene” to the Chess Records exec. The execs liked the song—which is driven by a beat derived from rhythm and blues, ornamented with country blues guitar licks, and flavored with Chicago blues—so much that they gave him a contract right away. Today, it’s considered by historians as being the first rock and roll song of its kind.
Throughout the 1950s, Berry produced a score of other rock and roll hits, including “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Too Much Monkey Business.” His songs appealed to both white and black fans. Although they originated from the traditionally black musical genres of rhythm and blues and blues, their youthful lyrical content was universal. He continued performing throughout the 1960s and 1970s, even though he was imprisoned for a year and a half (he had made a 14-year-old waitress cross state lines so she could work for him).
Rock It—Berry’s last album composed of original tracks—was released in 1979, to critical success. In the mid-80s, he received a Grammy Lifetime Award. He was the first musician to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He continues to perform to this day—and, similarly, his musical influence continues to invade contemporary music. He has influenced bands as wide-ranging as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys – many acoustic blues guitar instructors still teach his style.