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Chuck Berry’s music has transcended generations. He earns respect to this day because he is truly an entertainer. Berry, also known as “The Father of Rock & Roll”, gained success by watching the audience’s reaction and playing accordingly, putting his listeners’ amusement above all else. For this reason, tunes like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene” and “Memphis” have become anthems to an integrated American youth and popular culture. Berry is a musical icon who established rock and roll as a musical form and brought the worlds of black and white together in song.

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: “Johnny B. Goode”

Berry took up the guitar after that, inspired by his partner in the school production. He found that if he learned rhythm changes and blues chords, he could play most of the popular songs on the radio at the time. His friend, Ira Harris, showed him techniques on the guitar that would become the foundation of Berry’s original sound. Then in 1952, he began playing guitar and singing in a club band whose song list ranged from blues to ballads to calypso to country. Berry was becoming an accomplished showman, incorporating gestures and facial expressions to go with the lyrics.

It was in 1953 that Chuck Berry joined the Sir John’s Trio (eventually renamed the Chuck Berry Combo), which played the popular Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis. Country-western music was big at the time, so Berry decided to use some of the riffs and create his own unique hillbilly sound. The black audience thought he was crazy at first, but couldn’t resist trying to dance along with it. Since country was popular with white people, they began to come to the shows, and the audience was at some points almost 40 percent white. Berry’s stage show antics were getting attention, but the other band members did their parts as well. In his own words: “I would slur my strings to make a passage that Johnnie (Johnson) could not produce with piano keys but the answer would be so close that he would get a tremendous ovation. His answer would sound similar to some that Jerry Lee Lewis’s fingers later began to flay.” (Official Site)

J. J. Cale: “Tijuana”

Just below San Diego
Tijuana, land of broken dreams
Senoritas dancing in the moonlight
Flashing Spanish dark eyes
to everyone, it seems
They say “Hey, gringo
Can you take us across the border
Just tell them I’m your daughter
Of a local.”
Down the backstreets, through the alleys
All the young men stand with pride
They guard the palace to the kingdom
Called Tijuana, their heritage they decide
They say “Hey, gringo
Can you take us across the border
We’ll work for just a quarter
On the other side”

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