Many folks I’ve spoken to will say that Rocket 88 by Ike Turner is the first ‘rock and roll’ song, and yeah they might be right, but there is truly only one King of Rock, and it’s not that white kid with the gyrating hips – it’s Chuck Berry.
How can you argue with such a busy list of rock and roll greats such as Keith Richards, Tony Iommi, and Angus Young, who all believe Berry to be the true reigning father of rock. “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you
might call it ‘Chuck Berry’,” John Lennon once famously said. Few would argue otherwise. “If you want to play rock and roll – or any upbeat number – you end up playing like Chuck,” Eric Clapton noted, in the 1987 documentary film, Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. “There is very little other choice. He’s really laid down the law.”
Chuck Berry was the first to fuse the sounds of swing jazz, rhythm and blues, and country & western; and he was definetely the first to let it rip with such balls-out energy. With all due respect to Elvis Presley, rock and roll is about the guitar; always has been and always will be.
At first, many of his fellow black folk came to laugh at him for this new sound, but soon more and more wanted their fill of that “hillbilly stuff”, as they sure did like dancing to it. Before long, while perfecting his style at St. Louis’s Cosmopolitan Club in the early ’50s, Berry and his “Johnnie Johnson Trio” were drawing crowds comprised of white and black fans in equal numbers. A random hook up with Muddy Waters prompted a visit to Chess Records, in Chicago, in May of 1955. Fatefully, after listening to Berry’s demo recordings, Leonard Chess declared Berry’s reworking of an old hillbilly song, titled “Ida May,” to be the song with the most commercial potential. After further reworking, and a change of title to “Maybellene,” the song was recorded and released as Berry’s first single. The recording sold more than a million copies.
I’ll wrestle anyone to the ground that wants to argue this point. The man played well into his 80s and was the epitome of the rock and roll attitude. He was meaner than nails, and could still drink men twice his size under the table well into his senior years. He didn’t give a fuck about anything but playing rock and roll. Heck, even if the dude was half as good a player as he was, he’d still get many votes as the true King of Rock – he was a bad motherfucker and he knew it. Fuck’n Right! – FATS