If not for my mother’s record collection I never would have heard Chuck Berry’s music at age 5. That’s when I got my very first record player. I had a few records for kids, but mostly what I played were my mom’s old 45s and albums. Chuck Berry was the one who made the first impression on me, and that’s saying a lot considering I also heard Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys during that time. Chuck Berry is the reason I love rock and roll.
None of us would be here without Chuck Berry, and I sincerely mean that. Without him there would be no modern American music. I owe so much to him. My life has been profoundly changed by rock and roll. When I was a kid I started studying the history of rock, obsessively checking Dave Marsh’s Book of Rock Lists out of the library as often as possible. I listened to my mom’s and uncle’s old records all the time. I did, of course, also love Michael Jackson and Madonna and Duran Duran, but without Chuck Berry I never would have cared about music at all.
For my thesis about rock and roll and race in Cleveland in the 50s and 60s I wrote a chapter about Chuck Berry. So I can also say that he helped me get my Masters Degree in history. Thanks, Chuck!
I had two Chuck Berry records to listen to when I was a kid. One has “Johnny B. Goode” and “Around & Around” on it; the other, the one that would make me who I am as a music fan, has “Rock & Roll Music” and “Blue Feeling.” Neither of these 45s had a sleeve, so I had no idea what Chuck Berry looked like; I thought he was white. All I cared about was how kick-ass these few songs I knew were, and I wanted to make sure I knew every single lyric. These records were in heavy rotation on my pretend radio station, WDRS 113.2 FM. I broadcasted from the basement studio most of the time, but once in a while I used the station annex in my bedroom. I wanted to be Wolfman Jack and Dr. Johnny Fever all rolled into one 10-year-old girl’s body.
Just let me hear some of that rock ‘n’ roll music
Any old way you choose it
It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock ‘n’ roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me
Listening to this now very scratchy record now still makes me incredibly excited. I am so grateful to my mother and her brother for loving this music. This song truly represents why rock and roll is the greatest and most important music known to man. It explains why everyone around the world can hear rock music and feel united and happy. It’s impossible to listen to this song and not tap your feet and sing along. Chuck Berry created that. There will never again be a musical force as great as Chuck. And never again will there be a style of music that can make such an impact on the world as rock and roll.
“Johnny B. Goode” is the story of how rock and roll made a little country boy a star. “Rock & Roll Music” tells us the reason he wanted to play the music in the first place. Chuck said of the song, “I wanted the lyrics to define every aspect of its being and so worded it to do so.” Indeed.
Don’t care to hear ’em play the tango
I’m in the mood to dig a mambo
It’s way too early for the congo
So keep a rockin’ that piano
So I can hear some of that rock ‘n’ roll music
Don’t get me wrong. I love all music. Chuck also loves country and blues and other stuff. But it’s rock and roll that really made the difference in my life. I feel so happy listening to this song and remembering how much I played it and loved it as a kid. That hasn’t changed one bit.
If you tried to give rock & roll another name,
you might call it Chuck Berry.