First thing I thought of when I heard the prompt was “almost”…

Chuck Berry. Wow. Almost 89 years old, and still playing. At least I think he is. Born in St. Louis, came to Chicago in 1954 and played for the legendary Muddy Waters. Muddy helped him get signed with Chess Records, and he unleashed a string of hit records on the world.

Chuck used to say that where Elvis was a white man who sang like he was black, he was a black man who sang like he was white. Huge crossover there. Especially at a time when black artists weren’t played on white stations. That’s how Pat Boone got his start, doing songs by Fats Domino and Little Richard. You had to turn down the dial to the black stations to hear Fats and Richard doing their own songs.

Could have been worse: the Beatles couldn’t even get played on the BBC. The Northern Dance Orchestra would do their hits. A friend of mine grew up in England around that time, and he said they were awful. “She loves you, yes, yes, yes”… The Beatles said they would listen to Radio Luxembourg to hear Chuck Berry, and most of the rock artists for that matter, until the BBC relented.

Listen to the way Chuck played, that “chunk ta-chunk ta-chunk ta-chunk.” That’s his blues background. You hear the same thing with Jimmy Reed. Or Muddy Waters… listen to this, “Walkin’ Through The Park,” you hear it there.

That guitar solo sounds like Chuck, but it isn’t. Not sure who it is, really. Could be Robert Jr. Lockwood, Pat Hare, Buddy Guy, any of the hundreds of guitar players that backed Muddy over the years. But you see where Chuck got his rock ‘n’ roll from. All blues-based. Mixed blues, country, rockabilly, and the sound came out that you can hear whenever you hear Chuck, or Elvis, or Carl Perkins, or any of the millions of guitar players that learned by listening to them.

Nearly every Chuck Berry solo is exactly the same, did you know that? He might throw some extra licks in or adapt it to the songs that aren’t blues-based, but it’s all the same. And he made it sound different each time. A genius, that’s what he is.

What made them sound different was the words he put to the music. He said that half his listeners had cars, so he wrote about cars; half were in school, so he wrote about school; and nearly all of them were in love at one time or another, so he wrote about love. He just set the words to the same tune over and over, and we couldn’t get enough.


This is, of course, written for Linda Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Visit her blog for the rules (if you want to play along) and for the others who are participating (you’ll find them in the comments as pingbacks, for the most part), and see what they’re up to.


  1. Wonderful writing, John! I knew a bit about Chuck and his early beginnings, but you really opened my eyes (and ears!) to some great knowledge here. Thanks! Great use of Linda’s prompt. Have a wonderful weekend!


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